THE SYNTHETIC COMPOSITION OF A FICTION
Spatial illusions are a fundamental element of painting. With canvas, pigment and binder, a painting is created by the artist, step by step, layer by layer.
Martina Wolf is not a painter, but a new media artist. She finds, develops and produces pictures, but doesn’t paint them. Instead, she creates scenes and situations with images. In one sense, she is a director of the components. The most important thing is, what the observers think they are seeing. Martina Wolf is almost playing with voluntarily/involuntarily integrating the recipient into the work process. To this end, Martina Wolf offers the observer a generous visual display. Wand / Türen (Page 127), produced in 2009 in Moscow, is one such work. The picture which measures 470×250 cm has a huge presence, showing overpainted graffiti on an electrical substation. At first glance, it seems mundane, almost trivial. However, determining the actual subject of this work is not trivial and the image of the wall is anything but self-evident. This representation of a wall only works visually because it has been highly artificially created. No camera could ever capture the wall like this in a single shot. Martina Wolf’s Wand / Türen was produced using an additive process from a multitude of single shots taken of the actual wall in Moscow, row by row, column by column. On the computer, the single shots were then assembled to produce the final image.
What we see as an image of a wall, is actually a synthetic composition of many single images. Only the picture composed by the artist helps us to be able to perceive an overall scene. This is, to a certain degree, terra firma for our senses, because, as an exhibition object, the confusion of the overpaintings is unsettling – is it art or is it everyday life? Does it mean anything, or is it the caretaker painting over graffiti?
In some of her works, Martina Wolf addresses precisely this additive synthesis process. The redeeming image synthesis, however, is reserved for herself. Only the title Fenster (window) refers to the entirety of the 15-piece motif found in Mostar in 2011. However each piece by itself develops an autonomy, starts to become absolute in itself, and in doing so, negates the reference to a motif of everyday life. Only the linear connection of the hanging line on the wall and the arrangement of three groups of five photographs give any hint of context. If the observers really want to understand the context, then they are left to synthesise by their own efforts. The groups of photographs lined up next to each other in a linear order correspond to the vertical order of the columns of the photograph, from top to bottom, bottom to top and again from top to bottom. Three columns of five photographs each compose the overall image of the window. In other words, if the observer imagines the 5th, 6th and 15th pictures of the display next to each other, the lower edge of the window is seen. With the 3rd, 8th and 13th pictures, the middle section of the window can be seen and with the 1st, 10th and 11th pictures the upper edge of the window. A lot of effort on the part of the observer is required for this synthesis to be successful.
The double. The order of the imperfect
The work produced in Mostar is also typical of another aspect of the calculated contrariness of Martina Wolf’s works. It is the perfection of the imperfect, the aestheticised presentation of the damaged, the shabby and the aloof. The art is itself like a layer, its own “reality layer”, permitting the perception of the harsh and the rough displayed in the opposite figure of the perfect, with a quality of its own. The broken window is not shown in its entirety, only in pieces. This is what the work has in common with the reality of broken windows, however, the pieces are not in a scattered heap of shards, but in a systematic order. In addition, they are no uneven fragments, but rectangular elements precisely separated from each other, showing the edges of the broken window behind the intact panes of glass. By the aesthetic exaggeration, the objects, or perhaps one should say the settings and object fragments, are separated from their original context. This is where their second existence within the sphere of the aesthetic comes into being. This is not simply a revaluation, declaring the shoddy to be the remarkable. Instead, through this reworking, the original objects and situations are lent a duplicate, which can, perfectly adapted and reproduced, sneak as a trompe-l’œil into our everyday world. There, it becomes a trap for our perception, evolving into a disturbing presence.
The 26 circular wall elements along a corridor appear as a friendly, decorative gesture by the artist. This is what the original image must have been intended as: a favourable improvement to the décor and structuring of a wall surface that otherwise appeared to be too big and dreary. As these decorative circles were displayed in a public space, this brought with it the inevitable wear and tear, graffiti and tags. Then the caretaker set to work. His mission was to restore the uniformity of the appearance, without having to repaint the whole wall, small repair work only, in the allegedly appropriate colour, only the best, after all …
When the observer looks at the circular objects closely, the beautiful appearance of the decorative circles abruptly vanishes. With the close juxtaposition of the photographs printed on foil, the flaking layers of paint and the bad plastering, the half-hearted repair work become blatantly obvious. As photographs, the circle pictures are in fact documents, and in this case, are documenting failure. Our own view becomes infected, and from now on, we will be highly sensitised and overly critical of all repair work and stains on the walls around us. Instead of nonchalantly overlooking the everyday wear and tear, it suddenly becomes the centre of our attention.
