EWERDT HILGEMANN : BEAUTIFUL RUINS

 

LA CARESSE DE L’ARTISTE

by Rosanna Albertini

Ewerdt Hilgemann: “I’m full of stories, they sit everywhere in my whole body.”

(From a conversation with Klaus Altevogt for metalligent, May 2017)

He had a solo exhibition at Royale Projects, Los Angeles CA, in 2017

It would be exciting to know how exactly each cell, each molecule, each organ reacts to stories and physical realities every time they grab our attention. They become a part of us whether we invite them or not. Here we have an artist born in Germany in 1938 who grew up among bombs and marching boots in the Ruhr area, and had the fortune of having grandparents in countryside, where for a while he enjoyed nature and the experiments on different materials in a cement factory where his grandfather was director of a laboratory. Strange objects fell from the sky. They ruined the hands of his best friend. Half of the house was destroyed. Ewerdt experienced a hostility conveyed by objects, but originated by humans. It takes a long time to find a personal answer to these kinds of absurdities.

I don’t know how he made up his mind. It’s a fact that, in 1982, Hilgemann made what Camus would declare the perfect absurd piece: The Rolling Cube. From Camus’ standpoint, it’s a compliment. Ten tons of Carrara white marble, a cube whose faces were polished by the artist for weeks, soft like a skin he caresses, gently, at the end of the work, is carried on a truck to the top of the mountain. And thrown down the ravine, to become again a broken splinter of the mountain. After the fall though, it is different from the other fragments of rocks throw down by the quarry workers: it had been sculpted. The whole action was filmed.

The caress: “The caress is the waiting for a pure time to come, time without a content. She is made with growing hunger, and more and more enticing promises, something that brings new perspectives on the things we cannot grasp.” (Emmanuel Levinas, Le temps et l’autre)

I was struck looking at the solitude of the artist and the rock during the physical transformation of the piece of marble. “I had to do it,” says the artist, and not for fame or money. He paid for the cube. In exchange, I would say, he became an anonymous field of existence. The cube had to be perfect, and meaningless. There is past in the men, as well as in the object’s material nature, but the object will not have the time to remember, it will be dead in a few minutes, leaving to the artist a beautiful ruin. Ugliness and pain of an inhuman history, its thickness, the smell of war, along with impenetrable political decisions, still heavy like a storm of memories, were persuaded for a very short time to get in touch with beauty. Like Marie Antoinette climbing the scaffold. It won’t last.

Maybe the present starts there for the artist, his own journey free from the weight of the past. Returning to himself, the artist is chained to Ewerdt as never before. He is finally in the present. “C’est un présent d’être et non de rêve.” It’s a living present, not of a dream. “The present has shredded the texture of the infinite existing; history is ignored; the present starts from right now.” (Emmanuel Levinas, Le temps et l’autre)

In the art that came after killing the cube, a sense of damage remains that Michelangelo, Bernini, even Camille Claudel, couldn’t conceive. After so many proofs of destructive power among humans, how could artworks remain untouched? Hilgemann sculptures succeed in being beautiful despite the distance and the separation the artist has organized between his hands and the shape that appears. He prepares a regular volume, connects a pump to the inside of the piece, and waits for the implosion of the form, while little by little the extraction, almost an abduction of the air, produces shrinking, moaning, strong noise at times, for the art body has to be born by himself.

In Europe the beginnings of conceptual experiences in the arts were quite different from American conceptualism. The finitude of the object must pay a price to a very diffused state of mind still disturbed by real ruins and graveyards facing the permanent, immutable natural splendor. There was need “to make violence to the present, forcing art (for instance) to reach levels that are beyond the concept of art. Vincenzo Agnetti. “ Intuition is conscious reality bumped in the dark.” 1970

And Hilgemann’s sculptures of today, with their unsteady balance, deformed as if they had been pinched by invisible inner demons, show their imperfect body with pride, they are so human one can only sympathize with them. Does your heap hurt? Are you strangely bent? Look at me, they say, my odd angles will never change. And I did it by myself. Like you, isn’t it? Yet, they also express care, and a secret determination of the artist to give at least a direction to their taking form. ‘Conceptually,’ I don’t know if it is the proper word, their luminous charm emanates from the artist’s caress, as “waiting for a pure time to come, time without a content.”

