Johanne Mohs

To perish form

To pour and to throw are two operations following the movement of material in space.
When a substance is poured it expands until it meets an external limit, or comes to a standstill due to its internal dynamics. As mass in motion it displaces empty space, fills it to the brink. As long as there is supply, it continues to flow uninterrupted. By contrast, that which is thrown temporarily intervenes in space, crosses, and exceeds it. It will continue on its trajectory, propel forward until an obstacle is met, stick to it and fall to the ground. Acts of pouring and throwing allow matter to develop its own form, to arrive at a certain condition through motion, but without the aid of a model or cast. Beforehand, we can only speculate about the final appearance of the poured or the thrown. We might aim in a certain direction, deliberate whether to pour by hurling or by spilling, whether to throw by catapulting or lifting; we might even build a course with gradients or brooks – but in the end, the material reaches its final shape on its own, it falls into it. It is this coincidence of form that Karin Lehmann's pouring and throwing pieces aim at: these processes do not shape the material, but channel it towards its eventual appearance.

Relief (2012) literally translates the history of its title into an artistic act. Rilievo, from the Latin relevare, means to elevate, or to raise up. Whereas the classical relief elevates figures from the ground of the image, making them appear three-dimensional, in Relief the entire plane of representation is raised from the floor to rest against the wall. It consists of a plaster surface enforced with wood and jute, where the bottom layer finally becomes the visible surface. This visible side shows a cast of the floor, which was covered with a layer of foil and poured with fluid plaster, thus 'taking' its texture and topology. The process of image making may thus be described as a reversal - that which was above during its creation becomes the back of the final piece, and vice versa. This prehistory of the front of the image also becomes evident in our immediate experience of the piece: many lines, dents and fractures are directly mirrored as positive and negative on the floor and the plaster wall. In addition, the scale of the work indicates that it cannot have been brought into the space, but must have been produced in situ. However, the spatial specificity of Relief is disturbed by the presence of an intermediary, an additional layer of material. The surface is inscribed with a fold that cannot be the result of the floor's topography. It testifies to an invisible film, a piece of foil, pressed between the floor and the plaster, both to protect the floor from the fluid material and to enable the imprint in the first place. The folds within the image therefore make visible the transparent hinge that articulates the interplay of the two surfaces. The only thing that remains to link these folds to the drapery of classical statues is the dynamic of the gap, the intermediate space. These folds no longer bare the trace of the body they conceal; rather, they trace the effects of flowing plaster on a solid surface, pointing to Relief as an 'image act'.*

Like Relief, the wall piece Static Piece (2011) is based on action and motion. However, here it is not just the process of creation that is visible in the final work, but the act of viewing also affects its appearance. We see a white wall, with a surface that from a distance looks like simple wood-chip wallpaper. As we move closer, little balls seem to float in front of our eyes, but before we can reach out to find out what they are, they slip through our fingers and crumble to the floor. The wall covering is in fact shredded styrofoam attached to the vertical surface by the effect of static. Sooner or later, the charge decreases as a result of physical contact or air movement, so that the actual wall gradually emerges while the styrofoam balls pile up where the wall meets the floor. Static Piece only holds up to the gaze deceived from afar, and falls apart into its individual components upon closer examination. It demonstrates how a work of art can loose its fascination during the process of reception, if the viewer is intent on lifting its illusion at any cost. The idea of a wall is given space to unfold, but what remains is nothing but the wall itself. Instead of revealing the fourth wall as an imagined construct, which is the typical avant-garde strategy, the disillusioned wall here simply returns to its everyday shape. Smashing the fiction does not lead to enlightenment, it simply puts an end to the magic. What remains is the pleasure of having been taken-in by a momentary constellation.

The installation And then comes autumn, and behind it winter (2012) also relies on a brief attachment of matter to space, an attachment which in time is dissipated by the effects of air. Instead of styrofoam balls electrified to a wall, soft balls of clay are thrown at the ceiling. There they stick, until they begin to dry, detach themselves and finally fall down. They are not static, but have been charged and launched by the movement of a hand. A spatial process of reversal is implied here, similar to that in Relief, but in the opposite direction, since the balls of clay are catapulted upwards until gravity deposes them back to their original state. Following the cyclical reference in the title, the clay should then again be formed into balls and thrown into the air, provided they are not dried out by dust and air. In fact And then comes autumn, and behind it winter plays out a trajectory entirely with clay, which in nature can only come from the earth itself. The function of the material here is no longer the imitation of natural forms; it is instead locked into a natural trajectory of movement in which it has a clearly limited, but decisive, role. Every process that starts from the ground in nature only stays in a certain shape temporarily, until the cycle is completed. Hence the short life of the clay balls enacts transience as a natural process, rather than fighting it by setting things in stone: everything is perishable. Sculpture in Karin Lehmann's work is an active process, but it throws and pours rather than hammers and polishes. It is a sculpture committed to the processes by which materials in the natural world remove and return, take away and add anew.

* The term is Horst Bredekamp's: 'Bildakt', designating the phenomenon of the vital impact of images, their potential to evoke or stand for actions (after J.L. Austins 'speech act' as a performative utterance).


Johanne Mohs, 2012

Translation by Kate Whitebread
(original titel: Form verenden)