Ellie Lee-Duncan – 27 April, 2016
The contributors to Linie Line Linea explore the formal and discursive limits of what is possible through this medium. Disputing preconceptions of drawing as a primarily preparatory process, they present us with the line alone. Bending, twisting, and establishing the boundaries of drawing itself, the 20 artists present us with an exploration of the possibilities of the line.
Linie Line Linea
Curated by Volker Adolphs
26 February - 1 May 2016
Drawing seems a fundamental method of creating art. It is taught to young children, who create unreadable, indecipherable squiggles as they learn to coherently form letters. It extensively exists across societies, and is almost ubiquitous within contemporary society, precisely because it is so accessible - even as technology develops, most artists still keep a pen or pencil within reach. The contributors to Linie Line Linea explore the formal and discursive limits of what is possible through this medium. Disputing preconceptions of drawing as a primarily preparatory process, they present us with the line alone. Bending, twisting, and establishing the boundaries of drawing itself, these 20 artists present us with an exploration of the possibilities of the line.
Extending over the three floors of the Adam Art Gallery, Linie Line Linea presents the work of different individuals from Germany. Curated by Volker Adophs, the exhibition includes conceptual, abstract, and figurative works. It is exhibited alongside Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraints, a selection of twelve film records of his performative drawings, which is shown within the smaller Kirk gallery.
The entrance foyer of the gallery opens with works which contrast the line against the stark, unadulterated white of the paper. A closely hung selection of Thomas Müller’s work presents a variety of experimental works, which unravel the ‘endless alphabet’ of drawing possibilities. Alphabetical here does not merely signify varieties in form, style and media, but also alphabetical in an educational rehearsal of firsts - the childlike naivety which infuses his works is a result of each one being a first time experiment. One item, Untitled (2008) features on the cover of the exhibition catalogue, and in the media advertising for this exhibition. It depicts a thin blue serpentine line, repeated in ribboning, contoured segments across the page. Created by pressing a broken, irregular edge of glass to the page and tracing it with a ballpoint pen hundreds of times, this work is a straightforward creation. From the process of this small, repetitive and determined act emerges a meditative and sublime quality.
Christiane Löhr’s works contemplate the organic, spontaneous quality of freehand line drawing, demonstrating how a line can suggest life without representing any specific subject. Her works refuse to form a predictable pattern, freely exploring irregularity, symmetry and growth through branching, over-scored black lines, which imply leaf veins, tree limbs or roots, or even the flow of blood through arteries and capillaries. Löhr’s drawings are juxtaposed against Katharina Hinsburg’s examinations of the abstract line. While Löhr’s works show the animate presence of line, Hinsburg’s works investigate the line as an absence, a negative space.
Two of Hinsburg’s larger works show networks of strands, drawn then removed by painstakingly small, almost surgical, incisions. The interplay between the remaining paper and the gaps - triangular, intersecting and flowing - also brings to mind organic forms, and with the emphasis on the absent, is reminiscent of the shifting gaps of light between latticed tree branches. In another work, Nulla dies sine linea #3 (2001), consisting of a stack of 932 sheets of paper, Hinsburg explores the inability to constrict the fluidity of the artist’s line. The bottom sheet has a line ruled precisely through the centre. The second sheet was placed on top, and Hinsburg attempted to retrace the visible first line as accurately as possible, and continued this process with each consecutive sheet placed on the previous work. When viewed side on, the transgressive path of the line is clearly visible through the strata of stacked pages. The work demonstrates the artist’s argument that the line of the artist is not mechanical; it resists exact or confined reproduction.
In the lower Chartwell gallery two works by Ralf Ziervogel have interestingly polar subject matter. Both large, they span the gallery wall in black ink on white paper. Euroma (2005) is comprised of a semi-circle of starry, firework-like explosions, or minutely detailed nebulas. His second work, Ofu (2005), when viewed from a distance seems to be another nebulous spray of decoration across the page - but on closer examination is an intricate network of contorted figures, perversely performing sadistic and masochistic acts, in visceral, detailed cruelty. Here the gruelling subject matter of penetration, rape, and bestiality is investigated, with the individuals violently inflicting injuries, decapitations, and amputations.
In contrast, Marc Brandenburg creates meticulously tonal, realistic pencil drawings of his own encountered visual experiences; Berlin punk life, his friend dressing in drag, figures from popular and consumerist culture, or images of violence. He examines themes such as drug use, homelessness, surveillance, waste, and counter-culture; but rather than extensively exploring each individually, he only alludes, leaving more definitive interpretation up to the viewer. The sources for his figures are acquired from photos, then digitally inverted, and redrawn using pencil. In this untitled collage, his drawings have been reproduced as transparent stickers and then arranged and layered. His work has evolved from stickers to temporary tattoos, where selected wearers received the opportunity to wear, experience, and showcase them at both the exhibition opening, and at his artist’s talk. Although they use different approaches and techniques, both Brandenburg’s and Ziervogel’s drawings examine taboo, and the violent and hidden aspects of society.
Among the more politically conscious works are the series of four works by Gerhard Faulhaber. We can make out the forms of people, but they seem to dissolve into a haze, their location uncertain. The technique he has used to create these images supports the inability to pin down the forms, for instead of using flowing singular lines which give a clear boundaries to figure and background, Faulhaber uses tiny dashes and scuffled triangles, layered over each other to create shadows. The result is a foggy blurring. The forms themselves seem familiar, yet remain difficult to place, reminding us of familiar scenes in art and photographs: nude people sitting at a Turkish Bath, a sauna, a Biblical last supper, a waiting room, a concentration camp, a staff room in a brothel. The interpretations flicker and change as we look, assisted by the ambiguity of method. While some interpretations are the height of luxurious, corporeal pleasure, others remind us of places where the body is situated as a site of torture and suffering. These works are caught between interpretations of pleasure and suffering, and are actually sourced from backscatter images.
Backscatter images are made from advanced machines similar to x-rays, taken from a scanner which picks up radioactive material reflected from the subject. Due to their ability to detect human bodies, they are often used at the borders between countries to catch illegal immigrants - such as the individuals pictured here. This subject matter is particularly politically relevant with the current Syrian refugee crisis, but these people here have been caught at the border between Mexico and America - smuggled in the back of goods trucks or vehicles, hoping for a better life and prospects. These images mark the moment when they have been discovered by authorities, but are as yet unaware. The technology has detected them, they have been found out. However at the precise moment we see them, the individuals do not know this fact that will extinguish their hopes. As the curator Volker Adophs said, these works mark where “their dream of a better life has come to an end”(1).
Linie Line Linea presents many diverse approaches to line drawing, but each is united in the artist’s insistence upon drawing as a valuable medium with a vast amount of still unexplored possibilities. Each artist investigates this latent potential, some through an examination of what constitutes drawing itself, others utilizing line as a tool to examine further the human condition. Together, they demonstrate the continued resonance of this almost intrinsic, universal, method of communication.
(1) Volker Adolphs, Curator’s talk. Adam Art Gallery, Wellington. 5/3/2016
Two Rooms presents a program of residencies and projects
by leading international and New Zealand contemporary artists.