Svenja Deininger, Gabriel Sierra and Angelika Loderer at Secession / Vienna

February 2  – March 26, 2017

Friedrichstraße 12
1010 Vienna

Svenja Deininger / Echo of a Mirror Fragment

Svenja Deininger regards painting as a process: she does not consider her pictures, on which she often works over long periods of time, to be self-contained entities. The process of creating an image rather serves to stimulate reflection and acts as a mental continuation of a form or composition – the imagining of the future picture and how it is located in a spatial context are thus essential elements of the artistic process. As if working on a text the artist elaborates and polishes the syntax of her art. She considers her works to be parts of a system that require their interrelations to be analysed whenever they encounter one another. She alternates large and small format pictures and by means of combining and positioning them in a space she creates a tension, which, together with her range of shapes, results in a ‘Deiningerian idiom’.

For her show Echo of a Mirror Fragment in the main exhibition space of the Secession, Svenja Deininger has created a new body of work comprising more than 40 paintings. Inspired by the unique architecture of the Secession, with its peculiar tension between the floral ornaments of the facade on the one hand and the astonishingly austerely designed exhibition space with its clear lines on the other, the new paintings echo this contrast by juxtaposing straight lines reminiscent of architectural blue-prints with more organic elements: rounded shapes, wavy lines and curves, in which, despite their fragmentary character, there is even a faint suggestion of figurative representation.

Two of her pieces refer in a straightforward manner to the building’s architecture, specifically to a detail that is no longer visible and is probably largely forgotten: the unusual shape and the positioning of two small round paintings call to mind the two round windows which, in the course of the renovation of the Secession in 1985/86, were placed in the entrance wall of the main exhibition space, only to disappear again a few years later.

The strict symmetry of the building, especially the floor plan of the show room with the two aisles, prompted Deininger to paint a series of ‘mirror images,’ where the basic pattern of one painting will reappear in a modified way – e.g. left-right-reversed or upside-down – in another painting. These echoes, together with the individual colouration and treatment of the surfaces, elicit fresh interpretations by enabling the artist to create an interplay between the pictures. This intention is further underlined by the exhibition design – devised by Deininger herself –, which features two narrow openings to the aisles and is generally aimed at directing the viewer’s gaze. As in earlier works, the artist iterates various compositions and forms in different formats. Thus, large-format paintings are apt to reveal themselves as close-ups of details from small format paintings and vice versa. The free play of combining various forms their blanks (there is a pronounced focus on what is not represented in and between the paintings) yields ever-new perspectives.

Deininger’s works, keeping a fine balance between abstraction and subtle gestures at figuration, are characterised as much by their idiosyncratic composition as by their layered texture. The artist’s work method corresponds to her interest in endowing the flat canvas with a spatiality and a materiality that oscillates between the concrete and the vague.

Due to the alternating application and removal of multiple layers of primer and colour coatings, lines and forms appear to inhabit different planes of the painting – what is in front of the surface and what is behind it seem to be in constant flux. In an elaborate work process, the artist removes or reduces in places the dried paint by means of multiple sandings or strippings only to proceed by applying new layers of colour, some opaque, some translucent. In many of her pictures parts of the canvas are left blank. Deininger thus draws the viewer’s attention to the painting support: the canvas itself becomes a compositional instrument, while the colour and character of the fabric assume the function of design elements. In this reduced colour palette, it is mainly white (in many different shades) that sets the tone. The artist contrasts delicate colour gradients with accentuated lines and edges; dark shapes immersed in shadows are placed alongside radiant and vibrant colour fields.

Gabriel Sierra / The First Impressions of the Year 2018 (During the early days of the year 2017)

“This project works as a setting to represent an abstract situation about perceiving the future during the present time, using the gallery space and its boundaries as a container in which the future will, in a metaphorical sense, dwell for the duration of the exhibition. The exhibition is a fictional event that operates with the introduction of site-specific works resembling boxes to resonate with the physical qualities of the place and the light entering from outside to produce a particular atmosphere. Space and time collide in a phenomenological experience during the opening hours, while the present, the year 2017, is on the other side of the walls, in adjacent rooms and outside the Secession building.” (Gabriel Sierra)

Conceived especially for the Secession, Gabriel Sierra’s installation grows out of his philosophical reflections on space and time. He is concerned with the idea of the present time and the moment when the visitor—as spectator—enters the gallery to see the show. As Sierra developed this most recent installation, he also worked closely with the concrete site, the downstairs galleries at the Secession.

