Porta Nigra by Mark Kremer
‘Night had fallen, but he did not know if it was within himself or if it was outside in the room: everything was darkness. And the darkness also moved: black hazes yielded, giving way to other hazes, abyss after abyss, dense shadow after shadow. But this black, different from the black that one sees with the eyes, trembled with colours that had come into being, as it were, from their very absence: the black changed into grey-green, then into pure white; this pale white transmuted into golden red but without the original black disappearing; just like the glowing stars and the northern lights shine in what is the black night nonetheless.’ Marguerite Yourcenar, L’oeuvre au noir (1968, tr. MK) The impetus for this exhibition came from a personal experience where, to borrow from the poet Dante at the start of the Divine Comedy, ‘I found myself within a forest dark’. As a curator, I wanted to explore whether such an experience of darkness could be transfigured into an exhibition and somehow shared with artists and a larger public. To this end a number of artists from the Western World whose work, among other issues, fathoms existential concerns, were invited to propose work relating to the idea of ‘a passage in dark territory’. The title of this exhibition is taken from the name of a Roman gate in Trier, Germany that was built in 200 AD. The Porta Nigra, the only remaining gate of the four that made up the city’s defence system, marked the border between Western Civilisation and the ancient Barbaric world. The Roman name of the gate has been long forgotten; it acquired the name Porta Nigra in the early Middle Ages, by which time the originally grey sandstone from which it was made had turned black. It was also then that the Greek monk Simeon chose to live among its ruins as a hermit, in a cell in the tower high above the gate. Just like the black gate in Trier, this exhibition is a passageway, a path through a field of artistic experiences of darkness. It is a show that stages drama from the deep: a type of drama that is veiled, rendered elliptically and with philosophical detachment.* Black, the colour of coal, ebony and the dark sky, delineates the limits of representation: beyond it we simply cannot see or distinguish anything. But, somewhat paradoxically, what lies beyond the limits of our vision, what exists within the darkness, is a terrain we are drawn to imagine all the more. It is the very darkest colour, a result of the absence or complete absorption of light. Due to its many qualities and connotations, black has always captured man’s imagination. It is touched upon in aesthetics, in the notion of the sublime as a lofty and frightening beauty. It is present in psychology, where nocturnal solitude is understood as an environment in which the melancholy, probing spirit thrives. And in alchemy, the quest for the ultimate transformation of matter, black as the colour that contains and absorbs all others offers a curious alternative to gold. For artists black is a basic tool. It is a means to show and hide, to suggest presence and absence.
The colour black is the protagonist in this exhibition. It is used variously as a sign of protest, a symbol of mystery, of grace and grief, of nothingness and peace. And it is only appropriate that this show, with its focus on darkness, takes place during the short days and long nights of a London winter. The works assembled in Porta Nigra raise questions about darkness as both a state of mind and as matter. They display strong psychological momenta, suggesting both vanishing points into, and ways out of, darkness. Many works talk of their fascination with the colour black per se. Surfaces, figures and shapes are painted in all of the nuances between what in Middle English was called swart for a flat black and blaek for a luminous black. With their dominant blacks, secondary greys, soft degrees and sudden flashes of whites, as well as a few faint and ‘real’ colours, the artworks in Porta Nigra form an abstract spectrum. In the gallery space, against this background, many things are stirring. A figure stands out, an invisible yet perceptible human presence makes itself felt, a body moves, a voice murmurs. An array of motions can be felt, heard and seen; figments of the mind become tangible in the dark. And in this setting, the visitor may suddenly see something spectral: sealed messages sent by ghosts from an ancient past, or some unknown future…
