Artist: Gerold Tagwerker
Gerold Tagwerker’s grid-like object Rost, which seems to have been randomly leaned against the wall in the foyer of the gallery building, presents the viewer with a conundrum. Is this an “autonomous” work of sculpture or a functional object, such as a fence or a building component? The proportions and dimensions of its slats suggest the form of a grate that has a strange appearance for the viewer due to its metallic gleam. Upon closer observation one clearly notices inconsistencies in its highly reflective surface. The striated reflection leaves no doubt that, in contrast to one’s initial impression, a cheap form of finishing has been used in this case and that the steel structure is not chrome-plated but has been polished.
Observing the work Rost unfolds in various phases of possible classifications and attributions—a typical characteristic of Tagwerker’s sculptures and installations. Due to its material vocabulary and the artificial nature of its surface, the grid-like object initially appears to have a possible utilitarian purpose, but then it seems to become an object that, despite its unique presence characteristic of works of minimal or postminimal art, is intended to attract attention. One could ultimately view Rost as a mirrored object and therefore a kind of “seeing machine.” The status of the object and the aesthetic processes associated with it are determined not by its form or its physical presence in space but by the optical phenomena that play out on its surfaces (augmenting the perception of space). From this perspective, movement in front of and around the object becomes a determining factor in how the grid-like sculpture “functions.” For example, when viewers turn to look at a mirrored object in passing, their gazes jump back and forth between the beams and the wall in the background. This staccato-like alternation, the abrupt shift between the near (the wall) and the far (the mirror image), poses a challenge to the perceptual apparatus of the viewer and leads to a perceptually unpleasant situation that is tiring for the eyes.
The highly obtrusive finishing of the grid-like object asserts itself as an attractor, an eye-catcher, drawing viewers in close and then subjecting them to the effects of this “seeing machine.” Thus the process of aesthetic perception is focused on the perceptions generated by the object. Tagwerker’s mirrored grid thus defies both a purely referential interpretation (postminimal, conceptual art) and one based on perceptual or Constructivist theory. Given that the viewer becomes the actual main protagonist of the work, the object instead proves to primarily address phenomenological concerns.
Although Tagwerker’s works initially appear surprisingly simple and seem to lack “intent,” they operate as chance encounters. His sculptures and installations are dominated by their materials, as exemplified by the grid-like form that lies on the ground or is leaned against the wall or by the metal screens placed throughout the room. The functional and often industrial quality of the works contrasts with their prominent aura as museum objects, thus lowering inhibitions towards interacting with the object. This combination of orchestrated randomness and latent interest on the part of the viewer is intended to foster viewer interactions with the work’s range of aesthetic effects. On a subliminal and subtle level, both visual and semiotic “events” as well as the potential associations and references suggested by the sculpture become determinants of perception. Tagwerker focuses on “epiphenomena,” secondary phenomena that accompany perception and classification. Although such phenomena appear in a delayed manner, they nevertheless unremittingly reshape and transform what we see. To this extent, instead of steel and chrome, the artist’s true working materials are connotation, reference, and desemantization/ resemantization. What initially appears to be a “banal” object successively reveals other facets of its “appearance” as the perceptual process unfolds. Phenomenological presence, the powerful semiotic reference, and commentary on art alternate seamlessly. Tagwerker attempts to pinpoint this element of “disinterested pleasure” in which the viewer is subtly challenged, both phenomenologically and referentially, without being aware of this process on a cognitive or epistemological level.
The grid was a recurring theme even in earlier works by Tagwerker and serves as an important aesthetic and thematic point of reference. On a formal level, grid-like patterns appear early in his work, for instance in his semi-documentary photographs of high-rise façades, his galvanized steel grids (grids_untitled, 2010), and his light installations such as blur.grid, which was shown in the exhibition impermanent geometry with Amy Yoes at Galerie Stadtpark in 2008. Tagwerker is not so much interested in the grid merely as a form as in the principle of the grid, that is, its different types of contextualization and semantization. The current exhibition is not just an extension of questions exploring the significance of the grid from the perspective of phenomenological and semiotic premises, which were raised and negotiated in impermanent geometry. Nor is it simply an occasion for a solo show. Tagwerker was invited to engage in an installation-based interrogation of the exhibition space, that is of the building itself in its typical modernist, 1960s grammar. His investigation does not deal primarily with questions of modernity or modernism, even if these references are present Tagwerk’s work. Instead it engages with spatial and kinaesthetic aspects of the building as well as those relevant to the theory of the dispositive, addressing the building’s pavilion-like construction, the notion of transparency, the spatial delineation and penetration of the interior and exterior, and the relationship between seeing and being seen.
