Rampant Repetitions | Passing Thoughts

Each of us carries images around in his or her head – memories of things seen and experienced, stories once told that will be told again. Feelings and moods also evoke images that remind us of situations and events. One could claim that an image always tells a story, but which story and whose? Stories arise from history and are written – simultaneously about and during – the creative process itself. They are accounts from all levels of time and space, and may be fictitious or real. They open the door to a boundless variety of subjective experience.
Daniela Hoferer and Michiko Nakatani are interested in elevating these subjective images and stories to a haptic, formative world. In a successful interplay of two- and three-dimensionality,both artists lend their works a sense of dramaturgy, allowing the viewer a glimpse into the depth and details of their creative process. The artists met while studying sculpture at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. While differing in material and composition, the artists’ works meet on an intellectual plane as well as in a dialog between the artists themselves. On the one hand, their narratives, thought patterns and considerations arise as part of the creative process; and on the other hand from personal experience and memories. Repetitive activity is essential to both positions – modeling in Nakatani’s case and stitching in Hoferer’s.
This repetitive activity results in works that grow rampantly beyond themselves. To Daniela Hoferer, experimentation and a gradual approach to material, form and effect are of importance. In one body of work, for instance, Hoferer focuses on constructing something solid, stable and substantial using textiles, using the fluid and flat material of textile. Late medieval suits of grooved armor form another point of creative departure. The delicate treatment of the grooved surface – originally designed to provide lightweight yet resistant protection – reminds us of the fashion of the day. For instance, Lucas Cranach the Elder – in his portrait of Duke Johann II. of Anhalt completed in 1520 – portrays the prince’s armor in a soft, textile-like manner so that the metal is only recognizable as such by its silver shine. Hoferer pursues this means of representation as a sculptor by processing a shiny silver textile material in such a way that, at first glance, the resulting work Prozession (Procession) appears to be made of metal. Superficial reception and categorical classification are suspended and finally denounced by an eye to detail. The artist demands time and silence of the viewer – criteria that are essential to her own creative process and of special importance to herself. For manual composition and choice of materials do not spring from political or feministic motives, but rather from the creation of time for her thoughts, the thoughts from which she draws the forms she composes in space. In the course of an intentionally long work process, the artist’s first impulse evolves, though not toward any certain final form. The artist addresses memories of images seen and experienced, traces or details that have remained with her, to create for them a space of their own from her intellectual, visual world. Hoferer’s embroidery works are substantial – two-dimensionality is shattered from the very first thread, which usually goes on to build a multilayered structure that stands out against the surface.

Her work Passionsmaschine (The Passion machine) evokes the idea of the Christian ceiling painting. Not only in the arrangement of the image contents, but also in the composition and conception of the painting form. The “heaven” is mounted to the wall within one’s grasp. The slightly protruding panels at the upper and lower edge reach into the room to evoke the vaulted ceiling of some churches. Further motifs are encased in self-built metal vitrines, which lend the works an undeniable spatiality. This combination of artisan craftwork, design and sculpture is reminiscent of Bauhaus in its intent, and presents each work as a component of architectural space. The contents of the image discourse with image composition and symbols of a late medieval tradition – for example, some individual details such as headdress are extracted from their context and isolated. Progression during artistic work is an important, ongoing process to Hoferer. The first vitrines are still on metal legs, modeled after Austrian designer Carl Auböck. Hoferer likes to experiment with a combination of materials. She uses copper for the vitrine bodies, for instance, and one vitrine is outfitted with wooden legs taken from a kidney table, instilling the work more with the character of interior decoration than of presentation furniture. This aspect is underscored by the visual content, a work of embroidery depicting the Haus Schminke, a prime example of modern architecture built in the 1930s, a period in which the avant-garde zeitgeist practiced the consolidation of applied and fine arts. In a further step, the artist forgoes materials used in conventional furniture construction. Porcelain legs – warped inadvertently during manufacture so that each has forfeited symmetry in favor of uniqueness – now, by chance, give the impression of a biomorphic object moving through the room. It is an evolution from static functional object to interior decoration to seemingly organic entity.

