Katalog anläßlich der Ausstellung
Städt. Galerie Neunkirchen, 2010
Nicole Nix-Hauck - On the New Work of Gabriele Langendorf
Christoph Borowiak and Gabriele Langendorf - Interview Under a Kiwi Tree
Nicole Nix-Hauck - On the New Work of Gabriele LangendorfOver the last few years, Gabriele Langendorf’s interest has been space, in the widest sense of the word, which is reßected in her drawings and paintings. Her work groups are conceived in series. They create categories of designation and perception
between “in” and “outside”. They bring together, using subtle means, the duality of civilization and nature. Physically defined spaces and habitats, open and closed spaces and architectural and natural landscapes are the subjects of theme-related
groups of work: high-rise facades, hotel rooms and private bedrooms, views from windows onto landscapes, views from ships onto seascapes–and again and again views from ships onto extended waterscapes. These waterscapes are much
more than moving, multi-serviceable “spaces” they are areas on which to project innumerable associations, allegories and yearnings.
Gabriele Langendorf’s work is about space and place as well as about moving and travelling and experiencing the topography. It touches on something fundamental to mankind and its relationship to the world. Yet, until very recently the human
figure was not present in Gabriele Langendorf’s oeuvre. In her earlier work she followed a strictly conceptual course and the conßict between the natural and inhabitated perceived space took place without the protagonists. Since 2003 the
themes have been expanded and there is clearly, style-wise, a new orientation in the work of the artist. The work begins to broaden out; works on paper using different techniques come into their own, allowing figurative pictorial solutions to be tried out. The large format canvases have not been unaffected by these developments. They have freed themselves from the narrow confines of set motifs and formal contracts
to series and demand the rights of autonomous single works. In the earlier landscape scenes and ship pictures the absence of people was no more than a given fact, where now it has become something to question.
A good example of this is the painting Brücke1 (Bridge1) from the year 2005. The open, geometrical bridge structure that can be made out in the misty background is a reference to the famous Toteninsel (Isle of the dead) by Arnold Boecklin. Between 1880 and 1886 he made five versions of this painting in which the remote, mysterious place and the still, mirrorlike water combine to create a melancholic, almost mystical
atmosphere. Whilst in Boecklin’s version the tombs set into the cliffs, that we can just make out, refer to the kingdom of the dead and appear outside of time, the traces of civilization in Gabriele Langendorf’s paintings indicate a profane but not altogether obvious correlation. The observer tends to interpret the incongruous objects, which serve to remind us of the absence of people, as evidence that something has happened. Are the rubber dinghy and the tent half-hidden by the rocks evidence of campers? Or is something more mysterious going on? A boat, a tent and an impassable bridge that stretches over the whole scene without going to the island appear, in a pictorial context, as puzzling elements. They are a source of irritation that spoils the initially planned, romantic atmosphere.
In her landscape and ship pictures, Gabriele Langendorf plays with the borders separating different states; borders over which various associations and emotional moods are connected. In these pictures, with their focus on movement, everything is still. They are about the movement of one’s self on water, on land, with different forms of transport, mainly ships but also mobile homes and cars. Everything is at a
standstill; everything is about to be turned on its head–but when that moment is to come, is anyone’s guess. There is a quiet in the pictures that is disquietening. It lies over the bleak island with its apparition of trees silhouetted against the light blue dawn, over the giant freighter shrouded in mist which is softly lit by the sun’s penetrating rays and whose hull seems to be melting in red, rusty rivulets. It lies over the frighteningly beautiful scene in which the lights on the “oil tanker” cast a sickly green light over their surroundings making them appear to be contaminated and vaporous, the very same lights drawing attention to the tankers ghostly presence. It is the same quiet that lies over the abandoned freight ship that watches its own decay, red-brown, in a silver-shining oil slick. It is the same quiet that penetrates the surreal atmosphere of roads seen in the evening, empty of traffic except for the outline of a lonely camper-bus besides which stands the figure of a woman on the side of a rain-drenched road or a brokendown, possibly abandoned, sports-car that blocks the way.