Curator’s notes Harmen Brethouwer PortraitAntecedent black, 2012 Urushi on wood, stainless steel pin 70 × 70 cm Executed by Lacquer Décor Brethouwer is an illusionist. He is a puppeteer who reactivates historical art, mimicking stylistic ramifications that once were, and proposing utterances that could have been. In this new painting, made by a craftsman using a Japanese lacquer called Urushi, ideas of oriental arts and their appreciation of the subtleties and finesse of the darkness resonate. Harmen Brethouwer writes of Urushi: “The reflecting intense black, the monochrome perfection, precedes by far the quality of modern lacquers. It is an ancient black. The oldest integral lacquer objects that have found have been dated 5000 B.C.; they are still perfect colourwise. What is Urushi? It is the sap of a tree. To achieve a perfect surface many foundations must be applied. Then, seven centuries of colour fastness is guaranteed. In all its factualness, a sublime claim!” Hugo Canoilas In Praise of Shadows, 2012 Paintings (oil on canvas), cabinet, canvas, dimensions variable This work by the young artist Hugo Canoilas explores what it means to see in the dark. His departurepoint for the work was Tanazaki’s essay In Praise of Shadows (1933), a text that, through comparisons of light with darkness, contrasts Western and Asian cultures. In the gallery Hugo Canoilas has suspended a cabinet with dark cloth above it, a symbol for the night. The visitor can open the cabinet and view a Winter Painting, one of four paintings of each season that is shown. This work explores the yet unimagined or ancient and extinct ways in which painting may present itself in today’s world. Guy Debord Hurlements en faveur de Sade, 1952 35 mm film digitally transferred, bl/w, 64’ Voices: Gil J. Wolman (voice 1); Guy Debord (voice 2) Serge Berna (voice 3); Barbara Rosenthal (voice 3) Isodore Isou (voice 5)
*This is not the first time that the gate from Trier has been used in relation to works of art. The Dutch poet Hendrik Marsman (1899—1940) titled one of his later collections of poems, dealing with the loss of a loved one and what it means for those they leave behind, Porta Nigra.
is at work here as well: the odd sequence of spoken words that are continuously interrupted are begun again as if nothing has happened, as if no interruption at all had taken place. Readings from a law book, philosophical meditations, parts of a talk between lovers, are all taken out of context and given as raw material to be pondered once more. This film triggers the sensation that everything in this modern world is up for change, that the revolution may start at any moment down in the cellar of your very own house. Helmut Federle The Seven Doors of Jerusalem V, 2010 Acrylic on canvas 60 × 50 cm Courtesy Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder, Vienna; Photo Markus Wörgötter, Vienna; Copyright Pro Litteris, Zürich Helmut Federle’s paintings relate to the ideals of Modernist pioneers from the beginning of the 20th century, who proposed a language of geometrical abstraction to address lofty spiritual notions. As an artist, Federle is very conscious of the fragility and precariousness of that particular historical project, and the way it is seen today. The title of the painting in this exhibition refers to the seven gates of the Old City of Jerusalem, built by Suleiman the Magnificent, that are still open today. The painting’s composition is a succession of forms that both slide and hook into one another. A sequence of hovering and interlocking pentagons build a sort of spiral that in turn gives way to an opening, to free space and, perhaps, to freedom. Taf Hassam John Ferrari–An American Tragedy, 2008 Lambda print, presented in 8 panels and mounted on 1.5 mm aluminium Taf Hassam’s epic photograph of a white cube gallery takes the viewer on a journey in time and space back to New York in 1968. We are shown a documentary picture of an exhibition, without the art. In a letter shown alongside the photograph Hassam speculates on the life of this photographer, who he pictures as an artist, and with whom he is trying to communicate. The work combines an attempt to remember the dramas and ideals of the recent past with a sly and artistic notion of dematerialisation, where art as matter is substituted by spirit.