In the installation mirror.paravents, Tagwerker sets up screen-like space dividers to create a labyrinthine interior that choreographs the viewers’ movements through the space. Upon entering this arrangement of these displays walls, which are positioned at right angles to one another, viewers are confronted with a situation in which the directional position of the body and the gaze are constantly shifting. The eye automatically begins to oscillate between the interior and the exterior. The space is made permeable and transcendent not only through the dynamic activation of a viewer’s standpoint but also thanks to the panels themselves: Made of perforated black sheets of anodized metal mounted over mirrors, they visually function both as screens and reflective surfaces, forming hybrid objects that both divide and augment the space. Placed in a grid-like constellation, the screens form a kind of semipermeable hall of mirrors. This semipermeable quality is generated not only by the perplexing back-and-forth of the gaze between the interior and the exterior, between the exhibition space and the exterior space of the street visible through the glass façade, but also through the blending of real, perceived space and the illusory space seen in the reflections, which the eye almost imperceptibly pieces together from the fragmented images of the space visible on the mirrored dividers placed throughout the room.
For the individual display walls, Tagwerker consciously chose to use different-sized holes in the perforated metal, which produce varying tints on the surfaces of the space dividers. Depending on the angle from which they are viewed, either the reflection “behind” the perforated metal and thus also the illusionary augmentation of space or the black color of the perforated metal dominates, emphasizing the function of the object as a screen and separator. The variable sizes of the perforations also determine the varying sharpness of focus of the images in the mirror due to varying degrees of optical “resistance.” In addition, distracting patterns of interference between the perforated metal and the mirror below it appear in the form of concentric circles, which counter and undermine the geometric look and clarity of the installation. For the viewer, this optical “white noise” poses a challenge in terms of having to differentiate between what one sees and an illusion, between real space and projected architecture. This moment of differentiation takes place not just once or in a final moment of culmination but occurs continually as one moves through the spatial arrangement, so that ultimately not so much the eye but the cognitive apparatus itself becomes overwhelmed.
The dividers initially seem to have a largely functional purpose—a strategy typical of Tagwerker, which links mirror.paravents with Rost—as if the constellation of screens merely serves the purpose of maneuvering bodies through the space. But as the perceptual experience unfolds, the labyrinth is revealed to the viewer as a complex dispositive of the gaze. The usual schematic conception of the interior and exterior is not merely subjected to critical reexamination, it is deconstructed and thus made obsolete. The body is no longer the guiding center of perception. What initially seemed to be structured and clear gradually transforms into a field of visual confusion. Real and reflected space, backwards and forwards, and also interior and exterior (the gallery/street) begin to alternate, shifting back and forth and fusing with one another. This play on the high ideals of modernity and modernism, with the transparency intrinsic to the building and definitive of its appearance and atmosphere, is perpetuated to a point of ontological and categorical clarity.
Tagwerker’s aesthetic strategy is geared towards creating a polysemy of form, in which the artist fosters a situation of shifting associations; the object appears as a functional item, an aesthetic object, or even a “seeing machine” in the sense of a dispositive of the gaze. Beyond the manner in which they may be initially interpreted (minimal art, postminimal art), both works are essentially visual “apparatuses,” or “seeing machines,” which subtly foreground the status of the viewer, engaging with the individual’s routine operations of seeing, classifying, and comprehending. Tagwerker’s mirrored works contain a socioaesthetic and sociolo-gical component, which, although not readily apparent, makes the viewer a part of the work. In the installation mirror.paravents viewers not only confront themselves as fleeting, captured images, but at the same time they can be observed from the outside (through the glass façade of the exhibition space) and thus become part of the “exhibit” themselves.
Tagwerker produces simple objects and forms, which, over time and through the unfolding process of perception and the perceptual challenges presented to the viewer, become “seeing machines.” On the one hand, this perceptual dispositive in the form of an object is aimed at transcending the purely empirical or functional essence of what we see; on the other, it aims to turn the gazes of the viewers back onto themselves. The strange appearance of the metal surface of Rost—which subverts an initial classification of the work as “minimal art” as well as the playful use of visual vagueness, with almost-psychedelic patterns of interference on mirror.paravents—function not only as perceptual disruptors in Tagwerker’s works. They also invert the “laws” that apply to the identification of objects, to categorization and classification. Tagwerker’s works target the indeterminacies of categorical identification. By making perception contingent upon the identification of an object, they create a state of uncertainty between aesthetic comprehension and the comprehension of thought processes, a state that recalls Kant’s notion of “free play” between the cognitive pro-cesses of sensibility and understanding.
Translation: Laura Schleussner