Arnold Boecklin, having anticipated the implied allegation, emphatically denied painting picture puzzles, when questioned as to the meaning of his Toteninsel. And so it is with Gabriele Langendorf–her pictures are not puzzles, at least not in the anecdotal sense. Yet her pictures are deliberately puzzling and the puzzle is an integral part of them. It is not that which is happening that is puzzling, but that which is not. Stories that remain untold in empty landscapes and wide stretches of water. Stories that perhaps do not exist at all, but that we suspect are being hidden from us behind the very objects that make us aware of the absence of the people. These objects cause us a moment of unease because they make us question the idyll.
Gabriele Langendorf’s scenes are atmospherically charged and often seem hyper-real. This is an effect caused by the light in the pictures creating an aura. They are reminiscent of landand seascapes as devised in the Romantic Movement by
Casper David Friedrich or William Turner or to be found in the Dutch art of the 17th Century by Jan van Goyen or Aelbert Curp. The concept of landscape as metaphor and expression of subjective feelings is tightly bound to art historical role models, but at the moment of their pictorial manifestation Langendorf’s paintings develop a subtle fault. The idyll is deceptive, the romantic place you so desire is unknown terrain.
A threatened place–a threatening place.
The source of the unease can be found in the construction. Even in her painting technique Gabriele Langendorf manages to build deliberate inconsistencies into her pictures. There is no recognizable style: painterly, plastic forms give way to flat
colour surfaces which give way to gesture painted structures or the results of chance, such as extensive drips or fungus-like dry traces of paint, the latter playing an important part in the pictorial outcome. How the objects come to be in the paintings
is strangely ambivalent, because the principle of chance allows the material substance of water or the de-facto rust-eaten surfaces to appear real, as if they are being imitated. The very evident painting process creates an illusion whilst at the same time exposing it. Material and form, as well as picture surface and virtual space exist in a permanently taut relationship to one another.
Gabriele Langendorf often combines painted with drawn elements suggesting room outlines, trees, single objects and–only recently–figures. Human forms are very, very slowly finding their way back into Langendorf’s paintings. The figures approach the pictorial world reluctantly and unsteadily and are testing their powers of presence in the large works on canvas. So far they have only been depicted as silhouettes on the roadside or far away in the distance, swimming divers in flooded, misty landscapes. The figures that have inhabited her works on paper over the last few years have been sent on ahead by the artist, as scouts and messengers. There are
pencil drawings and oil-pastels from 2003 in which figuration is tackled. These works not only mark a new subject in Langendorf’s work oeuvre, they are also the manifestation of a moment of irony, a new form of pictorial joke which is laconically brought to a head in the newest work group with the programmatic title Atmosphärische Störungen (Atmospheric Interference).
The figures are primed for their entrance. In the series Dunststücke (Vapour Pieces) they make their appearance covered in yellow oilskins and carrying binoculars. Fog
surrounds them in cold-coloured, milky, chalky layers. It is as if an atmospheric covering had been placed over the scene, so that the surroundings have become invisible. Casting around and on the lookout, somewhat undecided and a little
helpless, the figures are waiting for something to happen. Maybe they are waiting for better weather, as tourists do on the beaches of the North Sea? Maybe they are waiting for their deployment, or waiting to see what the artist plans to do with them? One could almost be led to think that the figures in Dunststücke are an allegory for the return of the figure in Gabriele Langendorf’s paintings. In this pictorial world their
encounter with nature must first take on form. It demands stamina, vision and obviously special caution, for it is only possible to do so protective clothing.
In a group of scenes depicting peopled landscapes, an encounter with nature is portrayed as a risky business. The world of freedom and adventure is presented in miniature format. It is not without significance that Gabriele Langendorf titled this series of drawings Pausen (Breaks or Traces). The motifs are taken from travel brochures from which she has traced, so that she can cast the figures in new constellations and settings. This method of picking up foreign material to use
directly again enables a more playful use of pictorial motif and in many cases leads to a wider narrative range. This is because the reservoir of images is almost bottomless and potentially more random as a photo source or sketch. The people on their adventure holidays or involved in mountain climbing activities are equipped with trekking boots, wetsuits, and lifejackets. They explore landscapes far from civilization
in boats or on foot. These people are at one and the same time actors and decoration for a scene that could have more than one interpretation: this is a simulated “dangerous” expedition for tourists into the wilds; there is a real existential threat. Both these readings are pictorially indistinguishable from one another. The small scale not only makes it difficult to recognise anything in these very dense drawings, it also adds an ironic touch to the whole theme, leaving all meanings open and confusion constant.
