Patricia Grzonka – A Sublime Reality Check
A SUBLIME REALITY CHECK
Nita Tandon’s Allusive Appropriations of Space
Patricia Grzonka in the catalogue Dimensions oft he Surface, p. 110 – 120
II. The Passion for the Real
The suggestion of a function-bound reality, which the Disclosures already demonstrate as furnishing-like pieces, is part of a new, ‘ephemeral’ quality that emerges in the works completed since the end of the 1990s, while these wall installations are still durable and intended for posterity by virtue of the selection of solid materials, like concrete or marble. In this they clearly differ from works made from far lighter and more maleable materials (like modelling clay – for instance, Plasticine). It is this entirely deliberate break with things that had gone before:
I wasn’t thinking so much about posterity with this connection with concrete. I wanted to break with my reputation as a ‘concrete artist’ even though it continued to fascinate me as a raw material.
Exemplary for this is a series of works on paper entitled Flux (pp. 148–150), where Tandon makes an ornmental geometric arrangement of stripes and lines with coloured marker pen and bitumen. Here she uses bitumen, an organic raw material distilled from crude oil that takes on a deep black colouring absorbing a hint of brown (‘earth pitch’). She experiments here with a raw material that had not previously been used for fine art. Subjects recognisable as found footage are partially covered over in the process of painting. Schematic faces can be made out in the background of some of these works on paper – an incursion from the world outside that becomes visible in this new phase of production. This quality is especially tangible in a series of Fire Paintings (The Painted Flame, pp. 68/69): My question was: How far can I thematise the act of painting itself? The Fire Paintings were the result of making the act of burning and extinguishing the subject. The candle flame left its own image.
The impressions of elemental forces were described by Yves Klein as ephemeral ‘traces of the moment’.5 Alongside the familiar body imprints – essentially female models who, according to Klein, could first be brought to express their full content through the colour blue – the French artist also took imprints and ‘impregnations’ 6 as well as natural surfaces or forces of nature, like fire, for the production of paintings. Nita Tandon’s own spiritual approach bears some similarities to Klein’s philosophically anchored elementarism: a concept of transformation is expressed in the performative ritual character of creating paintings, in the course of which archaic principles of cessation, of negation, and of death are replaced by principles of starting afresh and creation.
A ‘cult of the ephemeral’ 7 and the transient that results from a performance of the moment is also to be found in a work like Fingerprint – Die Rückseite der Vorderseite ([The Back of the Front], 2011, pp. 18–22): a set of the artist’s digitised fingerprints are displayed as an oversized pixelated image comprised of individual fingerprints in Plasticine on a pane of glass in an exhibition space. ‘The process is a game of definitions played with the viewer in which they are forced to choose between analogue/digital, two-dimensional/three-dimensional, front/back. … Epitomised as a determinant of identity, the fingerprint becomes the object of questions concerning originality and seriality.’ 8 At the end there is a performative step in the demontage of the image, however, that leads to the fingerprint becoming a Fingerprint Erased (video, 2012, pp. 23–27).
How thin the line between creation and extinguishing is, is shown in particular by the Fire Paintings, for which the artist runs a burning match so close to a sheet of paper that the soot from the flame leaves dark scald marks. If the flame is held against the paper for too long the image (and the paper) is destroyed.
Alongside such elementary, archaic – and ultimately dark – themes are, however, frequently also lighter approaches to be appreciated, expressed for instance in playful text works that identify Tandon as an ironic child of her (postmodern) times: a wobbly, coloured line (in The Jolly Line, pp. 162–169, or Barrier II, pp. 158/159) reminds the viewer of the futility of attempts to impose rigid notions of organistation as they are addressed in the modern grid – reflections on which are also similarly visible in works by an artist like Günther Förg. The humour and the wealth of allusions in a word installation at Karlsplatz underground station in Vienna – Reason Grows (which reads in German as riesengroß = lit. giant-sized) and Future Weird Sign (which reads in German as Future wird sein = lit. the future will be) – wryly echoes the artistic setting of Vienna, a city that has never been averse to profound wordplay.9
The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek says of the ‘passion for the Real’, ‘The authentic twentieth-century
passion for penetrating the Real Thing … through the cobweb of semblences which constitutes our reality thus culminates in the thrill of the Real as the ultimate “effect”, sought after from digitalized special effects, through [for instance] reality TV’.10
Tandon’s path led from an exhaustive engagement with conceptual avant-garde and neo-avant-garde approaches to painting to an engagement with the ‘real’ manifested as real experience subtly encoded in the artistic implementation as archaising, ritual elements, processes (burning, imprints), and raw materials.
Finally, one work of hers can be read as a reflection on the significance of painting in the age of mass information: Departure of the Fleet (after William Turner) (2005, pp. 140/141). Reflected light from the flickering glow of nightlights projects onto a blue Perspex wall, creating a fleeting ‘shadow image’. The image is only a distant gleam of a once viable and reliable statement. In its temporariness – eventually the candles go out – it is a symbol of transience, an apparition of a reality from elsewhere. In this Daedalean metaphor – not by coincidence calling to mind Plato’s allegory of the cave, the allegory in which the notion of a convergence of appearance and reality appears for the first time – Nita Tandon transforms the appearance of reality, the ‘effect’ of the light source in a captivating image of reality.
Art is a place where curious things can happen anytime. A door is a door that does not open. A Plasticine fingerprint. A shadow image.
5 Camille Morineau, ‘Körper, Farbe, Immaterialität’, in Yves Klein, exh. cat. Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, (Vienna and New York: Springer, 2007), 12.
6 Camille Morineau, ‘Von der Imprägnation zum Abdruck, vom Künstler zum Modell, von der Farbe zu ihrer Inkarnation’, in Yves Klein, 119.
7 Morineau, ‘Körper, Farbe, Immaterialität’, 13.
8 Daniel Wisser, in this book, p. 22.
9 In these circles there is a whole generation of Nita Tandon’s contemporaries, of whom a few for singling out here are Gerwald Rockenschaub, Heimo Zobernig, Heinrich Dunst, and Walter Obholzer.
10 Slavoj Žižek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real (London and New York: Verso, 2002), 12.