Burghart Schmidt linear textures | spatial surfaces

Partly edited version of the introductory speech on the occasion of the vernissage in the KunstSchauRaum of SPLITTER ART on 3rd October 2001. The exhibition referred to had the title "Swarming Lines" corresponding to the titles of the exhibited sequence of etchings. Supplementary passages by Peter Wechsler are shown dotted underlined.

Peter Wechsler`s works which you see here, dry point etchings (1), have, by way of preamble as it were, an indication of the time spent on them by the artist: he worked at these prints from 1976 to 2001. That was a great surprise for me to start with, the first resulting from my encounter with this group of works which is exhibited here. For me in particular there is nothing unusual about artists who work at something for a long time, who invest a lot of time in their projects. But this really is a very long time, which has led others to interpret it as working against time, or against the pace of time or against the acceleration of time. Indeed making time stand still and related ideas have meanwhile become favourite counter-themes in our accelerated society. In Austria there is a society for the slowing down of time. All the same it is my opinion that, when you now look at the results here in their differing variations of execution method, beginning with State Print I from 1976 upto State Print VIII from 2001, you will note that the time factor is neither slowed down nor stopped; neither is it divested of time or brought to a standstill.

In actual fact it seems plausible to me – when one examines the prints even more closely – that they are telling of something which has a connection with time but also indicates a reverse-flow process. When an artist in his drawings or illustrations works principally by the use of hatching, he is working with lines and employs these as his preferred structural element. Alternately, depending on the phase of his work, the lines are employed slowly, are cautiously drawn; then drawn faster again and with more pressure following a more impulsive rhythm, which in fact an etching tends towards, and what he has drawn then acquires even so a certain tempo, as it were, by the use of hatching. I use this term here in a wholly technical sense, and not implying dabbling: he has created something by hatching, hingekritzelt or call it what you will. And this tempo, this rhythm, determined by the movements of the drawing hand lies dormant in the prints but is gathered up by the grid patterns which clearly hold the foreground in an embrace or, as I would rather say, serve to accentuate it, because they are extending outwards. These grid patterns grow out of slow, fine-detail work. Springing from this fine-detail linear base structure they overlay everything else in places, they provide foreground support. In no way are these grid patterns a prescribed element of form, but are rather the result of a protracted drawing process. That is, the grid-lines are not frames but rather a fragment of a grid-pattern that could reach out further, which is just why these various prints were able to be assembled here together on the exhibition wall. And yet: each print stands alone, and has to be regarded as an autonomous work. Placing the 8 works = 8 state prints together to create an ostensible unity of form enables the progressive evolution of the work throughout the years to be accomplished in retrospect, and makes it possible for the viewer to compare the individual phases of the work.

So it is a matter here of something I will now call arrested tempo. And indeed it is this remarkable reverse-flow theme which the pictures formally illustrate in the first instance; it is accompanied by the other, the spatial theme, which you discover looking at the individual prints and then comparing them.

Here at the front (2), is an exhibit which brings out more strongly the graphic side, showing it as a drawing where the light background plays a larger part, while just here in the principal work (1), which Peter Wechsler regards as the conclusive result, the contrast with the background has disappeared completely. And you notice this at once if, when viewing them, you compare the exhibited works; here in front (2) the architectural elements stand out immediately. By architecture in this case I mean a layout which opens out great spatial depth, spatial elements created by illusion so to speak. Suddenly you are looking along corridors, or colonnades or at successions of multiple arches and suchlike; whilst here in the 8 etchings it cannot be said that space plays no part at all but rather that it was reduced to a really small differential.

Therefore when I spoke in one case of architecture, here in respect of these works (1) I would prefer to use the term textural elements, as applicable to weaving. So: the textural elements of a fabric want to become more and more densely packed, but can do so only by means of small to minimal spatial differential. That is crucial. So here we have space which has been captured and forced into the surface, therefore I would like to speak of small spatial differential. If you want to go into it even more thoroughly you will suddenly notice it is the contrasts of the other prints, that is to say the contrast between the drawing and the background of the print.But in front here you have the variant of stronger contrasting between the graphic element and the basic green colour. (3). And at once you are looking into architectures or natural architectures. The green here slightly tempts one to perhaps see landscapes or forests. And indeed forests can become closely related to architecture. That is the contrast which the architectonic content achieves. It is the contrast, reduced and minimalized, which leads to the textures.