By the time of the series of work created in 2009 entitled Atmosphärische Störungen, the ironic “break” caused by the small format has become a typical stylistic device. It is brought about by disproportionate scale differences between the figure and his or her activity. The depicted scenes are reminiscent of comics.They are sparsely and spontaneously set out, often reduced to a single figure and have a pithiness and a sense of humour to them. These drawings, in using the painting process to define what is going on in the picture are, in fact, referring to the conditions under which a painting is painted. Gestural trails of paint that are accidental products of the painting
process are used to initiate scurrilous pictorial narratives in which the figures react to painterly gestures and objectively change the reading of informal paint marks: a figure in a diving suit hurls himself into a wavy brushstroke, workers wearing
helmets and fishing trousers pull an extraction hose of bluegreen paint behind them, a figure in overalls wearing gloves and a mask is busy on a striped pattern and a fireman in red clothing slides on his tummy through a paint hole. As always,
the figures in protective clothing are to be seen executing baffling technical duties that we associate with “incidents”–work accidents and emergencies. These can be anything from natural and environmental catastrophes, storm damage and accidents to dangerous sporting challenges that have gone badly wrong. The smallness of the figures compared to the largess of their tasks, their indisproportionate smallness
compared to the painted brushstrokes against which they struggle thwart all attempts at meaning.
Gabriele Langendorf smuggles these figures through the back door of irony into her previously un-peopled pictorial world. The meaning is left open to interpretation and new impetus is given to the pictorial problem of expressing the complex relationship
between civilization and nature. The figures appear to be a metaphor for basic, existential, human experiences, even when absent; making us aware of the boundaries and the bonds between inner and outer space. In the work created between 2003 and 2010, Gabriele Langendorf has managed to create a convincing new interpretation of traditional landscape themes. These works deal with the current problems of our times and the pressing question as to the threat to nature, environment, landscape and habitat, which is closely tied to our ability to handle technology. The subtly used irony creates a distance not only to the tradition of landscape painting and figuration, but also to the seriousness of the subject itself. In Gabriele Langendorf’s work, the meaning is to be found in the “source of unease”, the “interference”.
Christoph Borowiak and Gabriele Langendorf - Interview Under a Kiwi TreeGabriele Langendorf has invited me to Saarbrucken to talk about her latest work. A colleague-to-colleague discussion is not uncommon for us both. For years we have been discussing our work together. We started when we met at an opening in a Frankfurt gallery and have since used every opportunity to continue our discussion about art and the world. The difference, today, is that once we have studied a sample of her latest drawings and paintings, a tape will record all that we say about them. In the garden behind the house the midday heat is vibrating. We are sitting in the shade of an amply leafed tree that is loaded with fruit. I hadn’t been expecting kiwis, and certainly not in this number …
Christian Borowiak: And since we’re sitting here: can you roughly guess how much jam they will make?
Gabriele Langendorf: Well, last year we made a lot–about 60 or 70 jars.
Talking of which: have you ever painted with jam?
No, never. And you?
I’ve drawn with chocolate, but that was a long time ago.
With chocolate! No, that’s not for me, I want to create something for eternity. (Laughs)
Yup, the old artist’s dream: immortality forever.
Of course! (Laughs)
You’ve called one of your new series “Atmospheric Interference”. It sounds more harmless than it is.
That’s just it. At first sight my paintings appear harmless but in fact there is something subtly going on, that can lend them a subversive character. Maybe they are expressing my general uneasiness or my fears: there’s something transient fragile.
Is it that your experience tells you that something is fragile or do you just sense that it is? Is the view of a “beautiful” landscape suspect?
Yes and no. I can still enjoy watching a sunset even though I know that in areas where the air pollution is particularly high the sunset is particularly beautiful.
