The Grown and the Constructed

by Deborah Bürgel, Translation by Malcolm Cross

The large wall drawing of Simon Halfmeyer in the Kunsthaus Essen distends itself over several walls, it stretches itself and expands and proliferates until it takes in the entire room.  The drawing with black pen onto a white background owns a graphic character, which allows it to appear almost like a projection upon the wall space.  Its lineal character gives an unsuspected deepness to the wall, opens an enormous expanse in which the individual picture elements appear to float weightlessly, partly interlace and overlay each other in several layers. Simon Halfmeyer combines individual pieces of scenery and allows them to collide, to encircle each other, to enter into intense relationships or to distance themselves. His compilations scoop repeating motifs from a pool which he manages to assemble into ever new pictures.  The reoccuring pictorial elements establish a thread to his earlier wall drawings, as for example the large wall picture Glashaus1  from 2006 , and connect the other works in the exhibition. His way of working is similar to ‘Sampling’, a method used in music, in which a new version of a song is produced through the blending of different pieces of music or motifs in the mixer.

Glaushaus Wolfsburg
Glashaus Wolfsburg (2006)

The graphical structure is the rhythmical basis underlying the wall drawing , which makes possible and speeds up the dynamic of the individual motifs.  The graphical structure constructs a folie to which the motifs relate like the symbols on the virtual surface of the display.  As a plane surface and an open picture space, the drawing oscillates between surface and the depths.

During  the raising of the characteristic of the wall to appear as a folie, the image carrier dissolves into transparancy, as in the touch up pen drawings glasses2 made on glass panels, which either lean side by side against the wall or,  are integrated into the wall drawing by being placed before, the drawing is then enriched by the additional space. Thereby a complex dalliance is initiated with the image carrier itself, which withdraws its substantial form yet remains present, an ambivalence between visibility and invisibility.  The complex relationship between image carrier and image, between significant and object, questions exemplarily the conceptual work of Joseph Kosuth Clear,square, glass leaning from 1965, which is made up out of four quadratic leaning glass plates, which are respectively inscribed with one of the four words of the title3.

The picture called the Tafel, vorerst ohne Titel4, originates like a silhouette; A school blackboard from the surface of which a palm motif has been sawed out.  The image only becomes visible, and the outlines become raised to central design principles, when seen in collusion with the image carrier and the wall,the image having been there only in negative form.  The outline marks the borderline between centre and periphery and builds, in this way, a space.  
In his exhibition in Wolfsburg Simon Halfmeyer reaches over the arrangement of wall expanse, and integrates his art into the pre-existing architecture of the exhibition room, in that he re-adjusts the light by drawing a camouflage like curtain over the large window, at the same time marking the boundary between centre and periphery, and handling the window as a recepticle for image projection, in the same way as when the wall becomes the passive recepticle for his drawing.

He initiates a refined interplay between the visible and the hidden elements, together with entering into a dialogue with the room itself as both picture room and also exhibition room5. The drawings, which are applied directly onto the wall connect their breaches and provocations in abrupt dialogue with the architecture. They constitute their own space and are yet constituted space. Simon Halfmeyer construes fantastic room layouts and puzzling spatial arrangements also in his new drawings on paper, completed during his stipend. The displayed rooms , and the conceptualization, discovery and construction which are all   intrinsic possibilities of drawing, demonstrate that ‘the drawing can be the allusion of a World’6, as the painter and sculptor Antonius Höckelmann described this potential.  In the attempt to replicate the World, the drawing aspires to cartography.  In this case the geometrical basic structure of the wall drawing allows us to think of a fantastic road network, or on the abstraction of our urban condition. In the same way these natural forms invite us to associations with organic artery systems or with the tapestries of plant growth. In addition the basic structures, together with the motif dazzle in their finely woven connection between the works of nature and of man, between the natural and the constructed. The partly recognizeable or suspected, partly cryptical pictorial elements, which, as puzzling section, magnified details or positive-negative role reversals, whether as unproportionally large or as curious fragments making their readability more difficult, generate a multitude of double meanings and ambivalences in a perpetual oscillation between abstraction and recognition. To the central pieces of scenary used as motif, belong skyscrapers, floodlight pylons and architectural elements such as hand rails  together with trees, often palms, and reoccuring cacti and graphically ornamental foliage. The motifs from two distinct groups are designated as almost  universally interwoven, the natural and organic together with the artistic language of the architectural and the urban.  They allow a relationship of being to appear between the art of nature and mans`artificial construction, even that both temporarily fall into one entity, when the cactus can become a mussel or the latter seen from a slanted view can be seen as resembling a round stadium or arena.

