A new discourse is developing in contemporary art. It is one that, on the surface, concerns itself less with ideology than with evolution, less with language than with material structures, less with subjects than with objects. In Germany, it could be seen in the group show Vom Eigensinn der Dinge at KAI10 in Dusseldorf, as well as at the recent solo shows by Timur Si-Qin at the Bonner Kunstverein and Anne Pöhlmann’s exhibition at Clages in Cologne. In Crack in the Real, her impressive fourth solo show at Van Horn, Katie Holten made an important contribution to this developing movement, giving much needed warmth to intrinsically cold matter.
One might say that Holten was one of this trend’s first protagonists. From her earliest works in 2003, Holten has consistently engaged with the material structures of the world around her. The central premise throughout her oeuvre is that culture and nature aren’t all that different; that we may examine civilizations in terms of nature – and vice versa.
In Crack in the Real, Holten used drawing to explore the unexpected similarities between man-made constructions and natural phenomena. Entering the gallery, two large chalk and acrylic paint drawings on black canvas – Constellation (Earth at Night: The Midwest), 2013, and Constellation (Earth at Night: Germany), 2013 – gave the impression of having entered a planetarium. Starscapes dotted across the canvases, cluttered in mysterious constellations, brightly illuminating the dark space around them. The works’ titles, however, made clear that these were not telescopic images of the milky way but drawings of satellite photos of the Midwest and of northern Germany. A reversed play on the imagination was present in the titular piece Crack in the Real (2013), where kitchen mould takes the appearance of impressive roadmaps, networked and elongated, with thin lines travelling from concentrated node to node.
What made the show so compelling was the craft that had gone into these works. Intricate composites of white charcoal, chalk and oil stick on black canvases, the pictures were painstaking drawings of photos. This tactic was an interesting one: drawing as an art of extraction, carefully teasing out the lines of whatever it is you are putting to paper, as opposed to the photograph as an instant copy, demonstrated the artist feeling out, by hand, the hidden patterns or codes imbedded in the natural world – the crack in the real. To attempt something so grand and ambitious, not with mathematical formulas and computerized algorithms but through the humble, personal form of drawing, was a moving gesture.
Timotheus Vermeulen is associate professor in Media, Culture and Society at the University of Oslo and a regular contributor to frieze. His latest book, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth after Postmodernism, co-edited with Robin van den Akker and Alison Gibbons, is published with Rowman and Littlefield.
First published in Issue 13