You are referring to the latent ambivalence that exists between what you feel and what you think when, for example you are looking at a “beautiful” landscape.
Absolutely! Or, to put it another way: the image, let’s say a flood, can be visually very attractive and challenging for a painter. And even though floods can cause a great amount of damage, as has recently happened in Pakistan, flooded landscapes can be very beautiful.
Water plays a large role in your work, so it must have a special meaning for you.
I was brought up on the Rhine and spent the 90s travelling around on boats so I have been able to study water in all its various forms. Water is always in fluctuation and to this day I am still interested in trying to find structures within painting to portray it. Water is so incredibly difficult to paint because its form is forever changing and therefore indefinable. The best paintings of water are those that hint at the depths under thesurface.
The paintings that you did whilst aboard ship are very present in my mind for two reasons: firstly, because we had a very long discussion about this “travel document” at the time and secondly, because I was very impressed by your stubborn search for valid painterly forms with which to express the phenomenon of the water’s surface. Your use of paint was as varied as the image itself. In contrast, I feel that at the
moment your understanding of water is more concentrated and comes from within.
You could describe it like that. It could also be, that in my latest paintings, I have been working with glazing. Its flowing, uncontrollable nature corresponds to the images of flooding, rain and general wetness. But I want to continue working on this
problem, even though my most recent paintings have changed and small figures have begun to appear.
You are referring to the new oil pastel drawings: in very nebulous landscapes, figures emerge that appear relatively innocent and sometimes even unsure in their surroundings.
At first my interest lay in the oil pastels themselves. I liked the fact that I could work with lines and areas at the same time,that I could paint and draw at the same time. The pastels are oily, almost malleable working with this material was like working
with plasticine on paper–and the nebulous effect was caused by the layering. The figures developed parallel to the technique.
You mean that the atmosphere was a result of the working process rather than a preconceived idea?
Yes. I kept on creating layers until there was a density that I couldn’t have otherwise immediately reached …
…because an atmosphere can’t just be created, it is the result of intense work over a long period of time, with the material being worked until a certain density has been reached.
That is a good description. I really need a long time for my pictures. I admire painters that can work fast, but it doesn’t work for me. I believe that I can get more out of a picture when the work process is longer. Waiting is part of it. I often turn my
paintings to the wall and only continue working on them weeks later. It sets up a distance, enabling me to react to the paintings better. Of course there are paintings that don’t work. I can’t find a way back in to them and the density is missing.
What do you do with them? Do you keep them?
Well, you just have to say to yourself, it’s a few square metres of ruined canvas, a few hours (laughs)–days, weeks that one could have filled in a more useful way–but that is to question. One can’t always work “efficiently”. Art just isn’t like that.
Although I can’t help getting that feeling–especially when looking at “young painting”–that the question of “efficiency” isn’t far from their minds. The attitude you take is much more low-key and leaves room for doubt.
I agree. Some of the work in the Neunkirchen show is seven years old. It’s work I haven’t shown before. I had put the oil pastel and pencil drawings away in a draw. It is important for me to show everything because I think the cosmos is then complete
and one can see how all the pictures fit together and feed off one another. Without the drawings there would probably be no figures in my latest oil paintings. The absence of people has always been a theme in my work and now they’re present once again. The problem, which I find so difficult, is to try and put them in a
relationship that is not illustrative.
Has this change come about because your outlook on the world has changed over the years?
That figures have reappeared? On a superficial level, I now have more contact with people, and that inevitably has an inßuence.It is another new challenge. I hadn’t painted any figures with the exception of portraits since graduating. And now I’m starting, just when it is no longer “in”, and the Leipzig Painters are no longer big news. Maybe that could be interesting, but basically I’m doing it because I want to. (Laughs) But there certainly won’t be a figure every new picture!
Well, perhaps the assertion–that you can’t go wrong with a figure in a picture is a bit self-complacent?
A picture can appear mysterious with or without a figure and that mystery is just what I am trying to get to the bottom of. For example, in my latest picture, Straße 1 (Street 1), a figure was going to have been leaning against the guardrail. I painted It out because the picture seemed darker without it. The picture Caravan 2 worked the other way: you only see the lightly sketched in woman if you take a closer look and that makes the interpretation of the picture more ambivalent.