The title Sierra has chosen for his show, The first impressions of the year 2018 (During the early days of the year 2017), outlines the framework of the exhibition as an “abstract situation” and locus of the imagination. Entering the gallery, the visitors are summoned to imagine stepping into the future, though the scene remains embedded in the present of the year 2017. On the visual level, the construction is sustained by the special light direction. The present is brightly illuminated and clearly visible; the exhibition, by contrast, is immersed in relative darkness: only the light entering from outside limns the contours of the space and the mysterious fixtures that have been installed in it. The longer the visitors linger in the rooms and the more their eyes adapt to the twilight, the more distinctly the elements of the exhibition emerge into view.

They could be read as “Dioramas of the future”: giant constructions whose capricious lack of any recognizable function initially makes them seem enigmatic. To the artist’s mind, they are abstract elements of a future exhibition awaiting to be taken into service in their designated function as display. Taking up the entire length of the walls, they look like oversized boxes whose dimensions and height are custom-tailored to the architecture of the gallery. At first it seems that they camouflage the building entirely, but closer examination reveals that the elements—suspended 6 inches above the floor—emphasize its architecture and characteristic features, especially the signature ribbed vaulting and the large wall niches. One of the artist’s intentions was to make visitors see the room as it is, so he began by knocking down all drywall structures that had been inserted into the space to expose the gallery’s “skeleton.” Sierra also uncovered the windows of the basement rooms, which are usually concealed. These windows and a single glass door are the only sources of light in the exhibition, producing an atmospheric illumination that changes drastically depending on the amount of daylight entering through the apertures and bathing the rooms in shifting ambiances.

The subjectivity of perception and recollection, the play with visibility and invisibility, the involvement of all the senses, but also a critical engagement with the rules and conventions of the art world: these are constitutive elements of Sierra’s practice, articulated in the exhibition in—sometimes very subtle—interventions that many visitors might overlook were it not for the list of works in the brochure available at the entrance. Some pieces will be experienced solely by visitors who arrive in the gallery at certain times: an Open Window-brand scented candle will be lit only for short periods of time (Untitled [Open Window], 2014–2017)—its fragrance a faint response to the uncovering of the gallery’s otherwise covered windows.

Angelika Loderer

Angelika Loderer’s sculptures might be classified as media-reflective art: the characteristics of the materials she uses and the manufacturing processes are fundamental parameters informing the design process. Her sculptures are frequently made of cast metal or secondary materials from the metal casting workshop—wax, for example, or special molding sand, which, because of its high level of form stability, is particularly well suited for casting. It is essential for the production of the mould proper but leaves no trace on the finished product—it is effectively invisible. Loderer makes this auxiliary agent her medium to “build” fragile and temporary sculptures; consisting of molding sand, they allude to metalworking while also initiating an inspiring and paradoxical dialogue between the durability of the one and the ephemeral quality of the other. Her creative approach is characterized by the improvisational and experimental uses she makes of her materials: unconventional combinations yield appealing objects that sometimes suggest a sort of “performative sculpture.”

The centerpiece in the exhibition at the Secession’s Grafisches Kabinett is an ensemble of new sand sculptures and pictorial objects realized in the gallery that are the results of the artist’s most recent experiments with fungal mycelia. Work on the new series began with sketches for sculptures to be made out of tamped sand; the finished works combine three grades of molding sand—each with its own characteristics and color—with custom-designed metal constructions in fragile temporary formations. In earlier sand sculptures, Loderer had integrated other materials and found objects such as a mattress, producing unusual results or incorporating chance as a defining factor in the manufacturing process. Though highly malleable, the sand sets limits to the creative will, making the work with it a process that plays out between artistic intention and the potentials of the material.

Loderer’s interest in processes that elude her control also inspired her to experiment with a mixture of fungal spores and wood shavings—first in her sculptures and most recently at the intersection of sculpture and painting. A setup that was initially meant not for the exhibition but as a standalone project for the artist’s book to be published in conjunction with the show turned into a series of “performative pictures.” Not unlike the sand sculptures, these works result from the combination of two interacting materials and the effects of chance: the artist filled found acrylic glass boxes with wood seeded with fungus into which she then placed photographs. Over the following weeks, she documented how the spores developed into fine webs, while the photographs were gradually damaged by moisture and fungal growth. The series of small-format pictures provided the model for the large-scale picture objects in the exhibition: a pixelated image—a greatly magnified shot from the Internet—shows an equestrian monument with innumerable casting channels, marking the connection to the sand sculptures. A second, entirely abstract picture shows the mycelium overgrowing a porous structured mat. The network of fungal filaments will become increasingly distinct over the course of the exhibition, recognizably altering the pictures. The gradual transformation of the pictures contrasts with the fragility and temporality of the sand sculptures.

Loderer’s sculptures bear witness to the interplay between snapshot and durability and the ambivalence of value, perishability, and meaning. They also call conceptions of value in question by enhancing simple and commonplace forms with precious materials.