Flash Frozen Fire  l  Group Show

Haleh Redjaian, Alexander Wagner, Heimo Zoberni

January 24 - March 1, 2014

The exhibition Flash Frozen Fire combines the works of three artists in a fashion similar to the way that it associates an alliteration of apparent contradictions in its title. Haleh Redjaian, Alexander Wagner, and Heimo Zobernig present works on canvas, textile, paper, sculptural and mural pieces that suggest a contemporary and antithetic reflection of the meaning and relevance of abstraction in the 21st century. In 1979, Rosalind Krauss described the grid as art's withdrawal from the real, as a will to silence and a hostility towards discourse. The grid as an "antinatural, antimimetic" formula in 20th century art acted as an affirmation of its time in defiance of a preceding ideal of mimesis. Alexander Wagner however describes his large-scale, panel format canvases as landscapes as well as referring to abstraction and minimalism, thereby drawing on ostensibly mutually exclusive categories. His works are veritable palimpsests: a primed and stained canvas is painted in acrylic straight from the tube and then covered with a black and white gradient of a screen-print grid, creating a moiré effect of vibrating surfaces indicating waves that are simultaneously spatial, sonic, and rhythmic. This combination and contrast of genres is paralleled by the superposition of the techniques he employs: the gradient is created digitally, counteracting the underlying, “traditional” painterly gesture. By employing a vertical format, but aligning the individual canvases on the wall to form an all but continuous horizontal expanse, Wagner's paintings irritate the idea of the landscape, referring instead to a concept of space and scenery that is self-reflective and autonomous.

This apparent contradiction between mimesis and abstraction however can also be inverted. Wagner"s work begs the question of the difference between a tradition of analog abstraction and minimalism versus a post-digital implication of similar ideas. To paraphrase Krauss' analysis of the grid: The physical and the aesthetic planes are demonstrated to be the same, however in the case of the three artists presented here, both planes are also bound to an idea of reality and mimesis that survives even within the reduction of forms into abstraction. Wagner overcomes the idea of naturalist art versus generative or "artificial" art by establishing an idea of nature as systematic and serial. Mimetic abstraction no longer aims at an imitation of nature but instead reproduces its underlying formal structures. As Roland Barthes wrote about structuralism: mimesis is not an analogy of substances, but an analogy of structures and functions.

In the work of Haleh Redjaian, materiality and physicality play a central role: Delicate sewn forms are applied onto carpets woven by Iranian weavers using the unbleached and undyed wool of white and black sheep (a fundamental binarity conveniently provided by biology). The warp and weft of the fabric or in the case of her drawings the geometry of squared and lined paper offer Redjaian a preconceived and constitutive grid that she follows with her lines of thread, pattern drawings, hatching, and serial repetitions of forms. In the case of Redjaian, the rigidity of the grid however is always juxtaposed by the conspicuous (hand-woven, cut-up or dis- and reassembled) physicality of the material carrier of the motif as well as the slight irregularities and deviances of the structures applied and created by her. Here, as much as with Wagner's works, a seemingly flat picture always plays with the idea of space and time: her patterns often converge into perspective alignments or lunging depths, and in the case of the textile works the yarn at times hovers in front of its supporting medium, creating an in-between space interrupting plane and figure. The time spent repeating the gesture of each line – as executed in the large-scale mural work created specifically for and strongly defining the gallery space –, of adjusting her coordinates and following the rhythm of her grids, is integral. Time, as repeated gesture, becomes an aspect of the body and the body's scope of movement.

At first glance, Heimo Zobernig's works present themselves as the most enigmatic pieces of the show. Three canvases – one black, one white (actually a sealing-wax on canvas), and a third consisting of black-and-white stripes – are completed by a plywood sculpture painted a slate-colored black. The two monochromes and their almost ironical merging into a third painting can be read as distinct references to the history of 20th century painting, created precisely at the turn of the 21st. By employing abstraction and minimalism not so much as formal devices but rather as self-reflective references and quotations, Zobernig, belonging to a slightly older generation than Redjaian and Wagner, too, transcends abstraction’s rejection of mimesis and discourse as attested by Krauss into a highly critical and dialectic statement, or rather an open question toward the multivalence of form, color, and material within an institutional setting. Coincidentally, there appears to be an oblique dialogue between Zobernig's sculptural commentary and critique of museum presentation and the "institutional grey" that Haleh Redjaian chose as a background for her site-specific mural. Zobernig's work seems to have paved the way for a newly activated urgency of form, as picked up and redefined by a younger generation of abstract artists.

Eva Wilson            


Click here for the German press release