Text from the catalogue Gums and Liquids, written by Dr. Siegfried Gnichwitz, May 2002
“Things are right in front of our eyes – unveiled. Here, religion and art are separate.” Ludwig Wittgenstein
The following statements can be made in an attempt to formulate the key criteria of an art which came after classic Modern Art in the 1960s. All of them apply to Barbara Koch’s newer works – which is obvious at first sight. Significantly, she names these works after the materials used: “Gums and Liquids”.
Consciously turning their back on traditional painting, young post-WW2 artists employed new materials thus far not considered suitable for works of art. They complemented the traditional materials and traditional artist paint with materials used for industrial and technical applications. Jackson Pollock, for example, used car paint and aluminum paint. Screen printing ink, synthetic materials, Plexiglass and sheet metal were now considered just as valid und used as lines, surfaces and color paint. Rooted in this tradition, Barbara Koch uses silicon and luminescent paint (like that usually used on billboards) and lacquer usually applied in etching procedures. She also makes use of bitumen and other tarring materials used for sealing or road topping.
Another crucial finding is the absence of any teleological “idea” her artwork might depict. What manifests itself here is something of an objective nature rather than a painting in the traditional sense. For example, Barbara Koch presses a blend of silicon and fluorescent colors through sieves, waiving in her recent works any kind of carrier like traditional canvas. The result – a synthetic surface with a uniform and even grid structure – is put on a frame and, underlining its material character, used as a complementary element in the conceptual framework. This way the Factual and Concrete is clearly expressed without any transcendent meaning which would cloud the perception.
Last but not least, this conceptual art has succeeded an art which, despite all its attempts at being enigmatic, was not only mimetic, but also facilitated hermeneutic interpretation. Accordingly, there is no “content” eligible for interpretation in Barbara Koch’s work, no “content” which could be deciphered by hermeneutic means. Consequently these works cannot be interpreted but only described.
In these paintings Barbara Koch consistently presents her concept: Contradictory elements are placed next to each other in sharp contrast, connected only by the use of the same materials and procedures. The individual parts are combined as a multi-part object which – like a true piece of modern art – rejects interpretation and as a concrete object points to a world which is just … there. This world is neither meaningful nor absurd. It merely requires acceptance for what it is.
While these paintings are dialectic in nature, they consist of more than just diametrical opposites. Near-monochrome surfaces are put next to rather informal works, which in turn border on constructional elements. Quite often these alternations take place within a single painting which finds its function as part of a polyptychon. Its parts are paintings of a style called “non-relational” – a scholarly term in modern American art which is characteristic for a certain school of art during the last decades. These informal individual paintings are not balanced, there is no hierarchy of pictorial elements and even the grid structured paintings do not display any kind of structure which would invite a skilled sense of harmony and tension to analyze said structures. Nonetheless, a remainder of the European tradition of composition is evident in the intentional combination of the individual paintings in space.
From this point of view, Barbara Koch’s artifacts are an attempt to synthesize all trends of the art period which followed classic Modern Art. Accordingly, her works are becoming more sizeable and cover more and more of the wall. Individual paintings are combined as a group and thus acquire their respective purpose – every painting points to another painting, relates to it and yet makes for an extreme contrast. Susanne Schulte has written an essay on earlier works of Koch’s, which were generally dedicated to the color red, a group of works called “The Color Red”. In Schulte’s essay, the author attempted to interpret these works hermeneutically, discovering symbolic aspects of the artist’s red color as the “color of living, animate matter, the will to live, the [will of] the body”. This is a possible standpoint and analysis because art as such is always open to various interpretations. However, this is not my personal approach – at least not to the paintings of the group of works titled “Gums and Liquids”, because in these works every part presents itself as concrete, obvious and factual – demonstrating its own concrete reality. While the simplicity of each individual painting is quite frequently the result of rather complex production procedures, it is first and foremost the result of conscious artistic decisions. This also applies to the specific placement of the individual paintings.
In these paintings, esthetics are boiled down to the original meaning of this term – “aisthesis” originally meant simply “perception”. What we perceive and see in these “Gums and Liquids” is just what it is. This does not represent studio esthetics in the traditional pursuit of beauty, no illusionism trying to distract from the fact that the artifacts are in fact made – or distracting the spectator’s view from the concrete nature of the works in insinuating some kind of “content”. Barbara Koch consequently waives any use of the traditional perspective which, as the Original Sin of Occidental art, has tempted the spectators into believing that art is a “representation of”. The esthetic potential of these paintings lies exclusively in our confrontation with them. This confrontation prompts the spectator to take a closer look. However, this process takes place – and has to take place – in a reflexive way, because viewing these polymorphic elements together does not entail a holistic view. Therefore, in walking past them they have to be seen and perceived as parts.
While one thing American minimalists intended was direct visual perception in the works they produced as “specific objects” (Donald Judd), Barbara Koch’s multi-part works do not allow any synchronicity of presence and perception – a direct visual “grasp” of her multi-part works is prevented.
A spectator walks past the multi-part paintings, trying to find out how each part is “made” to evoke its specific effect. The artist makes no secret of the production process of her paintings. Patiently she explains that these informal paintings have been made without manual work as such. She pours liquid black bitumen – sometimes blended with oil paint – onto the canvas. It then flows rather coincidentally over the surface, its flow just slightly steered by horizontal movements of the surface. The artist also shows and explains the sieves she uses to produce the grid structured paint objects.
Perhaps the only way to familiarize oneself with these works is conscious viewing – accepting the challenge of reflection, for this is a reflexive art which cannot be “hacked” with esthetics of empathy. It is an art which has digested and processed the trends of modern art – an art which, directly and without any distractions, confronts us with those trends of modern art that we can conceptualize.
This is an art that specifically avoids a kind of “depth” which, especially in Germany, is still deemed indispensable, an art which is honest enough not to mimic such “depth” in any of its details. Barbara Koch’s “Gums and Liquids” consistently stay in the Here & Now, they do not point to any transcendent enigmas. There is no reference to authorities of some holistic “center” beyond the realms of art itself. They are just what they are intended to be – artifacts of contemporary art.
Pictures Gums and Liquids