Category Archives: about art

Hands everywhere

During my first swift survey walk through the last years degree show (2016) of the Royal College of Art in London I noticed a curious repetition of a specific motif : The hand . But it wasn’t just a hand that exhibits itself, but a hand that acts, that touches, holds, performs. A hand that encourages empathetic identification.

The hand is one of the the most ancient representational motifs existing in art . Negative and positive handprints have been found in caves and on rocks dating back up to 39 000 years.

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But it has been relatively absent in the art of recent years.  What the hands formed , the  result of their work has been subject of exhibitions, but less the hands themselves.

My thesis now is that there is a renaissance of the representation of hands happening and I see two  contributing factors. 

1. The hand in the viewfinder of our eyes

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The most important factor is the relatively new but omnipresent everyday connection of the hand with the image. Through touchscreen technology the hand is now often and directly physically connected to the image. Today through the use of smartphones and tablets the hand  has become part of  a very large and growing number of images. During our interaction with digital images the hand is often in the foreground or center of the image. One might argue that the hand was also present when in the past we were looking through pages of  museum catalogues or photo books . The difference might be subtle, but then the hand was only active at the edge of the image. Now it is active in its centre. It swipes over, it pinches and double taps. The hand is right in there. Physically. Overall the hand has become a larger part of our daily optical view finder. The heightened frequency of the hands presence is reflected in its taking stage in artworks of recent contemporary artists. And this doesn’t just effect art school graduates.

At the last Turner Prize exhibition at  Tate Britain in London every shortlisted artist had to a larger or smaller degree images or representation of hands present in their work.

2. The making of objects vs the end product

A second factor for the appearance of the hand as a motif is more speculative and more subtle in its arguments: There seems to be a shift of focus in the arts towards “the making”  and away from the “end product”. Artworks now often reflect the way they are made in some way. This is connected to Bertold Brechts ideas about theatre and the importance to show its construction and context within the play. The revival of the collage , of art and crafts and  the return of performance art are all signifier of this trend. In painting abstract process based painting has been all the rage during the last ten years. Marks, material and process have been playing Ping Pong at all the art fairs. It has been young artists that are pushing these interests. My suspicion is that therefore the hand as a central instrument for making art has  become more prominent in artworks.

 

The net as a new model for the world

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I am not too interested in fashion trends in art ,but more in the question why this shift is happening now?

I sense that the world has become more fluid through information technology and social media. Everything is connected with everything it seems. At least it all is caught in the same net.

Water is a better representation of this condition than stone. The fluid closer to it then the solid. Every object is viewed now as more or less part of this net.

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Information in all directions is attached to the object and it is itself information for other connected objects. Its only logical, that objects including artworks are now viewed in this way. So “the making of it”  is the information we want ,we are used to, we want to convey, as it has become the way we see the world.

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two thirty in the afternoon

state of mind...at 2.30...

state of mind…at 2.30…

(written for the Royal College of Art catalogue 2014 )

Agatha Christie made sure that nobody ever saw her writing. She didn’t have a study or specific space where she would work, but instead placed her typewriter on the kitchen table after the children had left for school and she had cleared the dishes. By the time when everybody returned home her typewriter had disappeared again and she would be in the middle of making tea. At least this is what I read.

At 2.30 in the afternoon I start shrinking. A little bit like hulk, who slowly looses his anger and turns back into a small naked man. I have to prepare for a quiet, powerful and invisible portal that is awaiting my mind to cross through daily at around this time. It’s school pick up time. Behind the portal awaits another world: Tedious, structured, exhausted, obeying, with tied shoelaces , brushed teeth, money in bank accounts, hands shivering, stairs, flag poles and homemade pizza. A world strange and deterministic. Slowly it opens its wings and around 4 pm it stands in front of me glorious, cold and all engulfing with fingers, tasting sweet as jelly babies. I rehearse one last time and dissolve once again like fizzing aspirin. A small naked man, fairly happy, mysteriously normal.

The gaps that were wide open during the morning have disappeared, the world is solid again. It has to be. I exchange words with people that look like my parents; I look like my parents. I am boring, serious and use the word “No” during every other breath. At least that is how my son describes me. It doesn’t help that I try to explain the dialectic virtues of using the word “No” and what Hegel thought of it. At 4.30 pm I look at a tree and don’t see the tree, but only a symbol of a tree. While before entering the portal the world was breathing a complex, surprising and somewhat paradox pool of light and words, it now had collapsed into textbook symbolism and the logic of cause and effect. It wasn’t always like that and isn’t always like that, but like a pendulum that is kicked, after a while it starts steering the same course again. Its monkey business ! I explain to myself . Biology. The work that has to be done is to kick the pendulum, to create unbalance and take a glimpse through the gaps of matter and mind that open up in the process.  After all, it is said that it has been a tiny unbalance that had created the universe. Now it is drifting back into vast and cold balance. The process we call time. I piss on time, I throw rocks at it and grapefruits. Recently I noticed the portal getting tighter. Clearly soon I wont be able to pass through it anymore. I just hope I will be on the right side of it, when it happens.

Markus Vater

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