By David Komary
The artists in the exhibition Time Signatures examine and deal with temporality. For Lucía Simón Medina (b. 1987) and Alessandro Biggio (b. 1974) the final work is of less importance than the process and development of the work. The often repetitive process of making art, which at times seems almost ritualistic, becomes the subject of aesthetic reflection. The work constitutes itself in incremental steps and develops over a long period of time—through notations in librettos based on prime number series with Medina or through sculptural layerings of ash with Biggio. With both artists, the temporal becomes recognizable as the actual material of artistic activity. Both Medina and Biggio also reference the elemental, or forms of the natural, albeit in a broad sense: Biggio makes actual use of natural, albeit uncommon materials, such as
the ashes of burned leaves, while Medina’s work is based on the numerical, number series, and their inherent order.
The exhibition Time Signatures presents—and this is a special feature of the long-standing cooperative arrangement between the Galerie Stadtpark and AIR-ARTIST IN RESIDENCE Lower Austria—not one, but two program guests. While Berlin-based, Spanish artist Lucía Simón Medina will be an AIR guest through the end of September, Sardinian artist Alessandro Biggio spent summer 2017 as guest of the international exchange program run since 2000 by the Province of Lower Austria in Krems.
From a distance, references to Arte Povera as well as Conceptual art are evident in the works of Lucía Simón Medina and Alessandro Biggio. Biggio’s focus on material transformation and Medina’s transcoding of the numerical into the poetic and musical can certainly be read as conceptual or idea-based. Process and material transformation are always of greater importance than the final work, than what’s ostensibly represented. Artistic interest is directed primarily towards the immaterial, the fleeting, towards traces and notations of temporalization, towards signatures of the temporal itself.
Lucía Simón Medina’s aesthetic practice operates along the interfaces of language, logic, mathematics, and the musical. The artist attempts to transfer and at the same time subtly deconstruct one discipline into another. Here Medina makes use of mathematics without approaching things mathematically. She is not concerned with juxtaposing, for instance, the rational and epistemically indistinct or the aesthetic, or vice versa. Rather, she is interested in how one (knowledge) medium is transferred into another. In the encounter between the rational and aesthetic, intuitively ascertainable, perceptual events, she seeks out a pre-linguistic moment, the state just prior to which the pre-verbal congeals into words.
The series Sin título, Librettos consists of a total of forty-two notebooks, which upon closer view resemble musical scores consisting of series of numbers. These librettos, however, do not follow any conventional notational system, but depict rows of numbers meticulously written down with a pencil in the smallest script. More specifically, they consist of a series of seven multiples of the first seven prime numbers (1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13). Booklet 2 includes, for instance, all the sequences of the multiple of two, Booklet 3 those of the number three, etc. Here, Medina creates a close merging of the numerical and music, thereby referencing symmetries and relationships linking music and numbers. She is interested in information-processing processes that evade immediate visibility, such as cryptography. She uses the number itself as the most elementary form of writing. In Sin título, Librettos, Medina also examines a domain that represents an unsolved problem in mathematics: there are no reliable theories that can explain the existence and behavior of prime numbers. In this sense, the work can certainly be read as a tribute to the research of Carl Friedrich Gauss and Bernhard Riemann. The prime number is undeniably linked to something mysterious, almost numerical mysticism, so that the endeavor to make use of it aesthetically can be described as the intermediary zone between art and science as well as between the rational and the irrational.
In the librettos, a tension arises between the profanity of the numbers and the reverberation of an aesthetic order whose laws remain hidden from the viewer. Medina’s works point to such laws without understanding them as dogmatic or postulating them as aesthetic ideals. She is not interested in exploiting this order epistemically, but in making it aesthetically tangible. The librettos address the viewer’s explorative spirit and sensory capacity to approach what’s presented from an aesthetic perspective.
During her entire time working on the librettos from January to July 2014, Medina sharpened daily the pencil she used for making notations on the calendar page of the given day. If there was insufficient space for this, she also used an A5 sheet. In Sin título, agenda, the initial aesthetic by-product was ultimately condensed into an independent series of sheets, some of which were completely covered with graphite. The described or rather referenced sheets not only form peripheral traces of the process, they are themselves legible as signatures of the temporal. The individual, graphite-covered calendar page goes from being a medium of representing time (of the day, of the week) to being a medium of temporization itself, a notation perpetuated repetitively in the rhythm of making notations.
The works of Sardinian artist Alessandro Biggio lead the viewer down a wrong track. During his stay in Krems in summer 2017, Biggio produced a multitude of small-scale self-portraits in the form of clay heads, but not with the intention of showing them later, but—paradoxically—to dissolve them in water immediately after drying, thus destroying them. He then applied the clay-water mixture to cotton fabric. The basic material recovered in this way serves as a ground for formally abstract, almost object-like works on canvas. If the viewer has understood this disconcertingly destructive process, it becomes clear that Biggio is not concerned with any kind of representational outcome. Rather, he is interested in the process of transformation, transition, becoming. The moment of dissolution, the pulverization of the clay head sculptures, underscores the temporal dimension, and even more so the potential impermanence. Biggio’s works are not about permanent, work-focused manifestos, but about fundamental questions on being, becoming and, ultimately, about decay and vanishing. In his subtly created transformational processes, Biggio gives his directorial control over to the uncontrollable. He allows the substance of the material take effect, in a way suggesting that he is not only interested in refuting his own will, but in leading artistic intentionality itself toward absurdity.