We have already spoken about the ambivalence of a “beautiful” landscape and now the mystery, conditional on a figure that appears in a certain sort of way in the picture. What meaning does the word “Romantic” have for you? Of course, I am talking about the period of painting which produced pictures with a political sub-text and that were steeped in atmosphere.
I associate the Romantic with an interest in light and its appearance as colour. It wasn’t about exact natural observation; it was more about an individual’s experience with nature. I see certain parallels to William Turner, and Casper David Friedrich
who constructed his intense atmospheric landscapes in the studio. I like to describe it as “emotional objectivity”. Behind the construed emptiness and monotone are different layers of meaning. I am thinking about the Eismeer (Sea of Ice) by
C.D. F. Eisschollen (Icebergs) and Schiffswrack (Shipwreck) – the very picture of failure–which can be seen as explanations of the political situation that then existed, as well as C.D. F.’s personal state of mind. The connection is only indirectly hinted at, but there too I see parallels.
I would really like to know something about your figures. Why are they so small?
Their smallness is something that has developed over time and which I feel comfortable with.
Because then the person is far enough away?
Yes, he’s far enough away. If he were to appear life-size before me on the canvas it would be a one-to-one situation. It’s not what I want. In fact, I’d feel uncomfortable. When the figures are so small they’re almost like model or toy figures. They don’t seem to be so important, and I normally place them so that they are busy with some sort of activity. They don’t look at you.
Basically, you place them in a situation that they somehow have to react to. They seem to me to find themselves in the middle of threatening situations hovering between uninvolved and helpless. They seem to me to be part of a test arrangement.
Which do you mean exactly?
The figures in Atmosphärischen Störungen (Atmospheric Interference), it’s as if you’ve put them into an atmospheric interference just, if you will, to see how they’ll react.
You could say that. They behave in a way that is contrary to the movement of the brushstroke. For example, one figure is sawing into a wide brushstroke with a power saw. You don’t expect that.
On the other hand the work being carried out with the power saw–because of the width of the brushstroke–strikes me as rather pathetic.
Yes, Sisyphus springs to mind …
…or it’s as if the figures were prisoners of their own actions. They do something, but are incapable of recognising the point or use of their actions.
Maybe a current work attitude?
Because they are working on something that is a size to big for them?
Yes, or because one has the feeling that what one is doing is pointless.
And you collect all this together in your pictorial language, the meaninglessness of what man does and give it a bigger context?
No, not directly, it’s subtler than that. I don’t decide to paint a figure doing something meaningless and I don’t mean to undermine what he’s doing. Instead, my starting point is the aimlessly painted brushstrokes and then I look for a person who can react
to it in some form, so that it works for me. In the moment of doing I’m not thinking about the meaning. That comes later. I start off with a vague idea, a composition or a technical problem. The rest is process and reacting to what I find. Francis Bacon
once said in an interview, that the technical problems are often more important in forming a painting than trying to bring over the initial ideas. That’s often illustrative. You can’t just decide to paint a sad or a funny picture.
You combine painterly gestures with figures, as you would flour, yeast and water and then you wait to see what sort of “atmospheric interference” will rise up?
Yes, it’s similar to cooking. With the same ingredients one picture can have a completely different effect from another.
I’ve noticed that the figures often wear protective or working clothing. Why is that?
I’ve noticed that more and more people wear protective clothing in everyday situations. They are worn in areas of catastrophe but they also seem to play an ever-bigger role in art happenings and fashion. Whilst out in the woods I saw a woman wearing a car-breakdown reflective vest taking her dog for a walk. It was really absurd. Once it’s been pointed out, you start noticing it. Maybe it’s a latent, collective fear that expresses itself in this way. Whatever it may be, painting the material and the folds of these clothes give me a lot of pleasure.
The clothes should also cover one up, shield one from stares.
Exactly, a protection for the figure against the observer.
Earlier you described the size of the figures as pleasing.
You’re right, I did. It’s because they’re not full of pathos. The surroundings are just as important.
