Title: Trembling State of Affairs
Exhibition: 28th June to 27th July 2018
Artist: Martin Brausewetter
Curatorship: Ana Magalhães from the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Pau
Scribbled lines, little cut-outs glued onto surfaces of colour, long, transparent brushwork of ochre, black and other light hues in the background. All these elements combined are made of different materials and techniques: collage, frottage, painting and drawing. Martin Brausewetter’s works on paper here shown are complemented and directly related to the selection of paintings presented together with them. The transparent colour stripes structuring what looks like an abstract composition, with a deep dark matter, are the result of a search for a new lexicon in his oeuvre.
Brausewetter started out, mainly as a painter, working on fairly abstract compositions of multiple layers of egg-tempera paint, often scratching their surface with a razor blade, so as to investigate the constitution of matter itself, and of space. Emerging from an interest of the artist in Quantum Physics and new studies on the function and composition of black holes in the universe, his paintings were searching to convey the various dimensions of reality in which we live - from the microscopic and the organisation of atoms, to the macroscopic and how matter, articulated to time and space, behave. One of his main concerns is how this affects our everyday life, and how certain structures of matter might be reflected in human-built forms, architecture being in the centre of his interests. Therefore, while building his vocabulary as an artist, he is trying to convey the inherent elements of matter against what he understands as deconstructed shapes of architecture. These latter elements, he collects in his wandering around the contemporary city, while grasping it as a living organism itself.
In 2016, he spent three months in Los Angeles, United States. There, such aspects seem to have gained an even more paradoxical dimension, for this chaotic and pulsating city is set in the middle of a very rough and threatening landscape. Here he started what he titled his “LA TICS” works on paper. “LA TICS” is an acronym for “Los Angeles The Inner Coffee Series”. Brausewetter was playing with the expression from Viennese dialect, “Das ist mein Café”, i.e., “This is my coffee”, to say that something is someone’s own business. The term “Inner” is his own addition to emphasize that he was starting to build his new artistic language from a kind of a double trip into deeper, inner layers of reality - both his own and its connection to what, for him, looked like an extremely contrasted reality in Los Angeles. This metropolis is living under the threat of total destruction due to the constant earthquakes provoked by the eternal movement of underground layers of the earth, because of the monumental San Andreas Fault. Another natural phenomenon is associated to wildfires that destroy huge extensions of land, while being part of the cycle of life and regeneration of the vegetation in this ecosystem. As such, Los Angeles can be seen as a metaphor of the cycle of the life of matter itself, which is never destructed, but has to assume many shapes and forms to be regenerated. As human beings, we share with every single element in the universe that same fate, although we have to give up our own lives to contribute to it.
The paintings selected for the exhibition started to gain shape after his trip to Los Angeles. They are variations of compositions of stripes. These are applied in a very precise way onto the canvas: The gesture of the artist must follow the very materiality of the pigments, and it is the reaction of the pigment as it is laid onto the surface of the canvas that is responsible for creating such stripes.
What the artist was attempting to depict in these paintings is the actual underground movement of the earth in the region. On the one hand, the stripes refer to the layers of paint that he used in his former paintings. On the other, the gesture is much slower, and the vibration and undulation created from it reflect on the moving of underground geological plaques that
are responsible for the tectonic vibration one can feel while in California.
São Paulo, like Los Angeles, is a hectic metropolis. It may look more chaotic than the American city, for its urban fabric and its architecture is less coherent than that of Los Angeles. If the latter is marked by a very precise set of skyscrapers that gives a kind of a north to its visitors, São Paulo has no such element, and one might feel at loss, without any sense of direction in this spread of verticalization. São Paulo has no distinguished set of skyscrapers. For today’s standards, the city is not made of these huge towers. But there are smaller towers everywhere, and the city spreads out like a tentacular being, with a myriad of architectural elements, glued to one another creating semi-ruined built shapes. Being born and raised in a city like Vienna, with its homogenous urban fabric, Brausewetter was first struck by these contrasting forms. He speaks of “boxes over boxes” when looking into São Paulo’s image, half built, half destroyed and replaced by new shapes. He has observed that São Paulo’s skyline, as seen from street level, is marked by many electric cables floating along the street lines, like scribbles in the air.
His new series of works on paper, though continuing to use the same kind of lexicon he had created for the “LA TICS” series, are now dealing with his experience in São Paulo. Contrary to the Los Angeles works, the background of light stripes here stands for the speed of the city and the ashes melting into the air. They are thus displayed in diagonals and in various directions to convey this movement. One other aspect to be considered here is that São Paulo is surrounded by green areas of tropical forest, and was built over a network of rivers and streams - whereas in Los Angeles, water is scarce and actually in the verge of finishing for good. Therefore, the way he uses the same vocabulary of the Los Angeles series for the São Paulo series is different: The stripes seem more fluid, and the root-like organic shapes much present in the LA papers are slowly being mutated into deconstructed architectural elements.
However, one cannot separate so clearly the elements Brausewetter uses in the three sets of works, because it is not his intention that these compositions be understood as representations of such phenomena. Rather, he is more interested in using this lexicon as an event in itself, or as matter in itself. The display of a combination in a cluster, of works on paper, digital prints, cut-outs, and other images he created, is a way for him to show how he is dealing with the concepts of matter, of time, of space and of dimension. His work is thus deeply connected to the idea of matter as something that happens and, if ever permanent, gains various shapes and appearances.
Brausewetter’s work cannot be read into the tradition of abstract painting. Although he is taking some of his vocabulary from that tradition - in which he has been educated as a painter - he is not dealing with the concept of abstraction in painting from a contemporary viewpoint. Instead, his is a kind of visual language that relates more to certain aspects of Surrealist currents, especially on what concerns the notion of automatic writing and automatic drawing. Surrealist artists would promote automatic drawing as a way to activate the inner self, or the subconscious. Brausewetter is not dealing with the subconscious, but rather dealing with telluric forces, and the various dimensions of the reality of matter.
Somehow, his way of working with the elements of painting alludes to the structure proposed by Ludwig Wittgenstein in his famous Tractatus Logico-philosophicus (1921), where the celebrated philosopher tackled a new way of thinking about the world and its relations to thought and language. Wittgenstein’s essay is organized in seven propositions, each of them numbered from 1 to 7 (in mathematical theory, the natural numbers), and from which a series of expansions into each of them receives a decimal number relating to the proposition they expand. In this way, Wittgenstein builds layers of lines and phrases, in an aphoristic shape, in the end forming a fabric of interrelated concepts. Martin Brausewetter’s way of displaying and constructing his layers brings back to mind the image one might get while looking into Wittgenstein’s propositions.
Ana Magalhães, art historian and curator