Hurlements en faveur de Sade (Howls for Sade) shows an alternation of white and black blank screens and readings of (mostly) found text fragments. This negation of the image captures the severity and Carl Michael von Hausswolff playfulness of revolutionary desire: Guy Debord, As Quiet As A Campfire or Analogue Motoric And front man of the Situationist International, held the Electro-Magnetic Silence Disturbed by Intuitive opinion that artworks must be devoted to chiseling Slumber, 1995 away a given medium to its bare foundations. Howls Composition, 20’ 44” for Sade follows this materialist notion: the projection of light becomes, along with its contrapuntal Since the end of the 1970s, Carl Michael von darkness, the film’s primary focus. Yet something else Hausswolf has worked with performance art,
light- and sound installations and photography, and as a composer and musician using the tape recorder and sound mixer as his main instruments. His work is rooted in a Fluxus appreciation of the flow of life. His composition for this exhibition relates to the absence of light or visual information. The artist writes: “This sound piece uses the ‘nothingness’ of sound or music as a concept. I took an old empty cassette (a 1/4 inch magnetic tape) and recorded its empty sound onto another tape. Then I took that tape and played it back and recorded it. I went on with the playback and proceeded to record the playback some more times until the noise increased and then, with all those different layers, I composed a simple dronic/ rhizomatic piece. It is dedicated to John Cage, I was thinking of his 3’44” piece on silence.” Susan Hiller From India to the Planet Mars, 1997—2004 Photographic negatives in wall-mounted light boxes, each 52 × 67.5 × 12 cm Courtesy Timothy Tayler Gallery, London; Photo Colin Davinson, BALTIC, Gateshead, 2004; Copyright Susan Hiller Susan Hiller, one the most influential artists of her generation, is recognized for her unique perspective on the anthropological. Viewed through the lens of art, she investigates everyday phenomena and cultural artefacts as diverse as postcards, dreams, archives, Punch & Judy shows, movies and supernatural narratives. She uses techniques of collecting and cataloguing to transform such ephemera into art that offers a means to explore the contradictions of our cultural life, revealing surprising truths about the workings of the individual and collective unconscious. In this exhibition Hiller shows works from a growing group of ‘automatic’ drawings, blown up onto photographic black and white transparencies. These works suggest the existence of spectral presences and our potential to reach out to them. The title of the work is taken from a book by Theodore Flournoy published in 1899 based on automatic writings that, according to their author, represented the languages of Mars and India. Drawing from sources including André Bretons The Automatic Message (1933) and Anita Mühl’s Automatic Writing: an approach to the unconscious (1965), the drawings attest to forces released when individuals write in a trance-like state. Klaas Kloosterboer 94107, 1994 Enamel on linen, tabletop on trestles 244 × 61 × 75 Klaas Kloosterboer is a burlesque modernist: he enjoys subverting whatever is grandiose or elevated in painting. The piece in this show belongs to a group of works from the 1990s that explore social experience — our individual relation with the other - in strong visual metaphors. A shady and sinister table stands on
the gallery floor around which a large black painting, with four circular holes in it, has been placed. This immense black monochrome cloth is way too big for the table top, giving the piece a sense of inevitable doom, a sentiment that hits with such force that one can only give way and acquiesce. The piece silently stages an intimate tragedy of homeliness gone wrong. It is a family portrait served up like a broken body. Pieter Laurens Mol (three works): Dinsdag 20 februari 1968, 1968 Pencil on whitewashed paper, cedar wood frame 62 × 93.8 cm Pieter Laurens Mol has a fascination with altered states, both in terms of materials and humans. Materials are processed in the manner of an alchemist, and humans are put in situations that challenge their natural equilibrium. Mol has made many works that explore black materials and the sphere of nocturnal or celestial darkness, which often have a notably melancholy character. Dinsdag 20 februari, one of three works on show in this exhibition, is a photograph of a fire that shows the burning of artworks Mol’s produced between 1966 and 1967. A tin box with ashes of the work sits under the photograph. The work expresses a wish to make a clean sweep of things, to break with the past. “Destruction rejuvenates,” wrote Walter Benjamin in his essay The Destructive Character, “because it erases the traces of our own age; it has a cheerful effect since the destroyer welcomes any eradication as a total breakdown of his own situation, laying open its bare roots”. Without title (Ne Loquaris de Ars Absq Lumine), 1968 Indian ink, pencil and varnish on cardboard 36.3 × 41.5 cm The Latin subtitle of this drawing says: Do not speak about Art without Light. The artist: “The anonymity of the work triggers a particular response from the viewer: the eye sees the image, silence rules and there is only imagination.” Drawing Myself into the Dark, 1976 Pencil on whitewashed paper 62 × 93.8 cm This drawing evokes the notion of a performance done in the spirit of fluxus; the simple but beautiful idea of someone drawing the whole day long until the light fades and night comes.
