ESSAYS / ABHANDLUNGEN

Martin Heine: Relics

 

Performance  was first recognised as a coherent artistic strategy in the 1920’s and 30’s. Many modernists originally undertook performance work to open new possibilities in their practice as object makers, painters and sculptors. Most artists who give performances as part of their art practice incorporate objects, costumes and other materials as part of the work. Heine’s performance props included everything from suits to suitcases, cans of paint and broad sheets of canvas.

The action of the Heine’s performances nearly always left behind a landscape, composed of a sequence of gestures and actions recorded in paint and in the pattern of a number of objects, adjusted or partly destroyed pieces of furniture, implements and paint soaked clothing. Far from being merely the rubbish or detritus left by the action, these take the role of performance relics, an archaeology of the action, a landscape with ruins.

In fact, these relics are part of the performance as whole. Performance art, as distinct from other forms of performance, is totally fixed, absorbed in the immediate material moment. The performance consecrates these relics as an atemporal memorial to the performance moment. In other words they become museum pieces.

In 2007, Heine undertook Performance (from Action to Still Life) as part of the opening of his exhibition at Gallery East, Fremantle. He bought  a small wooden table and chair from IKEA. He  assembled them in the Gallery and put the chair on the table. He then climbed on to the chair carrying a large timber saw. He intended to lower himself to the ground, by using the saw to cut through the arms and legs of the chair and legs of the table in sequence, so as to avoid overbalancing on the way down. Remarkably, he succeeded though he had to cling to the tilted table top to remove the last sections of legs.

He left the sawn up pieces, the relics, scattered where they fell, the chair seat still on the table top. They formed a compelling still life, a mysterious object clearly the result of purposive if obscure action.  Many performances centre round one or more simple material instructions. The extreme elegance of this work is typicall  of several of Heine’s works. He also made a small painting of the work as it was at the beginning of the performance, which he intended to be shown with the relics.

In  2011 Heine presented a far more complex piece simply titled Function 5 in the Kurb Gallery. The small audience of friends found that the gallery walls  and floor were protected by polythene sheeting and most of the floor was covered  with sheets of strong white A3 paper. In the left corner was a standard kitchen some opened tins and several teddy bears.

Between the audience and the papered floor was a row of cans and  bottles of paint, coloured crayons and other painting and drawing implements. Heine announced that he intended to make five ‘movements’ using the chair and everything else to produce a large painting on the sheets of paper. He began by attaching cans to the legs of the chair and filling them with liquid paint. He then taped the largest teddy to the seat of the chair and stepped on it. It tipped  over, spilling paint in several directions. Heine then attached cans to his head and limbs and attempted to roll the chair along while sitting in it, Eventually the chair fell over sideways. He painted several more sheets of paper using paint from the chair and other teddy bears

In this case the relics from the performance were a broken chair covered in multi-coloured paint  with tins taped to its legs, several paint stained teddy bears and the various sheets of multi-coloured paper which could be assembled to make a large wall painting. The broken chair, teddy bears and part of the painting were displayed at an exhibition at Gallery East later in the year.

Taken together  Performance (from Action to Still Life)  and Function 5  mark the boundaries  of Heine’s performance from logical, elegant and determined to complex radical and innovative

David Bromfield 2014, Perth

Martin Heine: Performance-Relikte

 

Performance wurde als kohärente künstlerische Strategie erstmals in den 1920- und 1930er Jahren als solche verstanden. Viele Modernisten nutzten Performances ursprünglich dafür, um sich neue Möglichkeiten in ihrer Tätigkeit als Objektkünstler, Maler und Bildhauer zu eröffnen. Die meisten Künstler, die Performances als Teil ihrer Kunstpraxis ausüben, integrieren Objekte, Kostüme und andere Materialien als Teil des Werkes. Zu Heines Performance-Requisiten zählten Dinge wie Anzüge, Koffer und Farbdosen bis hin zu großen Leinwänden.

Heines Performances hinterließen fast immer eine Landschaft zurück, die aus einer Sequenz an Gesten und Aktionen, die in Farbe festgehalten wurden, zusammengesetzt waren und einem bestimmten Muster aus einer bestimmten Anzahl an Objekten, bearbeiteten oder teilweise zerstörten Möbelstücken, Werkzeugen und farbgetränkter Kleidung folgten. Diese waren keineswegs nur der Müll oder die Überreste der Performance, sondern sie übernahmen die Rolle von Performance-Relikten, einer Archäologie der Aktion, eine Landschaft aus Ruinen.

In der Tat sind diese Relikte Teil der Performance als solcher. Performance Art ist, im Unterschied zu anderen Formen der Performance, gänzlich festgelegt, direkt aufgesaugt im Moment, in dem sie stattfindet. Die Performance weiht die Relikte als zeitlose Erinnerungsstücke jener Momente, in denen die Performance stattfand. Anders gesagt: die Relikte werden zu Ausstellungsstücken.

2007 gab Heine Performance (from Action to Still Life) als Teil der Eröffnung einer Ausstellung in der Gallery East in Fremantle (Perth). Er kaufte einen kleinen Tisch und Stuhl aus Holz von IKEA, baute sie in der Galerie zusammen und stellte den Stuhl auf den Tisch. Dann kletterte er auf den Stuhl, eine große Holzsäge in der Hand. Er wollte wieder auf den Boden gelangen, indem er die Stuhl- und Tischbeine der Reihe nach so absägte, dass es bis zum Schluss kein Ungleichgewicht gab. Bemerkenswerterweise gelang ihm dies auch, obwohl er sich an der schiefen Tischplatte festklammern musste, um die letzten Teile der Tischbeine abzusägen.