Illusionary space and spatiality
By her arrangement of duplicates, Martina Wolf creates settings, which place the observer in a fictional context of perception. In other words: She creates pictorial and spatial illusions, which we are willing to believe and which we might even consider to be reality. In a way, this is the tactical trick behind the trompe-l’œil of her works. She only goes as far as is needed to portray to the observer that the pictorial illusion is reality and, in the next step, to show that the illusion really is an illusion. This is why some of some of her works appear like stage designs. In 2014, the work Wand / Türen from Moscow was exhibited in the Oberfinanzdirektion /Regional Finance Office Frankfurt am Main in such a way that, on entering the room, the free-standing wooden structure was clearly recognisable, like a stage design in theatre or set design in film. This did not alter the fact, that the actual two-dimensional image – when viewed from the front – created a tremendous spatial presence, enhanced by the fact that the work was not attached to a wall. The wooden structure enabled the work to be freestanding in the room. The real shadow cast by the picture intensified the impression of a spatial object. In the conference room, it seemed as if a shabby electrical substation had suddenly appeared, or if repair work had not been finished and the wallpaper had not been rehung …
The observer starts to combine the pictorial illusion and reality to construct a new synthetic reality. The shabby and unfinished work needs to be integrated in its place, to put the work into context. And so it seemed appropriate, that in an ancillary room of the exhibition, a door remained ajar and in the flickering fluorescent light from the defective bulb, another worn wall was faintly visible. That is what ancillary rooms look like, the door could have been closed, though.
Incidentally, the observer becomes a prying voyeur. It is remarkable indeed, how skilfully Martina Wolf arranges her works within the exhibition site – in this case not an art gallery, but a modern office building.
Of course, ancillary rooms in office buildings don’t usually look like this. The wall with the flickering fluorescent light is in fact Martina Wolf’s video projection Wand / Neon Licht (Page 127), the room is a respectable storage and equipment room with correctly functioning lighting. But under the power of illusion, this reality is supressed.
Layer – The linking of the levels
Wand / Neon Licht serves as an example of yet another motif in Martina Wolf’s works. Her new media art is created gradually in layers, a feature of the software she uses for image generation. In Wand / Türen and Fenster, this can be imagined as a lateral movement. Single shots are placed next to single shots, revised and adjusted, until all the images are smoothly blended, creating the large overall image. It also depicts the course of time, which is unnoticed in the overall picture.
On the other hand, the image in Wand / Türen, the overpainting of graffiti by unknown creators, has also been produced in several layers, successively changing between painting, graffiti and overpainting. What is visible over this course of time, is the condition of the object, which Martina Wolf made the subject of the work. The subject can be perceived as a still image, a point on a timeline, repeating the process with new graffiti and new overpaintings.
For a new media artist, the idea of switching from the frozen time of the still images to an actual time-lapse video work, is both tempting and obvious.
Martina Wolf does not opt to simply switch to video, replacing the static single photographs with a series of still images in film. In her work, there are indeed videos, but also a hybrid of single images and video techniques. The work Wand /Neon Licht is one such example. It is a digital montage from the image of the wall and a video of the fluorescent light permanently flickering on and off. The final work is created from layers of the subject of the picture and the subject of the video, horizontally overlapping each other. Here, it is still bound in form, as in the end is it a projection, which is visible.
In fact, Martina Wolf’s additive procedure allows for the picture to be changed and adjusted ad hoc, and not only in a digital way. The work Wand / Folie produced in 2013 with motifs from Offenbach goes even further in this direction. As described, several layers of the subject of a video, i. e. plastic packaging film in front of a wall slightly moved by the wind, are digitally merged with single pictures of the “decorative circles”. Meanwhile, another layer is a wall element photographed in 2013 in Olevano Romano, attached to the projection wall as a printout on foil.
Without the projection, the printout as such, is on its own a small work of art on the wall. Visually, it merges with the projection to form an illusionary space. At the same time, the printout is a real object (albeit a piece of foil), whereas the projection is only light. The printout shows a bricked-up hole in a wall, an illusion of depth of space.
Contrary to this, in the foreground of the light projection, the plastic packaging film can be seen lying in front of the wall.
Martina Wolf interweaves object space and illusionary space. Perhaps the link between illusion and real spaces can also be understood as a form of overpainting using digital means. Then Wand / Türen from Moscow would be a paradigm. Just as the gestural informalism in the overpainting of graffiti has changed the pure objectness of the electrical substation layer by layer, Martina Wolf’s layers of pictures and projections transform real spaces into fictional spaces.