Astrid Nobel That one wee drop, 2010 Gesso and oil on wood 52.5 × 42.5 × 4.5 cm Astrid Nobel is a young artist whose works depict lucid dreams. This painting of the vast ocean with a solid tear made of oil paint placed in the foreground, refers to a melancholic sentence in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, prior to the captain’s reckoning with the evil whale: “From his slouched hat Ahab dropped a tear into the sea; nor did all the Pacific contain such wealth as that one wee drop.” (Ch. 132). The black tear that appears on the horizon, just like rocks do in paintings by Magritte, marks a border where experience stops and imagination takes over. Susan Norrie DISSENT, 2012 One channel video, ± 10’ Concept and editing by Susan Norrie; Camera: Rodo Izumiyama; editing: Wayne Love; sound mix: Robert Hindley Susan Norrie’s practice sees and uses art as a tool for political commentary, to remind people, in the artist’s words, of an essential humanity. The Asia Pacific has been her artistic focus in the last 20 years, incorporating the environmental and humanitarian disasters that have impacted on the region. This new film was shot at night in Tokyo and shows the recent protests outside Japan’s parliament, where people joined forces and voices to speak up against nuclear power. All of the country’s atomic reactors were shut down after last year’s Fukushima disaster, but two plants were reopened in July this year. “We won’t allow any more reactors to restart,” said one of the protest leaders. “And we want to hammer this demand home to the government.” DISSENT depicts the pageantry of the recent nightly Japanese demonstrations; it captures their hope for change. Siobhán Hapaska Light Lives in a Box, 2012 Solid aluminium plate, stainless steel fittings, mirror polished stainless steel, leather, brass, micro mosaic limestone, olive oil, candle wicks, dimensions variable Courtesy Andréhn-Schiptjenko, Stockholm Siobhán Hapaska’s sculptures have a presence that is both mysterious and matter of fact, addressing the viewer in a questioning way about the elements that make up our daily life. Some works appear to travel back in time, tainted with a patina that speaks of old human ways. Other works, such as those shown at Documenta 10 (1992), appear to have been cast upon the earth from of a distant future. In this show Hapaska presents an introspective piece, Light Lives in a Box, which combines a range of industrial and organic materials. Shaped as an open box containing
candles, it seems to refer to a domestic situation, evoking the experience of an interior where one finds protection and warmth. There is also something uncanny about the piece, an element of aggression perhaps, that recalls the magic of Pandora’s Box. Roland Schimmel Indigo, 2012 Acrylic on canvas 100 × 100 cm (141 in section) Central to Roland Schimmel’s abstract paintings and films is the observation of light. In a literal sense, the source of his practice is what the eye sees when light shines on a white studio wall, creating natural reflections of shiny surfaces and spots. What makes his work special is the way in which it mimics what the eye does when flooded with light. When faced with an overkill of visual stimuli, the eye automatically produces after-images in complementary colours, a neurophysiological effect of the eye-brain interaction. Schimmel’s paintings depict fields in which soft contours of shimmering haloes and hard edges of black holes pop up and meet each other. Observing the encounter of these contrasting forms evokes physical sensations of expansion and contraction reminiscent of Op Art’s push and pull. The artist has made a new painting for the exhibition. It is a serene work; the colours are soft as velvet, like the eye of a peacock’s feather. Interestingly by choosing black as the protagonist, the artist proposes a negative of his other work, centered around a rendering of white and light. Michael Stubbs Untitled (Cream), 1991 Oil paint on stacked canvases 36 × 36 × 23 cm Michael Stubbs’ painting is the white elephant, or perhaps the white rebel, in this exhibition. The work is composed of five stacked canvasses that have been painted in the style of a decorative cake, the paint applied using an icing bag. The painting was made in the early 1990s, and reads like an intuitive response to what the artist perceived as dead-end modernist stuck in formalist issues. This work is his riposte. The euphoria and the abstract vertigo of this piece tickles the imagination; the work is like a bomb, and the fury that went into it will energise any viewer.
Hugo Canoilas In Praise of Shadows 2012
Guy Debord Hurlements en faveur de Sade 1952
Ansuya Blom Portrait 2009
Harmen Brethouwer Antecedent Black 2012 (work in progress)
Susan Hiller From India to the Planet Mars 1997—2004 (detail)
Dear John Ferrari I am writing to you in regard to a photograph you made in 1968. Forty years have since passed, and so I realize the difficulty in my request for remembrance. But this particular image, I believe, is special.
People taking to the streets, making demands, shattering glass, turning over cars and shouting in a different language: ‘Nous voulons les structures au service de l’homme et non pas l’homme au service des structures.’ The headline would have read ‘Anarchy in Europe.’