Er ließ die abgesägten Teile, die Relikte, dort liegen, wo sie hingefallen waren, der Sitz des Stuhles befand sich immer noch auf der Tischplatte. Die Teile bildeten ein fesselndes Stillleben, ein mysteriöses Objekt, das ganz eindeutig das Ergebnis einer absichtlichen, wenn auch undurchsichtigen, Aktion war. Viele Performances konzentrieren sich auf eine oder mehrere einfache Materialvorgaben. Die extreme Eleganz dieses Werkes ist typisch für mehrere von Heines Arbeiten. Den Beginn der Performance hielt Heine in einem Bild fest, das er zusammen mit den Relikten zeigen wollte.

Im Jahr 2011 präsentierte Heine ein weitaus komplexeres Stück mit dem Titel „Function#5“ in der Kurb Gallery. Die wenigen Zuschauer, allesamt Freunde des Künstlers, fanden Wände und Boden der Galerie mit Plastikfolie bedeckt vor, außerdem war der Großteil des Bodens noch mit dickem A3-Papier ausgelegt. In der linken Ecke standen eine Küchenzeile, einige geöffnete Dosen und mehrere Teddybären.

Zwischen Publikum und dem mit Papier ausgelegten Fußboden befand sich eine Reihe Dosen und Flaschen mit Farbe, Farbstiften und anderen Mal- und Zeichenutensilien. Heine verkündete, dass er mit einem Stuhl und sämtlichen anderen Requisiten fünf „Bewegungen“ machen wollte, um auf das ausgelegte Papier ein großes Bild zu malen. Zunächst befestigte er Dosen an den Stuhlbeinen und füllte diese mit flüssiger Farbe. Dann klebte er den größten Teddybären auf dem Sitz des Stuhles fest und gab ihm einen Tritt. Er fiel um, und die Farbe verteilte sich in alle möglichen Richtungen. Dann befestigte er Dosen auf seinem Kopf und seinen Gliedmaßen und versuchte, den Stuhl zu bewegen, während er darauf saß. Schließlich fiel der Stuhl seitlich um. Er bemalte einige weitere Blätter Papier mithilfe der Farbe des Stuhls und anderen Teddybären.

In diesem Fall waren die Relikte der Performance ein kaputter, bunt angemalter Stuhl mit angeklebten Dosen an den Stuhlbeinen, mehrere Teddybären mit Farbflecken und verschiedene bunte Blätter Papier, die zusammengesetzt ein großes Wandbild ergaben. Der kaputte Stuhl, die Teddybären und ein Teil des Bildes wurden bei einer Ausstellung der Gallery East später in diesem Jahr gezeigt.

Zusammen markieren Performance (from Action to Still Life) und Function#5 die Grenzen von Heines Performances – von logisch, elegant und bestimmt hin zu komplex, radikal und innovativ.

David Bromfield 2014, Perth

A European Artist in the Antipodes

 

Dr Martin Heine first visited Perth in 1982 as part of an Australia wide holiday with his then wife Caroline. an anthropologist They returned to live permanently in Perth in 1987. He was a well formed artist by then. He had already worked as a performance artist and a cartoonist in Germany and Switzerland. He also acquired impressive skills as a silk screen printer and cabinet maker.

The close, distinctly European, relation to the material world and its socio/cultural possibilities which this experience provided gave him the perfect position from which to develop a unique artistic practise and vision during his years in Perth. He remained based in Perth until his death during a visit to Manila for a very succesful exhibition at the highly prestigious Drawing Room Gallery and an equally admired performance in Manila in May 2014.

He began by putting himself through seven years of art education ending with the award of a Doctorate by Sydney University in 2003. During this period he was already exhibiting as a professional artist in New York, Germany, elsewhere in Europe and in several significant venues in Australia. By this time he was already regarded as the most influential and challenging artist in Perth. He retained this role until his death.

He continuously interrogated his Australian experience directly through the perspective of European, specifically German, art and cultural history. To this day, art in Perth remains utterly dislocated, provincial, expatriate, premised on irrecoverable originary events always located ‘elsewhere’. Heine collapsed this comfortable delusion by incorporating a material inquisition as to the originary nature of art at the heart of every painting and performance he undertook. His work always carried its own manifest, irreducible origin.This was always done with great humour and intellect. It is more than arguable that he could not have achieved this extraordinary work without the challenge, the hard wired resistance of Australian Art

The triumph of immediacy in his work was Heine’s most important discovery and the most appreciated of his gifts in response to Australian art. It offered energetic new possibilities for creative freedom. His unique ‘technical’ innovations in painting were often inspired by mundane local experiences. A glimpse of sunlit traffic through a ‘fly screen’ door led him to experiment with painting from ‘behind the picture plane’ which led in turn to a profoundly renewed understanding of the relation between audience,artist and the work. In this process paint itself regained its alchemical even metaphysical properties

His extraordinary performances took this same inquiry further by using the figure of the artist to investigate the immediate possibilities and status of art. He always appeared immaculate, a bourgeois harlequin in a well pressed suit. Paint provided the solvent, the fluid logic between audience and artist while he painted walls with his head or attempted to read while it was poured through his mouth.