The structural similarity between the grown and the constructed shows itself in the structural propinquity existing between, on the one side, constructed nature, like for example the architecture of bees honeycombs, on the other hand the earthquake proof skyscraper construction designed on the principles of a culm or blade of grass; Or, in a rather larger context the similarly developed but also developing structure of a city, as well as, the construed artificiality of landscaped nature.

Simon Halfmeyer had already  applied himself in earlier works, and, in depth, with the artificial character of nature and the conditioning of our perceptions of a reputed ‘nature’, whose artificiality has been blended out, as in his large format carbon drawings on paper und es bleibt ein ernstes grün7, which appeared in 2004 after photographs of the Ilmpark in Weimar, and which, through their composition and perspective, make reference to the construed artificiality of the park.  The artist demonstrates through his conceptual encroachment the conditioning behind Mans`experiencing of nature. Using the medium of digital picture processing he erases a green tone out of the photographic work, which he then places around the drawing as a wall colour, functioning like a colourfull ‘Passe-partout’. Through this extraction, open spaces ensue, which remain to be filled by the observer, who then construes his own personal view of the nature represented.      
Here the tension laden dichotomy from nature and artificiality becomes conspicuous, which is exemplarily demonstrated in Baroque park facilities, where plants are handled as architectural models.  The artist gives a many sided commentary upon this paradox, with his life size replica of the grown but also domesticated structure of a hedge, constructed out of plywood8. The artificial staging and the stage managed artificiality, in which the nature becomes a backdrop, also builds the theme for the spatially extensive construction Kigelia9, which displays, in undisguised form, the provisional character of its`orchestration out of chipboard and roofing slates.

The human configurative intervention in the World as a specific form of annexation, is also an essential element of artistic accomplishment.  Thereby the symbolic work Der Wohnwagen10, is a reference, inside of which a biotop has been developed, in which the seeds flourish opulently under plant lights.  As a hermetic system, in which something develops and acquires form, this mobile greenhouse becomes a symbol for the artist, in similar fashion to the Kartoffelhaus11, from Sigmar Polke, which ironically compares the artistic creativity with the germination of a potato, in which within the darkness of a cellar something new germinates, grows and proliferates.  
In its new function as a greenhouse Der Wohnwagen reminds us of the glasshouses, the architecture of which belongs as one of the central motifs of the artists imagery. The graphical structure of  their steel skeleton construction,  extensively used in the 19th century , is fascinating through its dissolving into line networks. The glass roofs of the greenhouses, and shopping malls, function like an umbrella, over specific self contained systems, and Worlds of proliferation.  In this way they can also be interpreted as a metaphor for a museum or exhibition room, as Barbara Buchmaier indicates her catalogue contribution to the Glashaus exhibition12. In reminiscence of the elegant aesthetic of the 18th and 19th centuries, during which the tendency of increasing historicism and antiquarianism run parallel to exoticism.   This is portrayed paradigmatically by the palm tree, an ever reoccuring image, repeated in the Tafel, vorerst ohne Titel,  as well as in numerous sketches on paper, on glass or on the wall. “Die nostalgische Palme”13 is also a repeatedly used central motif of the works of Marcel Broodthaers, particularly during the last years of his creativity, “ As a décor conjuring up the exoticism of the fading of the colonial epoch” and it condenses in itself the sentimental “spirit of the Fin-de-siècle, which had no distinctive stylistic imprint of its own, and  substituted borrowed historical inspirations”, as the art historian Dorothea Zwirner writes. In 1974 and 1975 Broodthaers realized, in several versions, the installation Un jardin d’hiver)15, building a wintergarden utilizing numerous palms and deckchairs enabling the observer to recover from the exhibition whilst in the exhibition, an oasis , which unifies the potential avantgardistic innovation with the melancholic and nostalgic longing for tradition.           
Sigmar Polke employs the palm using a similar symbolic power, although interlacing this with ironic meaning in an enigmatic and subversive way. The romantic feeling of the advertizing flyers and photo tapestries of the 1960’s, which reflect a petit bourgeois escapism and the desire for the exotic, is satirized in the photographs of the Palmenserie16, from 1966. The palms are made from objects of everyday life, as in the Zollstockpalme, the Brotpalme and the Wattepalme, and finally Polke himself as a Menschenpalme , in white underpants wearing a wreath of white palm branches around his neck, a dressed up idealization of the artist as an exotic being, a role in which he appears to feel uncomfortable.