With Biggio, the final form presented to the viewer has usually undergone a multi-stage transformational process. In Study for a portrait, the abstract formations on canvas are preceded by a process of material transformation that remains hidden from viewers, thus shifting it toward the conceptual. The initially envisaged form of self-portrait has lost—through the destruction, the dissolving of the heads in water—all traceability and reference. Biggio has deliberately liberated the material from all intentionality in order to create a different, more universal form of portraiture. In this working stage, the artist attempts in a purely intuitive way to help give form to the particular shaped canvas via cutting and tearing. In so doing, the individual canvas develops an almost figurative, character-like form. Thus, Biggio erases all traits of individuality from the portraits, all signifiers of the particular, in order to condense through dissolution and fusion the multiplicity into a single abstract portrait, a kind of abstract composite portrait. The aim of this meta-portrait is not to reflect what is visible or recognizable, but is based instead on the idea and assumption that the truer image of the other (or the self) is articulated less through formal, for instance facial features, and more through the relational—the momentary or general relationship with the other person. In Biggo’s meta-portraits, the viewer is now able to recognize likenesses, of reading into them, which, in turn, are based on a relationship of experience rather than mere formal analogies.
With Biggio, the link between image and subject matter is no longer a mimetic but a purely indexical one, articulated through his use of the materials of transformed ash and clay. Oscillating between draped fabrics and shaped canvases, his meta-portraits do not depict but represent autonomous structures that gently rise out of two-dimensionality, reaching outward into the spatial and sculptural. The material qualities of the semi-pictorial forms, that is the folds and curves of the cotton fabric, give them a kind of movement and dynamism, while the potential brittleness of the clay visually also reveals its vulnerable side, which gives the meta-portraits something essential and fragile.
In his works, Biggio uses not only unusual materials (ashes and clay dust), but the material status of his sculptures and forms is highly precarious. The materials, which always also have an elemental quality, might also change or lose their present form again. The precarious status of the sculptural form is particularly evident in Ash Cones. Here Biggio confronts the viewer with small conical sculptures made of ash. On his family’s property in Calasetta, a remote spot on Sardinia, Biggio collected the fallen leaves from trees his father once planted. Then he burned the leaves and formed elaborate, conical sculptures from the ashes by hand. The success of the process was by no means certain, some sculptures could not be completed, others disintegrated immediately after production. Always implicit to the successful form is also its potential failure.
Biggio’s approach shifts between directness and indirectness, between creating and destruction, and his works between portrayal and abstract-autonomous form. But he is not concerned with a conflict between opposites or preferring chance to deliberate action. Rather, the artist seems to accept these polarities as the tension that is part of being, as a kind of natural state in which being and becoming—also its forms—is articulated and perpetuated. In this respect, Biggio’s practice can also be understood as elementary, as a reflection of what exists, of the fundamental. Biggio’s works form ostensible paradoxes of representation. Viewed in this way, the images are failed because they are destroyed, and yet the benefit of this deconstruction is that it makes visible their inherent universal principles. The form ultimately presented to the viewer, whether conical ash sculpture or shaped canvas, is no longer limited to the representational, but is an attempt to penetrate and transcend the material and the visible. Accordingly, Biggio’s works are not about figurative, recognizable (portrait), or abstract (cone) forms, but point to conditions constitutive of reality, and even more so to the principles and forces of being.
The transformational moment plays a central role in both Alessandro Biggio’s and Lucía Simón Medina’s working methods. In Medina’s works, this transformation does not occur, as with Biggio, in the shifting between one “aggregate state” and another, but between numbers and musical notation. Taking place here is a kind of transcription, a transcoding of the ostensibly rational and ordered into the aesthetically experienceable, the indistinct. But with both Medina and Biggio the perceptible shape, whether a libretto booklet or a shaped canvas, is ultimately not the actual object of perception and reflection. One’s own actions—writing down innumerable combinations of numbers or slowly layering and compacting ashes—opens up a temporal dimension that shifts the focus away from the initial aesthetic undertaking and towards the temporal process itself as a specific, visible form and focus of what’s exhibited. Both artists are skeptical of immediately perceptible form and question being rather than appearance, what’s hidden beyond the observable. Biggio and Medina are interested in fundamental, perhaps even universal aspects, and thus are also skeptical of their own intentions, of stated positions, formal manifestations, and related genius. Both artists seek to circumvent or eliminate direct intentionality in artistic activity. In their transcriptions and transformations, they open up a space no longer limited to the subjective but an explicitly sensory one to be experienced subjectively—an aesthetic space articulated with Medina in resonance with the systematic space of numbers and occurring with Biggio in the amimetic reworking of the material. In light of these elementary, indeed existential questions, the viewer is referred back to his own being, to the question of his own being beyond what is presented and represented.
Translation: Erik Smith