During the heyday of cynical, manipulative post modernity, Heine’s brilliant work sidestepped both exoticism and the various appeals to classicism, precedent and the normative that had become entrenched in Australia art. He was determined that his work would retain the expansive joy and humane optimism of ‘great, art. In this, his predecessors are all German ,Goethe, Ernst, Adorno, Beuys and Kiefer.
David Bromfield 2014, Perth

Ein europäischer Künstler am anderen Ende der Welt

 

Dr. Martin Heine besuchte Perth erstmalig 1982 im Rahmen eines Australienurlaubes mit seiner damaligen Frau Caroline, einer Anthropologin. Im Jahr 1987 reisten sie erneut nach Perth, um fortan dort zu leben. Heine war damals ein gut ausgebildeter Künstler. Er hatte als Performance-Künstler und Cartoonist in Deutschland und in der Schweiz gearbeitet und sich außerdem als Siebdrucker und Schreiner eindrucksvolle Fähigkeiten erworben.

Durch diese enge, deutlich europäisch geprägte Verbindung zur materiellen Welt und ihrer sozialen/kulturellen Möglichkeiten, mit dieser Erfahrung hatte er die perfekte Position, aus der er eine einmalige künstlerische Praxis und Vision während seiner Jahre in Perth entwickeln konnte. Bis zu seinem Tod im Mai 2014, während eines Besuches in Manila für eine sehr erfolgreiche Ausstellung in der prestigeträchtigen Drawing Room Gallery und einer ebenso bewunderten Performance, blieb er in Perth.

Er bildete sich künstlerisch weiter und studierte Kunst; im Jahr 2003 erhielt er den Doktortitel der Universität von Sydney. Während des Studiums stellte er bereits als professioneller Künstler in New York, in Deutschland und an anderen Orten in Europa sowie in mehreren bedeutenden Ausstellungen in Australien aus. Zu jener Zeit wurde er bereits als einflussreichster und anspruchsvollster Künstler in Perth betrachtet. Er behielt diese Rolle bis zu seinem Tod.

Er hinterfragte seine australischen Erfahrungen direkt durch die Perspektive europäischer, speziell deutscher, Kunst und Kunsthistorie. Bis heute ist Kunst in Perth zu einem hohen Maße ortslos, provinziell, fremd, basierend auf unwiederbringlichen, ursprünglichen Events, die immer „wo anders“ stattfinden. Heine ließ das Kartenhaus dieser angenehmen Täuschung zusammenfallen, indem er eine materielle Inquisition zur ursprünglichen Natur der Kunst als Herzstück jedes seiner Bilder und Performances einbrachte. Seine Arbeit hatte stets ihren eigenen offensichtlichen, nicht reduzierbaren Ursprung, dabei stets mit viel Humor und Intellekt. Vieles spricht dafür, dass er diese außergewöhnliche Arbeit nicht ohne die Herausforderung des fest verankerten Widerstandes der australischen Kunst erreicht hätte.

Der Triumph der Direktheit in seiner Arbeit war Heines wichtigste Entdeckung und sein meist geschätztes Geschenk als Antwort auf australische Kunst. Sie bot energievolle neue Möglichkeiten für kreative Freiheit. Seine einzigartigen „technischen“ Innovationen in Bildern wurden oft durch alltägliche Erfahrungen inspiriert. Ein Blick auf den sonnenbeschienenen Verkehr durch ein Fliegengitter brachte ihn zum Experiment mit seinem Bild „behind the picture plane“, das wiederum zu einem gründlich erneuerten Verständnis des Verhältnisses zwischen Publikum, Künstler und Werk führte. In diesem Prozess erhielt das Bild selbst seine alchemischen, fast metaphysischen Eigenschaften zurück.

Seine ungewöhnlichen Performances führten diese Nachforschungen weiter, indem sie den Körper des Künstlers benutzten, um die unmittelbaren Möglichkeiten und den Status der Kunst zu untersuchen. Sein Auftreten war stets makellos, ein bourgeoiser Harlekin in einem gut sitzenden Anzug. Die Farbe stellte das Lösungsmittel dar, die flüssige Logik zwischen Publikum und Künstler, während er Wände mit seinem Kopf bemalte oder versuchte zu lesen, während sie durch seinen Mund floss.

Während der Blütezeit der zynischen, manipulativen Postmoderne schoben Heines brillante Werke sowohl die Exotik als auch sämtliche Reize des Klassizismus, des Präzedens und der Normative, die sich in der australischen Kunst etabliert hatten, zur Seite. Er war dazu entschlossen, die umfassende Freude und den menschlichen Optimismus großartiger Kunst in seinen Werken zu erhalten. Was dies anbelangt, sind alle seine Vorgänger Deutsche: Goethe, Ernst, Adorno, Beuys und Kiefer.
David Bromfield 2014, Perth

Nothing will come of nothing’ *

* Shakespeare, King Lear, Act 1 Scene 1

A short memoir of Dr Martin Heine his art and performances

David Bromfield

I met Martin Heine in 1991. He was one of the first year student intake for the BFA degree at UWA. He wore remarkable red and cream striped trousers. His first words to me were, ‘You will get no trouble from me!’ He first came to Australia in 1982 as a tourist with his then wife Caroline. They returned permanently to Western Australia as immigrants in 1987. Caroline is an anthropologist, she could easily find work in the West. Martin studied art at Claremont.