An already imploded sculpture at Royale Projects:

And the process of implosion of a new piece at the gallery, during the opening:  (details)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos: Peter Kirby

“Only art can go someway toward making accessible, towards waking into some measure of communicability, the sheer inhuman otherness of the matter – the retractions out of reach of rock and wood, of metal and fiber. … Without the arts, form would remain unmet and strangeness without speech in the silence of the stone.”  George Steiner

Bibliography

George Steiner, Real Presences, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1989;  Albert Camus, Le mythe de Sisyphe, Gallimard, Paris 1942; Concettuale in Italia 1965-1972, Galleria Milano, 1987; Ewerdt Hilgemann, Art Affairs, Amsterdam, 2015; Emmanuel Levinas, Le temps et l’autre, PUF, Paris 1983.

Emmanuel Levinas, 1906-1995. French philosopher born in Lithuania to Jewish parents. At home they spoke Yiddish as well as Russian. In 1928-29 he studied under Edmond Husserl and Martin Heidegger. He was the first to introduce their ideas into France. Levinas was a prisoner of war in a German camp, while his wife and daughter hid in a French convent. One of his early books, Le temps et l’autre, taught me nuances and defaults of our understanding, and the lack of reality of idealistic abstractions: time, being, existence merge into the fullness of life, and only the face-to-face with other humans allows them to exist. Levinas took his notes for this book when he was a prisoner. RA

ADELA GOLDBARD : AN EXPLOSION OF LAUGHTER AND FEARS

ADELA GOLDBARD: An explosion of laughter and fears

by Rosanna Albertini

 

ADELA GOLDBARD, Sheep, light jet print 23.5 x 70 inches.  From the series Fictions, 2006  Courtesy of the artist

I start the new year reminding myself that art goes beyond the artist’s person, art is an action sometimes opening eyes and heart, our intimate perception, in moments of clarity: we can see how things are. Then we cover them up quickly, as if they were sounds of one note that doesn’t becomes music unless other notes come around to give her meaning in a collective song. As we keep going we forget, looking for the next change, hoping not to be stuck, filled with disquiet, on a doorstep that leads to nothing, to pages that never turn, where stories have lost the possibility to be told.

Adela Goldbard is a Mexican artist. Part of her family went to Mexico from Poland and Lithuania; her name has European roots, but Mexico is her home. The body of her art not older than ten years. It’s a body well fed by concepts received through other contemporary artists, conceptual in the first place. I look at her work and hear Chris Burden telling me of his attention to relics, that are wrecks with no value, signs for memory. Lived life doesn’t come back. He adds, “I thought: a few minutes of performance, that I will never redo… it becomes a myth.” “You can make your tombstone out of cardboard, but then the graveyard won’t look real, will it?” “What’s real? What does it cost to do that?”

What’s real for Adela Goldbard as an artist? At the beginning it was one photographic image, the instant life of places in which she had introduced imaginary alterations in a physical way, with real objects: little red horses on a dry road, hats in the air, books among sheep on a field of grass. I wonder at her listening to dust, water, grass and landscapes who are perhaps asking for surprising horses, or dreamed flowers in a lake.

ADELA GOLDBARD, Horses, light jet print 27.5 x 70 inches. From the series Fictions, 2006
Courtesy of the artis

ADELA GOLDBARD, Lake, light jet print, 27.5 x 70 inches. From the series Fictions, 2006
Courtesy of the artist

Those foreign objects are placed with gentleness to play with the natural scene, not to hurt, they are only fleeting guests introduced by an artist. Images, one for each place, become crystals of memory. Some facets from the past, some of them completely new.

Down to the soles of my feet.
Down to the palms of my hands.
At the apex of my thought.
At the core of my extremities.

My spirit has feet,
my soul has hands,
my veins leave tracks,
pulses of time and the way.

I can talk with the dawn,
can submerge myself in turbid waters of torrential rivers,
barefoot can walk up the incline,
can hurl my song against the wind.
Indigenous poem from Mazatec, Mexico*

Did she feel like the woman of this indigenous Mexican poem? If Adela’s images are symbols, they seem to bring up a sense of resistance, an attempt at not stifling the art piece within only one meaning, or a simple verbal definition.