So it is the subject of the small differential that reminded me of something which in recent decades has been of a certain relevance, and in this case I am thinking more of interpretations and less of art movements which had already been established somewhere by certain theories of art. By this I mean a major turn-around represented by Jean François Lyotard. His view was that many works, which were otherwise regarded as coming under the heading of abstract art – like the works of Barnett Newman or Daniel Buren – should be considered from a particular perspective of sublimity. The special merit of Lyotard`s interpretation was that it completely put the classical concept of the sublime in question. Following on from Kant, the sublime should always be larger than large or infinitely large, infinitely superior – always entering the macrocosm so to speak. Only one person in the 19th century hit upon the idea of interpreting it differently, that was Jean Paul who said: "How much more sublimity lies in Zeus` raised eyebrow than in all the thunder and lightning which he lets loose on the world". Now that was appreciation of the sublimity of the minimal, of the infinitely small, which fits just as much into the sublimity context as the infinitely large. And Jean Paul was the first to see it. Thus it is with this notion of the infinitely small as a sublimity theme that Lyotard tries to interpret Barnett Newman`s work, on account of those small, those smallest differentials which are to be found there which nevertheless have a huge impact. To some extent this is connected with what we define as monochromy, and these works by Peter Wechsler do remind one of this monochrome painting. But the fact remains: monochromy was a trend which came to nothing as a direct result of Barnett Newman`s use of the minimal.

With Daniel Buren it was a matter of the use of stripes; Lyotard analysed in particular Buren`s stripe pictures: by contrasting the stripes with each other, taking the border between the stripes as the theme – not the stripe tapestry which was only an instrument of the theme "border" requiring no space at the meeting-point of the lines; it is still not a line – it is either the one or the other, completely digital, and although this border is the most minimal one can imagine, Lyotard interprets just that as the central Buren theme. Well I just wanted to mention that quite briefly as it occurs to me that nevertheless all this now has nothing to do with sublimity, nor with the sublimity of the infinitely small, but rather is connected with the enormous effect of the minimal.As opposed to that sort of sublimity, Wechsler is telling us here a different story of the minimal, minimal differentials leading to a highly complex construction. It happens this way in arrested tempo, it happens this way in captured space. Really small differences leading to a complex construction.

And therefore, because he possesses what is in itself a theme which can be discussed, a subject suitable for discourse, which does not want to overpower or overwhelm, a theme which is not seeking the great "Ooh" and "Aah" from you, for those reasons I am not in the least inclined to speak of meditation pictures either, in the way that some observers do, as conversations with the artist have pointed out to me. Meditation pictures deal with the sublime and the overwhelming, although at the same time one must not confuse meditation and sublimity; rather they unwrap the same package on opposite sides as it were in order to reach the same objective of getting-carried-away, because: it is in fact sublimity which overpowers and meditation in itself does the opposite, i.e.it immerses; but in this merging with itself or in the merging of overpowering by sublimity, even if it were the infinitely small, there exists conformity between the two. But in my opinion these etchings have nothing to do with that. They do not want to lead us into meditation, but they want to have us follow a story. For that reason I spoke of suitability for a discourse and in fact it is an old theme which comes to my mind with these prints, namely, again the 19th century, – I have already mentioned Jean Paul. It was Friedrich Theodor Vischer who said about gothic cathedrals that they were only sublime from one particular viewpoint, namely: if one is too far away and with a possible background of something like the Alps they might not be able to reach the height nature can achieve. Then they would be an ordinary size. But if one comes too close nothing sublime is apparent because standing directly in front of them, only small details would be perceived. At one particular place, where the small details seem to merge, the ideal viewpoint is reached where the grandeur of gothic cathedrals becomes apparent.But, just like Vischer, I too consider that even from the close perspective what changes is only the impression of pure simple sublimity which the gothic façades convey. Not that they would thereby become worthless, i. e. seen from a close perspective – a botch-up, and from one particular more distant viewpoint – a splendid work of art. This story of tension between the most small and the complex, that is something taken from gothic structures which I would like to apply interpretatively to this undertaking of Peter Wechsler, without having thereby asserted that I wanted to touch on any cultural evaluation. So I would like to remain quite level-headed and not introduce superlative comparisons of worth, as art critics so love to do. Well, those were my impressions on coming across what Peter Wechsler is exhibiting here. And I hope you will be able to check them out and perhaps hit upon further completely different ideas of what is meant...


"Swarming Lines", Series of eight state prints of a dry-point etching on copper, plate size: 74 x 89,5 cm, State I from 1976 to State VIII from 2001; print colour employed: black. Shown additionally were: a test print of State VIII from the same plate in green and three further etchings from 1973–1976 in smaller format.
"Small Swarming Lines", dry-point etching on copper, 1973–1976, Pplate size: 29,8 x 34,5 cm.
"Swarming Lines" State VIII printed in green.