He was the most widely skilled and experienced student I ever met, already a highly accomplished three-year trained cabinet-maker and a well-qualified silkscreen printer. He brought the attitude and expectations of an impeccable craftsman to all his creative work from painting to performance. He also boasted a wide, if opportunistic, familiarity with philosophy, which he had mostly acquired during his years as a punk in 70’s Berlin.

It was a great privilege for Pippa and me to share his friendship, his wicked sense of humour, to work with him over the next twenty-four years. By the end of the 1990’s he was already the most interesting artist here. His retrospective at the Kurb in 2007 established him, beyond doubt, as the most significant artist of his generation working in Perth. So he remained until his recent death.

A few years ago, Pippa and I invited Martin to some theatre performances including Waiting for Godot and King Lear. He was struck by, ‘Nothing will come of nothing,’ Lear’s arrogant threat to his daughter Cordelia, when she refuses to perform for her share of his fortune. It became a private joke, a permanent personal catchphrase with many suitably ironic meanings. Martin fully appreciated its irony when he used it to suggest that only hard work would make art possible. He also used it to refer scathingly to the Perth art world and ‘community’, which gave his work very little active support.

In 2006 he told me:

In terms of creating new and original artwork, Perth was never there. Never there! But interestingly Perth was, in my opinion, the first place that understood how to cripple and streamline the art world in terms of aesthetic commodities – far more than in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. The Perth art world became the world centre of the avant-garde of art made for fashionable consumption.

Nonetheless he had decided to stay here to work, almost as if he thought the all-pervasive, even hostile disinterest a stimulating challenge. During the 1990’s he attracted a small but devoted group of friends and supporters, through a sequence of compelling original performances and the development of his unique ‘reverse icon’ approach to painting, in which he pushed paint from behind the support. This was initially fly screen or shade cloth, but, more recently, as his technique improved, expensive screen painting fabric.

Later, Martin often joked about one of his best performances Mediocre Shunga – Use your Head (2004), in which he painted the walls of a gallery with a mop attached to his head, while dressed in a kimono and rubber boots. Mediocre Shunga attracted an audience of six, but, so far, he said, he had met about 200 people who remembered seeing it.

Martin was always an artist; he never set out to become one. For him art was an unending adventure in being human. As he argued in his doctorate, he believed that great art should always be a means to active liberation, not passive gratification. He was a great reader of Adorno. For years he had a studio close to Ticino, Adorno’s summer home.

He wished ‘ just to do my work’ as he regularly declared. He discovered this work for himself, one creative problem at a time, each thought through with utmost integrity over three decades. He detested fashionable bourgeois attitudes to art, intellectual laziness, emerging artists (you either are or you aren’t!), cultural cowardice, secondhand post-modernism, and the slow, miserable descent of local art, artists and their audience into show business and commodity retail.

From Joseph Beuys, whose work he knew very well, he took the idea of art as a seamless, vast, humanist social enterprise. In order to recover Beuys’ generous spirit in a far more cynical and desperate times, he tested it to breaking point with practical criticism in his performance. ‘The Honey Pump is Kaputt’ (Lawrence Wilson Gallery, 1999), when he ‘famously’ poured a bucket of honey over his head.

Martin, the ex-punk, rejected the soft-headed sixties delusion that the entire world and all its business could become art, but his entire practice was an experiment in art as an ever-increasing state of freedom. The reverse paintings emerged in part from his desire to remove the oppressive presence of the artist from the gaze of the audience. By painting from behind the support he hoped that the audience would become one with the artist in front the work. His performances, never aggressive or coercive, also sought to allow the audience to enter the work on their own terms.

It was the unique breadth and diversity of his achievements that most captured one’s imagination. Unlike nearly all contemporary art, this was something really useful, riotously alive, a good example of freedom at work in the world. His virtuoso painting technique, his extraordinary presence during his performances, were driven by highly challenging and articulate creative goals.

In 2006 musing on the limited support for his work he declared

I think that what supports my art is a philosophy, a way of looking for alternatives in terms of how the work has come about, in terms of all these years of performances and as the reverse iconography. If you look at it this way, you become aware of philosophical ideas about life. Art has more to say than just being an image or being a work.

It is a thing that accompanies you, if you are interested in art you must surely need to engage with it. People fool themselves that it makes perfect sense to buy a car or pay the mortgage. I will not play chess like Duchamp. I will just continue living as an artist without irony, as an example.

Martin was the most committed artist I have ever met. He lived with a minimum of possessions and slept, like Brancusi, in the studio, with his works around him. His regular diet consisted of oats, pot noodles, tinned sardines and kidney beans, all from the bottom shelf at Kakulas Brothers.

He never stopped working. He was absolutely ruthless with himself, though not with others. He was always happy to discuss his art with anyone interested and generous to a fault with ideas and practical assistance for other artists, especially those who showed at the Kurb. Martin always looked for companions on the way. He was less sympathetic to those who, in the approximate words of Dave Graney, want to get there but don’t want to travel.

