__FRAGMENTS OF GLANCES

 
 


< The truths that we travel so far , to seek
are of value only when we , have scraped them
clean of all this fungus. >

Claude Lévi-Strauss

  Boy from Dogon_2008  
 

Apart from the new paradigm of abstraction, the early 20th century witnessed the development of numerous other new extensions of European painting. One of these paradigms was linked to ethnography, or, more precisely, ethno-aesthetics. The experience of African "sculptures" or masks fostered the development of Cubism by breaking up the principle of a central perspective in visual terms, whereas an artist such as Paul Gauguin was more concerned with aesthetic lifestyles in general. At the same time we find that the visual arts were lastingly marked by a colonialist effect which has continued to produce a virulent artistic impact.

One of these ethnographic effects can be found in the image cycle Guys created by Beate Glück from 2006 onwards. The works testify to a many-layered artistic process. The artist starts out with a process she has been practising since the early 1990s, the "weathering of canvases". Canvases are deposited outdoors, exposed to the elements for many weeks and months. This type of inscription by nature onto and into the canvas is, first and foremost, a pure impact of the temporal aspect. This form of autocatalytic painting views nature as an elementary aesthetic category and fundamental constituent factor. Hence, this first step is not about the issue of abstraction or action painting. It is much rather a first ethnographic reference to the other's culture. In this instance, natural materials are not included because of a context of material romanticism, but rather in an attempt to obtain an anthropological zero position..

In a second step, the temporal traces left by nature are complemented by diverse human figures, mainly taken from a wide variety of travelogues or anthropological libraries. They are enlarged and pasted onto the canvas in montage-like arrays. The enlargement of the (photographic) figures is informed by a strategy of fragmentation. The fact that the parts have been blown up separately creates caesuras that fragment the glance. In a very subtle process, the artist continues to work on the montages and canvases with a diversity of painting materials, thus interweaving and blending the two . It is not accidental that the works are suffused by the quality of the generous painterly gestures found in cave paintings.

There is a twin perspectival aspect involved: first the suspension of time, second the suspension of space. In this manner, the de- and re-contextualisation of the figures is also a process of de- and re-naturalisation. Beate Glück unfolds the phantasm of an entity which is an existential part of every culture and almost every myth: the dream of one single anthropological origin. Not a coincidence that she herself made this brief statement: "My work also conveys: you can never get away from the past. Or: the past doesn't even exist".

The human figures (almost always men, mothers and children) are not so much individuals as ethno-cultural typifications. Postures, ritual gestures and movements, but most of all the look in their eyes are the fulcrum of the images. The images are in no way invested with a post-colonialist intention, nor are they intended as a "journey into the other self". What is at issue here is nothing political or psychoanalytical, but the attempt to arrive at something universal. The great anthropologist and ethno-structuralist Claude Lévi-Strauss described it very appropriately: "'Natural Man' does not pre-date Society; nor is he outside it. … But knowing other societies better does none the less help us to detach ourselves from our own society. It is not that our society is absolutely evil, or that others are not evil also; but merely that ours is the only society from which we have to disentangle ourselves."

The ethno-historical interest in this work is not "antiquarian" (F. Nietzsche), but a manifestation of the yearning for the universal that unites the many into one. Moreover it also constitutes an attempt to handle an essential phenomenon of a media society: remote nearness and near remoteness in the sense of a cultural and social identity or non-identity. In order to escape the "tyranny of the real" (Nietzsche again), we need art as a via regina to the universal (not to be confused with the global, which is merely the incrustation of the universal). Art - the secularised myth of the universal- is currently the only umbilical cord that allows us to let our imagination travel there in an effective manner.

Carl Aigner

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