In some way it’s consistent with the terseness of the title “Atmosphärische Störungen”.
Yes. More importantly it is a title with many meanings. Originally it comes from astronomy and means air turbulence that creates a fuzzy effect for the observer of the night sky. I think that you can use it to refer to many areas, such as climate interference, relationship interference …
…when the shit hits the fan and the lawyer are called in …
Exactly. That too.
So you are not interested in the heroic attitude of the figure who might say for example: “Hey everyone, listen up, this is the way to get out of a desperate situation!” Instead everything remains on a knife-edge and you’re the observer?
Exactly. In fact it’s the viewers standpoint once again, as it is in all the paintings I have ever made. That’s the thread that goes through all my work.
Yes, even in the pencil drawings on transparent paper you remain at your observation post. Is that not true?
They came about accidentally. I found an image in a travel brochure that I wanted to use in a large painting. I traced it so that I could transfer the drawing to the canvas using a grid to enlarge it. While I was tracing it, I realised that what I was doing was a direct appropriation of the image and this seemed to make more sense than slaving away to draw it. I liked the unintentional result and thought: Wow, that’s it! While I was thinking about a title and you were pushing me to take the initiative in tracing–
which left a bad taste in my mouth–I decided upon the word “Pause” (Break or Trace). They are very meditative to do and I am taking a break from the everyday when I appropriate an image. I have to really concentrate as I can often not see, or can only guess at what is underneath, and then I have to find a way of expressing it. The figures are normally only a few millimetres long. To work on such a tiny scale and still be able to create the form also, of course, means that you have to have often drawn figures … that you really know what you are doing. In the space of half a millimetre, you can be so way out, that the whole bearing is wrong.
Areas have to fit together in relationship to each other’s tone, too. I imagine that’s quite difficult.
Yes … and then to keep at it. I undertake a lot and still have to keep making decisions about form, light, different combinations. I also assemble together different pictures until something new is created.
As opposed to general opinion, it’s hard going.
Oh well, it’s only traced–that’s what most people say.
The process of tracing involves you not being able to see the image that you are appropriating sharply. You literally have to struggle to see, because the transparent paper acts like a filter between you and the image and is the cause of a slight shift. Well, maybe it’s because of the shift that you get something new.
I experience the same phenomena when I’m not wearing my glasses.
What fascinates me about the tracings is that they are so tiny and the areas and lines so delicate. I’m fascinated by how they have been worked on and the fine nuances of
tone. It is really very original and dispels many preconceived ideas about tracing. Do you have a history of tracing?
I am familiar with the method from my days as a textile designer. It was used as an intermediate step to transfer the units of the repeating pattern. It was a means to an end.
And now the tracing has become an end in itself?
Yes, it’s something autonomous.
Do you know of other cases where the tracing is valid in it’s own right?
Tracing paper is a material that artists are always using. But for me it’s not just about the material, more importantly it is about the act of tracing and here I see a connection to the reproduction techniques of the old masters, for example: the
use of reflective lenses or other optical devices to transfer drawings. I call this a “transfer mode”, similar to the use of beamers today. It is the artist who makes the picture, not the equipment or the technique. David Hockney, who I much admire, did a lot of research on this subject.
Before I forget: tracing has something for me to do with Xrays. X-rays are made of a semi-transparent material on which structures appear in shades of grey enabling us to see what we otherwise would not be able to see. Putting appropriation aside, would you go as far as to say that tracing, for you, is there to make something visible that was not in that form visible before?
Exactly. I crystallize something out of an inconspicuous catalogue that no one is probably going to look at very closely. I give a pictorial image a meaning by setting it apart. I have set apart lots of images of tourists in rubber dinghies. This image awakes in me ambivalent feelings because it can have different readings. It could just as well be travellers, as boat refugees drifting without orientation on the water. By taking the tourists out of their original context, I have made them appear very vulnerable.
It appears to me that you are changing the image-claims of the tourist industry–Romance! Adventure! Action! Etc.–and alone through this process you raise important questions: what do we think we are doing? Are we not already wandering the world lost … and forlorn?
It is good if that becomes apparent.
This interview was recorded on 11th September 2010 in Saarbrücken.