In a town where people look sideways at you if you ask a serious question about art, Martin was a blessed relief. I shall miss our Friday evening discussions about art (and everything else) over a bottle of ‘Chateau Kurb’ red. We both had an interest in Nazi history. Verge management meetings were often derailed by topics such as what exactly had happened to Martin Bormann, where was Hitler’s skull and just why did he invade Russia (pace Ian Kershaw). Martin had a battered old blue Corolla which, for obvious reasons, we nicknamed The Hindenberg. Its only redeeming features were an unstable roof rack for carrying artworks and a superb radio permanently tuned to Classic FM. We played ‘guess the composer’ while delivering art. Martin was more than chagrined that I proved best at recognising the classic Germans, Hayden, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert but he never missed with Wagner or Strauss.

At the memorial drinks for Martin at the Kurb, Merrick Belyea generously described Martin and me as a double-headed dragon. If only! Martin outdistanced us all without even trying by ‘living as an artist without irony, as an example’. We were all there to celebrate a generous life of dedication to art. Many also mourned the loss of this great example. Martin was living proof that it was still possible to be an exemplary artist here, in an era of cowardice, corporate sponsorship, hypocrisy, networking and hopeless indifference. I doubt there will be another.

Martin died after triumphant exhibitions and performances in Singapore and Manila and a delightful short holiday. His show at the Drawing Room in Manila contained the best work he had ever made. It was the triumph of a lifetime. He had found a very sympathetic audience and many new friends. My friends in Manila tell me that he was happier than he had been for a long time.

The Reversed Icons of Martin Heine

 

Art is a Lie, but now Artists have become Liars too. Martin Heine.

 

—the experience of modernist autonomy and of its cultural sphere projects a very different historical stereotype on the mind’s eye than that litter of postmodernist artifacts which one thinks of rather like a junk pile of video cassettes, or those older “pictures” or “representations” of the reality of the  realist moment either. . .

Yet this autonomy of high modernism is in reality, as we have warned, more strictly speaking a semi–autonomy, culture herein taking on the appearance of Hegel’s ‘inverted world,’ which floats above this one and reflects it upside down—a space in which the Utopian negation by art of this world and of the socially and materially existent can equally well be seen as the futile and idealistic caricature of a complacent bourgeois aesthetic resigned to its constitutive exclusion from praxis and worldly action (as well as from epistemological authority).

Fredric Jameson.[1]

 

Now, in a gallery far, far away, these icons have a presence that painting never achieved. They clot across the retina, as grease tangles matted hair. Like a filthy back street wall, covered with posters and graffiti, they resist ordered vision. They offer no surface, no depth, no solid, no void, merely the universal density of life. Even so, a residue, a precipitate of shadows, forms and voids, rotates slowly within each icon, like the corpses caught in Dante’s infernal lake.

The forms embedded there began as pornographic photos, mined from the Internet. The titles of the Caravaggio series are the jpeg numbers of each long vanished original. The distanced, banal logic of pornography evaporated through a rigorous alchemical process, leaving a condensate of curiousity, glowing desire, diffused throughout the work and, ultimately the entire material world.

Traces of this change accumulated slowly. Cracks, black lines, oddly shaped patches of brilliant colour, whose edges leak into the surrounding substance like ink stains on carpet, a woven pinpoint texture, present a galactic history, an infinity of incidents and processes. Besides galaxies, viewers ‘see’ all kinds of images from butterflies to mountains in the work.

In 11a/Jpeg for instance – click here X – it is as if moulds or chemical patina had encrusted the work with explosions of mineral brown and yellow. One half–intuits a limb or a glass, in its flickering net of black lines, but it is the process itself that lives in the mind’s eye.

In another icon, a fragile cluster of crushed yellow forms, like dying petals, fills the centre of the work. Their jpeg showed a set-up of legs, kneeling in submission. Now this contrived sadism has evaporated, to leave a landscape wrecked by the waves of mass solicitude around it. Elsewhere, fugitive faces roll through powdered red and black

These are icons from an upside-down continent, symptoms of resistance to an alien artistic condition, the cynical disenchantment of contemporary art. For the past 17 years Martin Heine has lived here in Perth, Western Australia, though he has exhibited and performed in galleries as far apart as New York and Manila. Australia, where everything is ‘upside down’, gave him a unique perspective on recent times when artists everywhere became liars, cynics with a good conscience, whose lifework is to be one more commodity in the Hegelian cultural supermarket.

Picasso’s conviction that ‘art is the lie which tells the truth’ assumed that art existed, as an autonomous practice, from a position of critical revelation for artist and viewer alike, but without direct social consequence.

Now that successful artists, like everyone, are liars, disciplined for the market, their works dare not even whisper freedom. Bad faith is an article of faith. Richter considers himself merely a ‘bourgeois painter’.

The ‘paintings’ to  be seen here trace Heine’s response. They are his attempt to transcend the limits of high modernist ‘autonomy’ without cynicism, to reaffirm its ‘heretical’ humanist imperative, despite decades of ever more efficient affirmative culture.

Heine calls them Reversed Icons, however, unlike every artist and writer for centuries past, he will not hold a mirror up to nature. Heine’s reversal has nothing to do with reflection. Jameson, amongst others, has made clear that nature vanished long ago into the system of commodities. Any art that relies, however discretely, on an idea of nature is doomed to the banality of the market.[2]

In painting, the vestigial remains of the picture plane always indicate the persistence of a foundation dichotomy between art and nature and the reflective semi–autonomy, the un–freedom that this imposes.