In her work, Michiko Nakatani focuses on detail. At first glance, the works shown in the exhibition appear to be paintings. As the viewer approaches a work, however, it becomes clear that it is comprised not of canvas and paint, but rather of objects – plaster cast negative reliefs filled in to a smooth surface with black-pigmented synthetic resin. Full, black areas build at the deeper points of the plaster cast negative reliefs due to the increasing layer thickness of the igmented, transparent synthetic resin. The reliefs’ even sections appear in gray scale, in part due to grinding down the resin which results in the pigment losing in opacity.
Nakatani works without the aid of preliminery sketches and pre-fabricated templates, and develops the form by first modeling a clay relief. Experimentation with materials and their formal effect are of significance to Nakatani. In her work Zimmer (Room), for instance, the artist succeeds in lending a hard material such as synthetic resin the appearances of softness and malleability through the visual interplay of dimension, color intensity, light and shadow. Reality is constructed from a fictitious world of shadows and transformed into a constant, alternating interplay of surface and spatiality. Nakatani employs various strategies to create an unusual sense of space. The artist does so, on the one hand, via conscious placement of light and the edges of shadows and gradation of black levels, comparable to the technique of color perspective; and on the other hand via the depth effect of the cast negative relief. This combination does far more than simply suggest a third dimension on a twodimensional surface, it actually illustrates real space: image, the object, is sculpture.
As such, the artist installed her three works Boot (Boat), Schatten (Shadow) and Nächtliche Waldspiegelung (Nightly Reflection of a Forest) as a cohesive installation. The theme of boat is present as both a sculpture in space and an image on the wall. The segue between sculpture and image is underscoredby Nächtliche Waldspiegelung (Nightly Reflection of a Forest), the plaster cast negative relief leaned against the wall – a depiction of the reflection of a forest in a supposed body of water, perhaps that on which the boats float.
The artist’s work Schatten (Shadow) is a collage of black crêpe paper that reveals the silhouette of a boat when the viewer approaches closely. Both depictions of a boat are of equal significance to Nakatani, even if the process of manufacturing ceramics is much more involved than making a crêpe paper collage. What is important is the two depictions’ differing emphasis and twofold presence in the exhibition room, once as an image of a boat and again as a real boat with tangible materiality. In the creative process, Nakatani’s works partially underlie a certain temporal rhythm – for instance, the rhythm of ambient noises like those the animals provide in the video Animal’s Abstraction.
In the video, Nakatani draws a pattern on the walls of a stall over the course of several days, a pattern that she repeats again and again. This repeated action, this gesture of a hand holding a pencil on the wall, results in detailed differences in the lines and shape of the pattern. To the artist, this is not a static copying of one and the same form, but rather an object growing rampant on the wall, comparable to a climbing plant whose tendrils reveal fine nuances upon closer examination. Three aspects of repetition – the ontological, the spatial and the chronological – are expressed in Nakatani’s rampant sculpture.
Pure repetition for the sake of repetition; the overall design of the work determined by an incessant and tiny repetition; and the repetition that takes place during artistic work and a discussion of various concepts of history that influence our worldview and upon which diverse sociocultural structures are based, such as traditions*. But who was and is actually involved in the story as it is written and told today? While we cannot grasp the question in all its details, we can seek to widen our awareness of it. Let’s put an end to superficial observation! Such is the intent of Nakatani’s work Souzou no Yoroi (Imagination of Armory) – a human form comprised of many smaller human forms. The plastic figures, joined like limbs, form an empty body – the frame, the armor and thus the story composed of many individual narratives.

Sofie Mathoi
Translation: Reuben Matthews

* Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte: Wiederholung/Répétition:
http://www.dtforum.org/index.php?id=353 [21.03.2014]