Press Release: Heiko Bressnik, Contemporary European Primitive, 16 April – 30 May 2009. Opening 16 April, 19-21h.
In his studio, Berlin-based Austrian artist Heiko Bressnik (b. 1961) has a ‘powder chamber,’ an enclosed transparent box built of cardboard, clear tape, and plastic, containing an electric grinder, into which a sock that serves as a glove is built so that the artist can work with his hands inside the sealed environment. In this homemade and eminently lo-tech device, Bressnik atomizes whatever it is he wishes to portray in one of his paintings—whether it be animal, vegetable, or mineral. He then uses the finely ground powder he has isolated within as the medium with which to create an image of that object in two dimensions on canvas.
The result is that one can never say that a painting by Bressnik is ‘of’ something without involuntarily enacting the artist’s grand joke on the language of images: one means it is a ‘picture of’ its subject but, with or without intending to, one has always already also pointed out that it is a ‘picture made of’ its subject.
The thorny implications of this ‘picture of/made of’ mechanism poke such pointed fun at certain artistic and philosophical conventions that they end up tearing holes in them, for it doesn’t sit well in the mind structured by language to have a picture of something that is composed of the physical substance of that thing. The object is present before us, but looking at the image, we are compelled to speak of it (and also to think of it) as represented. To speak of objects representing themselves is inanity, or else leads to insanity, and yet nothing else feels appropriate, which is troublesome.
But perhaps we are in trouble by deeming an object ground to dust ‘present’ in the first place. Turning to dust is traditionally thought to mean the end of a thing's objecthood: ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and the like. And after all the dust of the prehistoric ages surrounds us, for example, yet we do not feel ourselves to be continually in its presence. In this way it could be true that the illusionistic form rendered upon the canvas gives the object more reality than the material with which it is made.
But isn’t it passing strange, that the image produced by human hand could trump the physical substance of a thing in vying for its reality? One surely cannot say that the illusion has the power to overwhelm the fact with any finality, as is illustrated in the example of Bressnik’s triumphant picture of a human skull (2007): for all of its undeniably convincing visual verisimilitude, the physical substance of this image will always be more convincingly real to you than the picture it makes if that skull belongs to your grandmother. In its actual complete anonymity, however, the reality of the skull remains infinitely contested: the notion of an object that is itself and also a representation of itself refuses to make sense; the object’s two possible realities are mutually exclusive, and must forever compete for priority.
Such serious and weighty jokes are as much at the heart of Bressnik’s artistic practice as any physical process. In Contemporary European Primitive, Bressnik’s exhibition at Song Song, he takes the same philo-farcical spirit to the role he has picked for himself in creating the show, that of the European artist exploring exotic cultures lying at the world’s edges for inspiration for his work.
What Bressnik discovers in the exotic, safe to say, is not a sublime, pure and modern form to reflect the stainlessness of mind which, history suggests, we should expect an artist to have gained from such a quest. Rather than experiencing his search as a sacred and cleansing inquiry into the untouched heart of Culture, Bressnik has sidled up to his peregrine muse as comfortably as to any cozy outpost watering hole of the tropics, and he has brought back a taste for Tiki bar culture. What results from the encounter can be seen from the 16th April to the 30th May at Song Song, between Tuesday and Saturday.
Heiko Bressnik was born in 1961 in Villach, Kärnten. He holds a master’s diploma in Graphic Arts from the Hochschule für Angewandte Kunst, Wien (1989). Recent exhibitions of his art include 01 / 08, Museum Moderner Kunst Kärnten (2008), Gemischtes Sextett, Galerie Exner Wien (2008), realitat, Personale showroom Berlin (2007), and CONTEXT, Galerie Schafschetzy, Graz (2006), among many others. Bressnik’s work is included in numerous collections both private and public, including Bundesministerium für Unterricht und Kunst Wien, Kulturabteilung der Stadt Wien, Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum Linz, Sammlung Römerquelle Wien u.a.m, and Österreichische Galerie Belvedere Wien. The artist lives in Berlin and Vienna.