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Passe - Partout

Published in 1997 in the catalog of the exhibitions at Gallery Raab, Berlin and Medici Gallery, Solothurn

Even as a visual artist, one is set in motion in the studio by a lot, sometimes too much, that one cannot do justice to without words - though everything started out differently with the radical move from script to sign, with all the consequences that entails, when I refused to speak or write about it. Wonderful to slide a brush or pen across a surface and have something emerge: nothing is easier and nothing is more difficult. And it became even more dramatic when I moved beyond paper and canvas to begin forming figures. Paper, wood, iron - whatever came into my hands, what I used, and what I work with. Without wasting a word on it. Why should I? Working almost blindly, without designating reflection, but also without hiding myself behind cheap formulas: nothing can be said about this. I didnít write anything down and gave myself no directives. I was silent.

And then history (stories), if not storytelling and description, return. And the radical questions: how? and why?

What am I doing when I make something, is the old question. Today, when everything that can be done seems to be able to be done by non-artists, only extremely egomaniacal or simple-minded artists are unquestioningly convinced of what they do - because however you look at it, arbitrariness remains what it claims to be: arbitrary. An arbitrary uniformity has effortlessly prevailed. Seemingly. Some refuse explanation, the others explain what it means. The explainers, as castraters, trim and codify, if only to be fashionable know-it-alls (no-it-alls). As judges (critics) or causeurs, they all want the same thing: classification, emphasizing, being right, no matter what the issue. We live with and from what we have stored up. Pictures are memory and plans, and thus history, though it is unclear whether history can still be experienced. The generation that tested »its« history in history has disappeared or abdicated. And now? Denouncing the cartel of the aesthetic isnít enough to put one on the right side. In the period when artís character as commodity was taken as seriously as the truth, this insight became so much the core that questions of expression, much less harmony, were hardly permitted.

And those who cannot or will not be made to fit? Oneís own syntax, a world of images that is very spontaneous but at the same time very controlled: for example, forms ever more strict until only a bar or a square remains. Or visualizing the pencil or brush with closed eyes and then drawing. Or working with a single hue for a long time, as I did this summer. Suffusing the figures, segments, fragments with an anthracite gray, the state in which the figures and images end, unpretentious about how they arose, necessary in their emerging and in their leaving. Gray, knowing that there are intoxicating colors and forms. Reaching the empty spot and then, I suspect, returning again. Pictures coming out of wealth and superfluity. Necessary? To go to the limit and further. The question facing the writer - who writes when I write? - applies to the painter and sculptor as well. Who paints or creates the figures that arise?

Mere originality no longer fascinates. The spontaneous falls from its supposed freshness and carefreeness back into the stereotype. What may carry further is the creation of indeterminable but strong excitations and feelings, the detection of cracks. Tentative and certain: this form, this stroke, this material. So cold that it turns hot, so hot that cool distance arises.

By now, there is everything to see and nothing more to grasp, nothing more to cut out, frame, or form (even if we continue to do so). Everyone creates the unbounded, to which he binds himself. That it can no longer be a question of truth (and yet still is) and that beauty and harmony no longer play a role (and still do, if only in their negation): given, given away? Taking oneís bearings on convulsions, grasping the inconceivable, the impalpable. Finding the surprising. Meanwhile, for example, we realize that more substance and more explosiveness lie in fallow urban space than in the highrises mad to impress, the same the world over, and we know how much more hallucinatory, how much more an image the decrepit doors, window frames, and faÁades in the supposedly faceless banlieues are than many products of the studio.

On the outskirts of Sydney, after visiting a so-called free wildlife park, where the animals vegetate inhumanly, exposed to the voyeuristically caressing glance of visitors, I was waiting for acquaintances. I strolled through a gigantic, empty parking lot that serves the wildlife park, a cricket stadium, and a golf course. A huge, slightly sloping blanket of asphalt, divided by a row of trees in which a few black-and-white birds cawed. The cosmopolitan city, in which I had wildly wandered without being able to center myself, was concentrated and image-like in a petrified way here that was much more unsettling and startling than the attempt to find images in the skyline. The »far out«, the greatest distance, is quite close. On empty asphalt planes in front of the great stadiums or generously stretching suburban surfaces, where there is no center that has degenerated to backdrop, in the midst of heaped up new or ready-to-scrap cars, the ego is suddenly absent. As in endless deserts or landscapes occupied by menhirs, nightmarish images arise, more imposing, darker, and lighter than most of what museums hold.

Itís not easy to form an image of.

It is not a question of disappearing, even if this is the question, because the longing for the void, the non-word, the non-tone has grown. That we so easily and simply hear music in animal cries and the sirens of the big city is not part of a technologically-based universalization, but of an aesthetics that follows the rhizome or, in culinary terms, the mish-mash in the salad. Touching skin, a stone, or the garish yellow of a road tearing up and running straight as an arrow through the desert, which we enjoy precisely because of its trespassing cut. A scandal. Scandals that we advance, keen-eyed and keen-eared. While I crouch on a low wall on the Circular Ouai in Sydney, attempting to edit what Iíve written so far, across the street from me a man sits on a crate that is painted gray, his hair, face, and hands colored gray, his clothes gray, his shoes and the bottle in his hand gray, while he, a trained pantomime, almost imperceptibly alters his posture in time to minimalistic tones. Gray, before a light gray, cloudless sky and dark gray water. Was it coincidence? The staging does not render ridiculous my work in the visual arts in recent months - on the contrary. The actor covered in gray holds my place, a disturbing alter ego. Two gray, gleaming hands, head, and arms in imperceptible motion. Nothing more. An island in the realm of the possible. The last watch against the shadow. Last attempt before petrifaction; but it is also imaginable that a digital glove directs, dissects, and reassembles the foreign object become a thing. My reaction: panic and joy. Can we say the world is image? It exists because images exist. Still, hardly moving statue: really only imaginable in the imagination. Non video. Inventing everything, calling forth everything to find images that do not exist.

Urs Jaeggi
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