This is clear with Monet, Picasso or Hans Hoffman for whom nature was still a possibility and for Stella, for whom the approaching demise of nature was infinitely traumatic. It is also true, however, that the one persistent aspect of Richter’s work is his lifelong romance with the picture plane. Since nature has long since evaporated, Richter must be ‘economical with the truth’; he must abjure freedom or cease to paint.

In his Reversed Icons, Heine has, for the first time, abolished the picture plane and, consequently, recovered the full autonomy of art. His ambition is to reverse the very being of contemporary art, to turn it inside out, physically and as an aspect of cultural praxis, to return art to the real, to its full existential presence and the possibility of liberation. He aims for what Jameson calls the ‘deconcealment of reality’, a process of decontamination—disinfestation, rather than a utopian reflection of the real.[3]

These images, which persist in the gallery, solid as rock, impenetrable as the knotty tapestries for which they are often mistaken, are his first small step. The ‘upside down’ Australian art scene has pushed him to this effort.

For non-indigenous artists, the contemporary scene is always a tabula rasa, an empty catwalk, in wait for the latest overseas fashion. Art here is double–crossed by its unique, contradictory history. This over–determination forces contemporary artists to manifest dependence, an abject submission to arbitrary external authority, in every work. It is unlikely that any ‘white’ painter has ever ‘seen’ the Australian landscape except as mandated by European culture.[4] In Australia there is no organic history of vision here, nature had become the Lacanian ‘Other’ long before the market absorbed it.

Heine, an ex-Berlin punk, began with exercises in hyper banality aimed to recover the ‘Serious Shit’ of art.[5], In the absence of nature however, excess does not produce the desired utopian contradiction, it merely aggravates dependence.[6] Heine next looked to his memories of Beuys turning culture inside out by recovering nature as entirely human. Even so, he took the substance of his work, its material culture and predicaments, directly from the most banal of Western Australian realities.

Early each summer billions of flies hatch and travel down the west coast. They follow the sun in massive waves. Almost every house is fitted with fly screens on doors and windows. A tough but transparent gauze-like metal or plastic mesh bars their entry but allows the movement of air from the brilliant white-hot furnace of ‘nature’ to a cool dark interior.

The screen in Australian culture provides multiple material metaphors, all concerned with the duality of nature and the human, private and public, nature as the other. It can also act as a version of the picture plane, whose resistant ‘materiality’ cannot be distilled away by perspective. It sticks all over the eye.[7]

As Heine watched the passing cars through his flyscreen, it occurred to him that their images could stick in the mesh, to fuse with it in an intractable substance. His first fly screen painting was small, the image of a fly painted directly on the screen. This little joke would lead to the downfall of the picture plane.

Next he produced the Biedermeier Wall. He obtained fly screens damaged during burglaries from a local insurance company. Then he floated liquid oil paint on the surface of a tank of water. He trawled the screens through the tank to catch the paint on the mesh to produce a dispersed ‘painting’ that made no reference to a picture plane since the substance of the painting flowed through it on both sides. It also evoked a dense dispersed vision in which solid and void do not exist. This vision traps all forms in a uniform material substance, like fossils in rock.

He then screen-printed highly coloured, hard edge images from suburban interiors over the paint. The torn screens with their broken frames, were evidence of the initial violation of a once secure suburban space. This undermined the deceptively crisp, fragile, silhouettes. Their self-confident outlines could barely hold their place in the new dispersed vision.

Biedermeier utopias are constantly besieged. Physical and social realities will break in, moth and rust will corrupt, the mirror will crack from side to side. It became clear that Beuys was correct, art could only find freedom by existing as material in the material world, not as a utopian reflection of it.

To achieve this required a sensual, revitalised, vision, with no vanishing point, the ‘forensic’ vision of the blind, more akin to touch, as it trawls like the finest of nets through the entire visual field. The flyscreen was the perfect embodiment of such a vision.

It also enabled Heine to find a way to paint on both sides of the support at once, to render them simultaneously present in the material world, thereby abolishing the picture plane.

One recalls Ernst’s dictum that the surrealist painter works with one eye looking out and the other looking into his skull, to his subjective conscious—a good definition of any artist who wishes to overcome the picture plane by surrounding it.

Despite his experiments with ‘reversal’, Ernst the image-maker remained shackled to the picture plane. Rauschenberg, whose silkscreen paintings also prefigure Heine’s Reversed Icons, wanted to act ‘in the gap between Art and Life,’ a gap which he could never close. [8]

For Heine there can be no such gap.

Life and art must coincide as the same solid substance.

He began to work by pushing solid pigment through from the ‘back’ of the screen to build up an image on the other side. Thus the image on the ‘front’ of the support is always a reversal of the image on which he worked but there is no gap since both images coexist in the same dense sensual material.

For his medium, Heine chose elements extracted from a domestic gap sealer often used to fill cracks in window frames, which he then combined with liquid pigments to achieve a smooth and fleshy consistency. He describes the medium — ‘it’s creamy, one pushes softly, it’s very sensual, very sexy, like working in the kitchen with cream—the medium is the exact material equivalent of Heine’s diffuse sensual incarnate vision, the substance of vision as it circulates through the image, as ‘flesh through the mesh—I reach the point where it becomes unchangeable. I let it dry, then, I look at the front’.