Quite rapidly Adela Goldbard started to interact with the Mexican human landscape: a texture of unexplained killings, social inequality, small airplanes or helicopters crashing with no survivors for the governmental or military members traveling in them; the feeling of an undeclared, bloody war tearing into pieces the canvas of peoples’ daily life; layers of cultural and religious veils wrapping the souls of the forgotten and the unconsoled, and infusing an extraordinary creative ability into their hands.

Their hands met with hers. Not only helping her to build three dimensional copies of newspaper images, the crashed small airplanes and helicopters becoming in their sculptural form visual monuments once more hiding from the viewers, as before to the readers, the reasons for the deadly accidents. The artist made them as white as silence. She kept the final photographic image and destroyed the piece. Little by little, Goldbard’s art makes tangible one of the still most diffused of our illusions: the belief that a written report, or a paper body, allow us to see and understand what really happened. So, if they are paper tigers, what to do with them? And how to preserve some sparkles of memory? Her answer is: by destruction. Let’s remake them and blow them up. How much I wish she would do it with the Tower of Pisa!

ADELA GOLDBARD, Cessna 208 XA-TWK, Analogue photography/ light jet print 55 x 69 inches. From the series Fantasy Island, 2012.
Courtesy of the artist

Monuments become a stop, a hole in the human landscape. Yet it is precisely what we don’t know that makes them attractive. During the making of her artworks, supported by many many hands of Mexican builders, Adela Goldbard felt her art had something in common with allegorical meanings of local rituals, older than the Spanish colonization. In some cases intertwined with Christian stories: the image of Judas for instance, burned out by fireworks in a search of purification. And her artworks, as she says, do work “opening space and time, expanding through a collaborative effort, then closing again.” No illusion, once again. If nothing else, they are a vibrant, heartfelt restitution of feelings to people used and abused by various powers over their heads. An ephemeral explosion of laughter and fears: Goldbard’s most recent work comes from three years of preparation and blew up in twenty five minutes. The soundtrack in the Pomona College Bixby Plaza spreads real gunshots, screams and groans, the voices of violence in Mexico. The action displays the unofficial protest of an artist who knows where she belongs, how much she, we all, transpire the air and the soil we walk on. The title, hard to believe, is in the lyrics of a song made by Walt Disney: It’s a small world after all. She let it enter her mind, didn’t push it away.

 

A WORLD OF LAUGHTER, A WORLD OF FEARS

Concert for sounds and pyrotechnic colors and action  

 Bixby Plaza, Pomona College (CA)  November 18, 2017

Video – Courtesy of the artist and Pomona College Museum of Art

 

 

Photographic documentation:

Photo: Peter Kirby

Photo: Peter Kirby

Photo: Hannah Kirby

Photo: Hannah Kirby

Photo: Hannah Kirby

Photo: Hannah Kirby

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Hannah Kirby

Photo: Hannah Kirby

Photo: Hannah Kirby

Photo: Hannah Kirby

Here the fiesta ends / the road is closed, the song is over. / Lucidity is lingering in the copal, / kernels of corn close up their pages, / standing guard over the journey’s secrets.

A mystery is disappearing, / new ways emerging, ways to fathom life. / The birds trace paths, the earth is fasting. / The moon confides her troubles to the sun / and dawn shakes loose on the horizon.

Here the fiesta ends, / the song rests in the morning’s arms. / The children who spring forth open the world’s heart, / nature is sending signals.

Indigenous poem from Mazatec (Mexico)**

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The two stanzas are the n.8 and 10 from a poem translated by Jerome Rothenberg in Like A New Sun: New Indigenous Mexican Poetry, edited by Victor Teran & David Shook (Los Angeles, Phoneme Media, 2015). I read them in Jerome Rothenberg,  Technicians of the Sacred, University of California press, 2017, pp. 364 and 365. Thank you Jerry!

Rosanna Albertini, White Owls – Artists I found in Los Angeles 1994-2011, Oreste & Co. Publishers, Los Angeles. Quotes from Chris Burden’s voice in “Boxed In”, pp.100-109.