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Breaking Geometries

Henrik Eiben, Mike Meiré, Beat Zoderer,

Bartha Contemporary, July 3 to September 2, 2017

Review by John Stephens

July and August tend to be the months, before the new autumn programmes kick in, when the gallery season is often a little flat; a time when there are academy-type shows, collective shows and the like. Bartha Contemporary too has a collective show during this period.

But as ever, Niklas von Bartha, the Swiss owner and curator, despite the smallness of his Margaret Street gallery, has been able to establish a really intriguing show of three of the gallery’s stable of artists, including as its centrepiece a reprise of Henrik Eiben’s Condo shown in Eiben’s solo exhibition last year; the other two artists being Mike Meiré and Beat Zoderer.

A pared-down aesthetic is a hallmark of most of Bartha’s shows, and this is now well known and recognised. But the shows frequently come with other characteristics that require discussion; in this case the playfulness, the materiality, and something of a particular interest of mine, the relationship or gamut, if you like, that ranges between process and design.  By this I don’t mean process art as in systems art, but rather those qualities that are the product of making art, in this case the process of making the painting and sculpture, and how this in turn relates to its materiality.  And by design I mean the thinking that underpins how the work is arranged or organised.  This show seems to me to demonstrate these qualities and this gamut, and for me it was the aesthetic that enhanced my awareness of them.

As I’ve mentioned, there is a welcome return of Henrik Eiben’s Condo.  It’s made of immaculately lacquered rectangles of varying thicknesses of MDF, polystyrol and steel, each of these rectangles having had a chevron piece cut out of it to reveal the white wall behind,  playing an integral role in the work. The whole is organised within a simple vertical/horizontal grid. But the effect of the diagonals moving in different directions, as a result of the cut-outs, gives the piece a certain dynamic that distracts from the underlying rigour of the grid, while nevertheless holding the piece steady. Once you’ve understood the relationship between the grid and the dynamics of the angular structure, the piece slowly reveals more. The edges of some of the component pieces catch your eye as you glance laterally at it and notice the coloured edges of some of the sections. There’s no apparent logic to the application of colour; it’s just sparsely and randomly applied in soft pastel colours: pink, pale blue, ochre - adding a little playful serendipity to the otherwise logical design of the piece.  

Henrik Eiben Condo  Lacquer and magnets on mdf, Polystyrol and steel  (2015)

New in this show is another Eiben piece that seems a lot more intuitive. Consisting of a series of equal-sized copper triangles, some painted with acrylic, joined and suspended from the ceiling, it dangles in a vague helix, making it look a little like triangular pennants of bunting animated by a soft breeze.  The triangles are all of a similar size, and they’re joined, sometimes by short, bent copper rods welded to the triangle, and sometimes by bending a lozenge-shaped piece of copper through its middle to create two adjoining triangular surfaces. Despite its simplicity, and the austerity of its design, it has a carefree and intuitive quality, revealing the process of its making in the tarnishing scorch marks of the welding process.  The connotations with bunting are apparently not amiss, as the series of works to which it belongs; the Tom Boy, Great Joy series, was made in Sao Paulo, influenced by Brazilian carnival bunting.

Henrik Eiben Tom Boy Great Joy Series Copper and acrylic paint 2012

The relationship between design, the making process and intuition is manifest in Beat Zoderer’s Ringfaltung (Folded Loop). The piece consists of four linked arced segments of varying diameter, arranged flat on the wall, so that it gives the illusion of a flattened Möbius ring, with each perfectly arced segment consisting of two colours.  With its duality of a rigorous organisation of arced segments, it suggests a single sweeping gesture that contradicts its more rigorous conception, thereby creating an intuitive and playfully dynamic feel.

Beat Zoderer Ringfaltung  Acrylic on aluminium 2013

Taking the idea of the Möbius loop structure a little further, the free-standing three-dimensional piece Möbius Schliefe (Möbius Ring) consists of a continuous series of loops: joined ribbons of curved aluminium sheet of varying widths and colours, riveted together end-to-end.  It has a rough-and-ready appearance, feeling like one of those things an artist might do as a way of using up spare pieces of material left over from making something else. But rather than detracting from its quality, this actually becomes its charm. The tell-tale signs of the ad-hoc way in which it was made are not only the strips of varying width, but also the pop-riveted holes drilled into them - a mistake, as they were not used. It all adds to the playful and intuitive serendipity of the piece. Looking from different angles, one is compelled to try and trace the continuity of its contiguous narrow looping planes.  As it traces through space, assuming a different set of looping arrangements, it seems to reveal something about the artist’s thinking process.  While there is clearly a set of rigorous methods that conceptually underpin his work, there appears also to be an element in his attitude that defies the design system and organised thought, to engage in an acknowledgement of the potential of the material, and the trial-and-error nature of the thinking/making process.

Beat Zoderer  Möbius Schliefe  Paint on metal (2011)

Materiality and design are also at the centre of Mike Meiré’s practice.  Essentially a designer of newspapers, in partnership with his brother (he was responsible for updating the design of the long-established and somewhat conservative Swiss German newspaper Neue Züricher Zeitung), he developed an interest in the design of newspaper layouts as the basis for a series of paintings and screen prints.  Using the layout grid of actual newsprint, he goes through a process in which he selectively paints out the type with blocks of colour using industrial lacquer, thereby creating abstract compositions in which the weight or dominance of a particular colour replaces that of the headlines and the importance of the news content.  It’s a way of connecting the rarified world of artistic abstraction to the materiality of the world at large, through designing how current events in that world, and opinions about it, are presented.  

The Ends of the Universe VIII is a typical example. Here, the two columns of print have been transformed into two columns of tonally opposing pigment; a left-hand column of white blocks of lacquer against the yellowing newsprint paper, and a right-hand column of alternating black and orange rectangles. In The Ends of the Universe VI, the left-hand column of two differently-sized blocks of pure white alternate with the yellowing newsprint, alongside a right-hand column of blocks of black lacquer, separated by slivers of newsprint.  Both pieces establish pure minimalist compositions that, were it not for the evidence of the newsprint and their own materiality, seem very far removed from the actuality of the world from which the works derive.

Mike Meiré Ends of the Universe VI (left) Ends of the Universe VIII (right) Lacquer paint on newsprint (2013)

As an extension to his preoccupation with print, Meiré has used print himself to produce a portfolio of screen prints, also based on newspaper layout design. For this series, he’s taken various printed pages and cut away the type, leaving rectangular holes and the flimsy supporting frame of the newsprint edges.  These have been allowed to behave randomly, as they might be expected to in their flimsiness, and photographed in this state.  The resultant photographs have been processed into high-contrast black and white images, and then, using both the negative and the positive, they have been screen-printed onto white paper. The results present an interesting series of serendipitously three-dimensional-looking images that through their processing have migrated from the actuality of news reporting to the poetics of abstraction. And in doing this they articulate for me, in an apposite way, the idea of a relationship between process and design.

John Stephens

August 2017

Mike Meiré from the series Seven Days a Week, a portfolio of seven screen prints (2014)