She is wearing flared jeans, rolled up two inches, with a long-sleeved T-shirt. Her name is Dóra Maurer. She’s a Hungarian artist, curator and teacher but, in this work, a film called Proportions (1976), her face is obscured by the repetitious actions of her body. As I stand motionless watching her play, I am as spellbound as I am bored.
First, she rolls out a sheet of white paper and lies on it, her body a ruler, which she uses to draw a black line above her head, cutting the blank space of the paper in two. She folds one side of the paper up to this black line, then folds it again and again: from these folds, she makes evenly spaced vertical lines in black marker pen, multiplying the original so that we cannot find it amongst the monochrome divisions. She turns the body into a mathematical experiment as she slowly rehearses similar gestures of measurement using feet, hands and arms, before rolling over the paper like a sausage. It is an addictive, analogue choreography that resonates with the ‘found’ movements of Yvonne Rainer.
Proportions encapsulates what I found to be the most infectious message of ‘6 out of 5’, Maurer’s solo exhibition at White Cube: she makes the conceptual corporeal. Curated by Katherine Kostyál, the show stresses the physicality of the conceptual photograph, painting, drawing or film. Even when no body is visible, as in the frottaged and folded Hidden Structures 1–6 (1977–80), the trace of its performative movements are felt.
Forming a central part of this exhibition are the artist’s abstract paintings that emerge from the wall by means of hidden frames: works such as Stage 2 (2016), a new installation, as well as the ‘Overlappings’ and ‘IXEK’ series made between 1999 and 2015. The works’ curved forms suggest three-dimensional folds by using colours that feign transparency. These paintings appear to enlarge and retract with the movement of the viewer. In Overlappings 33 (2006), an undulating grid drawn in graphite becomes the two-dimensional surround for a sculptural painting. Maurer is nowhere to be seen, but I can imagine her dancing to draw, her body the ‘hidden structure’.
With its colourful pyramids as spatial markers, the installation Lares et Penates (2016), by Maurer’s husband Tibor Gáyor, concurrently on show at Carl Kostyál and curated by Maurer as a resurrection of a 2003 work, implies a shared interest in chromatic concepts. With its Latin title referencing the gods and the goods of a Roman household, Gáyor’s installation is confined to one room, exaggerating its allusions to domestic intimacy and embodiment.
And yet, I found Maurer’s colour paintings more monotonous than the monochrome photographic works that appropriate monotony as play: works such as the series ‘Reversible and Changeable Phases of Movements’ (1972), with its feathered swatches of handwriting suggesting bodily trace, and Seven Turns (1977–78), in which the artist reveals the open-ended multiplicity of the self-portrait across six photographic prints. The sequence begins with an image of Maurer holding a square of white card, her face abstracted to a triangle and her hands like two bodily props. This image is then held by the artist in the next photograph at an angle of 45 degrees, a format repeated five times over. The result is a kaleidoscopic accumulation of corporeal splinters. As in Lisa Steele’s 1974 video A Very Personal Story, in which the artist narrates an autobiographical event from behind obstructing hands, Maurer blurs her personal story through a photographic game of perspective and artifice. It is a tantalizing mix of exposure and disguise: as the artist revolves her self-portrait, her face, the one I could not and cannot see, becomes a fragmented conceit of pictorial parts.
Alice Butler is a writer based in London, and a PhD researcher in Art History and Visual Studies at the University of Manchester. Her work has been published in Cabinet, Art Monthly, gorse and frieze. In 2012, she was the winner of the Frieze Writer’s Prize.
First published in Issue 181