Once set, the medium becomes diamond hard, a stone tapestry in which the image is locked like a fossil in rock. Heine then covers the front of the image entirely with black paint—to make it totally dark. He slowly removes the black paint until he feels he cannot go on—‘you see this open thing that you identify with and you think I don’t want to go further. This unique forensic discovery, redirects Heine’s diffuse vision as a form of archaeology, a vision that springs from the ‘embeddedness’ of all things.

Heine attributes his realisation of this method, in part, to his many years’ work as a silkscreen printer, which required constant accommodation for images seen in reverse, from the back, in photo-negatives and in the screens themselves.

His first Reversed Icons were images drawn from the vocabulary of banal provincial, woodcuts drawn from peasant proverbs and fantastic bestiaries. Soon, however, he began to work with pornographic images that he found on the internet.

He begins by manipulating each image in digital form. He undertakes a process of stripping back, decontamination that leaves only a pattern of black and white lines that occasionally evoke an early German woodcut. This is the first step towards the rematerialisation of the image, the decontamination of the real.

Heine copies this, much enlarged, on the back of a flyscreen. He undertakes the reverse ‘painting’, so that the image is reconstituted as an element of this world, material, substantial, timeless. This is not a process of abstraction from reality so as to reveal the corpse of an ideal. It is, rather, an attempt to put living flesh, so to speak, on the bare bones of the pornographic image.

Heine chose pornographic images, because they attempt an infinite delay. There is never an end to them, they invoke streaming desire, a bottomless curiousity, the probing, poking eye will always find something new.[9] He chooses specific pornographic images, because they suggest—‘an intense uneasiness, not a rape, but something that is close to a rape situation, forbidden and sinister’.

His choice is not about the banal commodification of sex; any routine hard-core image could do that. Sinister images are transgressive. They contain dissonant excess. Heine finds the same sinister transgression in Caravaggio, the stripping down of banal religious imagery via an excessive realism so that the relation of these myths to the material life of his subjects is plain to see.

Heine’s series has nothing to do with Caravaggio except that their work shares an immediate presence. He too wants to know how it feels to be ‘in the painting’. He fantasises that he could disappear into a painting one-day, and then have someone ‘buy’ him.

Pornography remains the only commodity, the last ‘public’ imagery held in common, with a capacity for excess. In his Reversed Icons, Heine is able to tap the energy of this excess so as to strip away the commodification of image and body, to re–engage his obsession with the authentic. Any other subject matter would be far more intractable. In any case if Heine succeeds with pornography then he can overcome commodification anywhere, however efficient.

Amongst others, Hardt and Negri have suggested that , ‘the ‘modern dialectic of inside and outside has been replaced by a play of degrees and intensities, of hybridity and artificiality’.[10] Machine made nature and machine made culture immerse all experience in an indifferent homogenous medium. This poses a crisis for contemporary artists who are necessarily concerned with difference that has largely gone unnoticed.

Heine’s abolition of the picture plane is the first clear recognition of this dilemma and its consequences for an art of liberation. One may hope for the return of an uncontaminated representation, for renewed baroque vision, the pure joy of the eye, but it is hard to imagine the form such an autonomous art of the real might take in this artificial universe. In the meantime, these icons from far away present a glimpse of what is possible—‘that thing we call nature without mimesis–which defines us as human beings’.

As I finish this, Heine has just completed his latest performance—Mediocre Shunga (Use Your Head)—in which he painted the canvas-draped walls of the Kurb Gallery with his head, covered by a mop. There was a silent witness to this intensely physical struggle for immediacy between body and painting, the ultimate attempt to close the gap between life and art. Heine’s ‘Friendly Little Watercolour’ a view of the Queensland bush, painted when he first came to Australia, watched on from the corner of the room. It was a souvenir of the time when he too believed in nature and in art as a mirror of reality.

David Bromfield

East Perth

Western Australia

August 28, 2004

[1] Fredric Jameson ‘The Existence of Italy’ in Signatures of the Visible, Routledge, New York 1992 page 230
[2] See his Postmodernism page ix ‘Postmodernism is what you have when the modernisation process is complete and nature is gone for good’ Postmodernism; Verso, UK 1991.
[3]  Jameson is discussing movies. A good image for the violence inherent in the ‘deconcealment’ of the real can be found in the ‘hall of mirrors’ scene in Orson Welles’ Lady from Shanghai where each reflection is shattered by a pistol shot.
[4] The foremost critic and historian of Australian Art, Bernard Smith has suggested that the history of stylistic change in Australian art can be modelled as a sequence of waves of invaders who drew their own models of vision in the sand, only to have them completely erased by the next wave to break. By the 1980’s this history of abrupt breaks, cycles of complete cultural amnesia, required that every ‘authentic’ Australian artwork should manifest the absence of autonomy in its construction. Eg: Fred Williams’ ‘cubist’ views of the Dandenongs. Curiously, similar phenomena of delay, rupture and amnesia occurred in the reception of European modernism in Germany.
[5] This was the title of his exhibition in New York.
[6] It is plain that cultural dialectics of ‘the quantity to quality’ kind cannot operate without being grounded in nature, (how else to measure excess), and are now doomed to fail.
[7] This is not true of the minimalist grid, which is easily displaced by bogus versions of minimalism, for instance minimalism conceived as the ultimate in economy of expression.
[8]  Ernst used the arbitrary effect produced by pressing blank canvas down onto oil paint smeared across a sheet of glass to induce the ‘reversed’ image from which he elaborated ‘Europe after the Rain’ and other great works. Others who have attempted to abolish the picture include Francis Bacon who painted on the reverse side of the canvas and always covered his work with reflective glass and Duchamp in the Large Glass and elsewhere. There is also the stained glass of the cathedrals, an attempt to pierce the veil between earth and heaven, flesh and spirit