You made the photograph in New York as a commissioned job from the Fischbach Gallery. Searching through the archives, it’s easy to spot your images: black and white, a deep contrast, staged, but with a press like quality.
The impossible was happening, and the newsreaders would have been quick to suggest that it was all happening without any of the historical warning signs. For how do groups of people come together with an idea and decidedly take their futures into their own hands?
From the little information I have been able to find, it appears the gallery was a regular job for you. I can picture you visiting the gallery and meeting with the curator, talking about the work, its themes, the new and the radical. But perhaps you were simply instructed on what to document? Which wall or artist worked the best from the preferred angle of the gallery’s own representatives. I heard the Fischbach later dropped the avant-garde for realism. Did you continue working for them?
You must have thought back to that odd little exhibition you had just documented, and the work of the ‘Colorist’ Gene Davis. Was it then John, that his Micro Paintings began making sense to you? Why Davis had made these paintings no bigger than a credit card? I imagine you also thought back to your employer and the cheque that was always late, an insult to your dependability John.
You covered it all, artists and installations and looking at your images, I am convinced of your photographic gift, so much so I can’t help but wonder if you were in fact an artist, using a pseudonym to make some extra money? I have often wondered what your working relationship was like? Invisible and dependable? Appearing for every opening and closing, documenting the events, carefully, diligently and quietly. I imagine the gallery must have taken a relaxed attitude with you, for your work was only ever intended for prosperity. I can picture you then, living in a simple apartment with a single bed, a small TV, and a curtain around the kitchen for setting up the darkroom. Naturally I do have some experience with these things and I know how difficult they are to make light tight; working at night always becomes the most viable option. On this one particular night, I envisage you working, printing your test strips, defining a time and perfecting your signature contrast. And then after a while, sealing the paper, and taking a break, you fall into your comfortable armchair. Reaching out, you turn on the TV. Your taste for documentation would have led you to the news, filled with all the tragedies of America: wars, assassinations and patriotism. And within this display of sound and image and the segment containing the world news, reports of the protests taking place in France would have started appearing.
Taf Hassam John Ferrari–An American Tragedy 2008
Then returning to your contact sheet and grasping the magnifying loop, did you then see John that you had caught that struggle? Indeed, on the one hand, your photograph could simply be seen as an artful interpretation of Gene Davis’s work, but I believe you saw something other, something deeper John, that within this photograph you had seen the futility of France. You caught it in that white John, the way you guide the eye past the objects, the ashtray, the lights, the paintings and to that white, that disappearing line between ground and thought. The sublime is rare and momentary but beauty can only be the product of the rational. John, it all moves into a senseless oblivion. You may have just enjoyed the idea that without a central focus, the art appears as if they were holes in the walls–still caught up on that cheque. But you caught it John, the beauty of that machine, its temporal corruptibility; how it retains its form, its image, which in fact is not perceptible. Happy anniversary. Though I hope you don’t mind if I say John, perhaps on a more critical level, I think it would have been better if right there and then, you had decided to go back with this thought, and to have photographed it again, before and after the next exhibition. Kind regards, Taf Hassam 01.05.2008
Helmut Federle The Seven Doors of Jerusalem V 2010
Siobhán Hapaska Light Lives in a Box 2012
Pieter Laurens Mol Drawing Myself into the Dark 1976
Astrid Nobel That one wee drop 2010
Carl Michael von Hausswolff As Quiet As A Campfire or Analogue Motoric And Electro-Magnetic Silence Disturbed by Intuitive Slumber, 1995
Michael Stubbs Untitled (Cream) 1991
Klaas Kloosterboer 94107 1994
Roland Schimmel study for Indigo 2012
Susan Norrie DISSENT 2012
Porta Nigra Curated by Mark Kremer Ansuya Blom Harmen Brethouwer Hugo Canoilas Guy Debord Helmut Federle Taf Hassam SiobhĂĄn Hapaska Susan Hiller Carl Michael von Hausswolff Klaas Kloosterboer Pieter Laurens Mol Astrid Nobel Susan Norrie Roland Schimmel Michael Stubbs 08.12.2012â€”15.02.2013 Hidde van Seggelen Gallery 2 Michael Road London SW6 2AD +44 (0)20 3441 3652 hiddevanseggelen.com
Designed by Daniel Chehade Printed by Lecturis