The fundamental human longing for idyll attaches itself mostly to nature, however always a landscaped nature. This urge to shape the World is exemplarily expressed in the  Schrebergartensiedlungen ( Colonies of allotment gardens with wooden houses in the cities), in which each individual creates his own World. The graphite drawings in the series Schrebergärten17 are based upon photographs taken during a stroll through an allotment colony. This is betrayed by single details, whose light values are reversed, together with hard contrasts.  The drawing is, at the same time, photography and its reverse.  An elementary principle of drawing with light is also used by Simon Halfmeyer for his photogramms, created during his time in Essen, in which he arranged different objects upon light sensitive paper, resulting in photography which is direct, without medium and without negatives. With the photogramms, in a technical and formal sense,  he siezes upon his characteristic work with pieces of scenery, thereby placing himself within the time honoured tradition of elementary image processing.  As a silhouette the wall drawing is, in a way an archetype, and reminds us of the cave allegory of Platon, describing humans in a cave, bound with their backs to the exit, watching shadows on the cave wall, of objects carried to them by a fire outside19. Simon Halfmeyers’ wall drawings appear like spellbound shadows, traces of projections or an imagined World, equally grown and constructed.

(1) Glashaus, 2006, Pigment pen on wall, ca. 30 x 4,85 m, Junge Kunst e.V., Wolfsburg
(2) Glasses, 2006, Laquer pen on glass, 145 x 22 cm, 140 x 30 cm, 170 x 43 cm, 164 x 30cm, 140 x 30 cm, 115 x 30 cm
(3) Illustrations in Joseph Kosuth : Investigationen über Kunst und Problemkreise seit 1965, Volume 1: Proto investigations & Primary investigation (1965, 1966-1968), Lucerne 1973, page 9
(4) Tafel, vorerst ohne Titel, 2006
(5) Ich war noch nie im Herrenhausen/Folie, 2006 Cutting plotter folie, ca. 1,20 x 1,65m and 5 x 4,85m, Junge Kunst e.V., Wolfsburg
(6) Quotation from: Eduard Trier: Bildhauertheorien im 20 Jahrhundert, new edition, Berlin 1999, page 295.
(7) …und es bleibt ein ernstes Grün, 2004 Charcoal on paper, bonding colour, Measurements respectively 2,95 x 4,47 m.
(8) Ich war noch nie in Herrenhausen, 2005, plywood, binding wire, 220 x 400 x 40cm.
(9) Kigelia, 2006 wooden scaffold, photocopies, ceramics, alluminium particles, variable measurement, project room Cluster, Berlin
(10) Der Wohnwagen, 2001, caravan, plant lamps, soil, seeds, variable measurements.
(11) Sigmar Polke: Kartoffelhaus, 1967, painted wooden scaffold, potatoes, 250 x 200 x 200 cm. Block collection, Berlin, illustrations in exhibition cat. Sigmar Polke: Die drei Lügen der Malerei, Bonn 1997, page 148
(12) See: Barbara Buchmaier: Der Austellungsraum als Glashaus, catalogue Simon Halfmeyer: Glashaus Junge Kunst e.V. wolfsburg
(13) Dorothea Zwirner: Marcel Broodthaers, Die Bilder, die Wörter, die Dinge, Cologne 1997, page 151
(14) Zwirner 1997, page 150
(15) Prints of the installation in Palais des Beaux – Arts, Brussels 1974 in : Wilfried Dieckhoff (publisher) : Marcel Broodthears : Le Poids d’une oevre d’art, Cologne 1994, page 174
(16) Sigmar Polke :…Höhere Wesen befehlen, 1968 Folder with drawings, offset prints and text pages, Edition Gallery René Block, Berlin, work register Nr. 8 in : Jürgen Becker, Claus van der Osten (publisher), Sigmar Polke : Die Editionen 1963 – 2000, Ostfildern-Ruit 2000, pages 26 – 33
(17) Schrebergärten, 2003, Selection of 9 drawings, Graphite on paper, respectively 30 x 42 cm
(18) Photogramm, 2007
(19) See: Platon: Politeia (Der Staat, Über das Gerechte)  7th book, Hamburg 1989, page 268 ff