 

[9]  This is not the place to inquire why the rhetoric of pornography has replaced the Judaeo-Christian tradition as the only source for an iconography of the body.
R.B Kitaj for one has publicly regretted that his painting can never have the immediate conviction of pornography.
[10]  This version of the suggestion comes from Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri ‘Empire’, Harvard 2001 p 187.

 

On the paradigm of delay – new ways in painting

by Martin Heine PhD

“The centre of the autonomous work of art does not itself belong on the side of myth but is inherently dialectical; within it juxtaposes the magical and the mark of freedom” (Adorno)

After many years of art practice, I initiated a way of image making that allows me to invigorate the notion of painting. Looking at the visual outcome, I consider my practice to paint a ‘delay of immediate gratification’. The basic idea is to shift the artist realm of making a painting, from the front to the back of the canvas. To reverse the creative focus from building up paint on canvas, to the concept of pushing paint trough the canvas, represents for me a new relationship in painting. My gesture of inversion liberates the painted image from compulsory restrains set by the artist and hence forces me to undo all the paint baggage and reveal the painted image as an open-minded entity, an authentic art composition, a philosophical outlook embedded in a natural flow of paint

 

The concept of delay is a breading space that works contrary to arts exertion, dependency on technological wizardry and uniform outcome. During many years of engagement with art and practitioners involved, I learned, that to overcome a fixed standard in painting would entail an objective to resist conventional paint praxis. I decided to differ to the repetitive act of brushing paint onto the canvas and I choose to liberate my creative work from dependency on commercial outcomes. Altogether I want to interchange the place of the artist, from an entertaining act in front of the canvas, to the silent and private space behind the painting. I intend to bring my creative desire to the foreground, undisturbed and not manipulated, offering an unorthodox way of looking at my painting.

The years of Andy Warhol are gone, fifteen minutes of fame are not important, what remains is an anonymous artist and the liberating potential in a work of art. Since the notion of the genius artist is not valid anymore, I was looking for an alternative concept, one that allows me to work from a creative basis of liberation and anonymity. To arrive at such a liberating concept requires one to shift ones exaggerated senses of self-importance, from working at the front to the back of the canvas. I realised that indeed, everything I want to paint must be inverted. For these reason, my paintings are ‘reverse studies’ works that disclose an awareness of inverted significance to all things of artistic conventions.

It is because of the just mentioned liberating art practice that my research entails to paint first what others painted last. I do not rely on building up paint in front of you, but on the desire to push paint away from ones field of vision. Liberation depends on the act to create from memory and not exclusively on relationships of design and gratification. Within this new invented modus operandi I liberate my desire to transcend mainstream dictation and reveal visual alternatives that encourage the notion for ‘difference’ in contemporary art. Conventional painting in my opinion is inadequate to let audiences surpass the controlled and the trendy. Alternatively, indirect paint control – as in my reverse studies – encourages the individual to go outside of conventions and enjoy the silent resistance of a transposed paint application.

Contemporary artists restrict their identity and creative mood to a closed system of control and the fashionable. They do follow a deception trough which their restricted way to paint trendy, causes widespread ‘banality’ and collective introjections by which everyone acts as individual, and yet the acted ‘individuality’ is the trend of many. It seems that from here on, contemporary art emerges as a fixation of group individualism, resulting in stereotyped painting, getting globally neurotic by the day.

I am aware of the fact that to paint from behind the canvas works contrary to the painters bad faith, inversion provides me with a liberating starting point – a kind of artist studio that is manifest on the back of the canvas. Invisible though to the audience, my liberating space becomes a creativity pool through which I can reclaim a philosophical basis to overcome conformist painting. At this moment, ‘time’ and ‘place of art labour’ turns into a creative liberation, where I set my self apart from an affirmative concept of art practice. I turn painting back to front (not on its head) and disclose the character of paint as a material resistance, a reverse idea, that allows the audience to engage with a singular sensation in art

One can appreciate the work like looking at a ‘paint performance’ where intuitive engagement with memory and application bring to forefront (pushed trough) a performed relationship with material, resulting in a texture of impasto and colour combinations. For the first time the artist physically illustrates – via pushing and squeezing – an image that combines the private and the public in a unspoilt way. The viewer in the gallery finds the picture surface liberating, almost like a performed happening, where everything is for the first time.

To that purpose one can speak of a performed paint act – done from a anonymous space behind the canvas – a gesture that transpires the picture surface and reveals the image as a liberating form. In my reverse studies, a painted substance raised from an invisible space and forms colour fields and images. At this moment my reverse paintings are signs of collaboration, between artist and material, a creative endeavour of defining moments as painted resistance.

In my work I reveal a open relationship with the audience one that shares concept, creativity and material in order to establish a picture plane that is visually liberating and uncorrupted.

© mheine / Zurich 18.09.2006