PERSONAL STRUCTURES – open borders
Philip Peters on the work of Brigitte Spiegeler
Thoughts on structures, city structures & Marco Polo
The fewer visual elements an artist uses the more important they become. There are fewer relationships, fewer interactions, so what there is must be perfect, precise, evocative, one single blow, so to speak. Probably the hardest blow in painting was handed out by Malevich’ Black Square which is still topical in the 21st century and caused a whole tradition of monochromes. In a large series of works Brigitte Spiegeler uses two elements, a black and white picture and blue crude pigment. The pictures are her own and not ripped from the internet. When there are two elements one is easily tempted into thoughts about dualities, for instance black and white vs colour, figurative vs abstract, point vs counterpoint, static vs dynamic and so on and so on. Those are givens, as it were. Each work also causes individual associations that are, one might maintain, the viewer’s responsibility.
This picture shows Kowloon as seen from Hong Kong Island. The blue pigment on the left formally seems to echo the conical structure on the boat on the right. Although the latter is a static construction while the pigment seems to be moving – were it only that it looks like it was just splashed on the picture plane – the whole work acquires the appearance of a dance, a pas-de-deux if you like. Moreover, looking more closely at the boat it’s safe to assume that this is not a hi-tech contemporary construction but one that generally speaking, must have been in use for a long time, decades, maybe centuries. The fact that the picture is in black and white emphasizes the idea that we are confronted with a historical place, with something from the past, something solid, something carrying on as it did before. But without the pigment we probably wouldn’t have had this association. As it is, it seems as if the pigment were thrown onto the picture plane and it’s almost an act of aggression that seems to have taken place only seconds ago and consequently from a contemporary context. So, we may have a dance here, simultaneously it’s a clash of cultures and on top of that a clash of images (the figurative vs the abstract). And, ironically, one could propose that the pigment can be ‘read’ vertically, like a calligraphy, a time-honoured and respectable expression of a culture much older than the Western one. Therefore, the crude pigment is (literally as well as metaphorically) fluid while the rest of the picture in its venerable catatonia doesn’t seem to be bothered by the intruder, who isn’t even acknowledged, maybe not even noticed. Of course, Hong Kong and Kowloon are also places that are very much alive and of this day and age, in front with regards to technological developments and city planning. But that’s not the image that is shown here. Or, rather, the artist managed to make the new look old – these days the image is not to be trusted, it can be made to mean anything. The title of this work is equally ambivalent as the image itself. It is called The Viewpoint of Marco Polo. This takes us to another dimension and another historical relationship but, as we shall see, it’s also perfectly in synch with what’s maintained above. When Marco Polo arrived in China and Mongolia around the turn of the 13th century he entered a culture that was quite old and quite foreign to that of Venice, his birthplace and city of residence when not traveling. Of course, they had something in common, conducting trade. But Polo was more than a traveling salesman, so to speak. He showed a lot of interest in local culture when living in the service of Kublai Khan and wrote extensively about it. The viewpoint of Marco Polo regarding the empire of Kublai was not only that of a tradesman but also and more importantly that of a tourist, partly even that of a temporary migrant. Compared to how the locals viewed their culture, Polo was a newcomer with a new, fresh view. Returning to the image now, Polo’s position was not unlike that of the blue pigment splashes, trying to develop a fitting attitude in an alien world while even when partaking fully of this world he remained essentially an outsider. One step further and back to contemporary culture: this work reflects the confrontation between two entities that are essentially alien to one another. The work then is unmistakably about the Other, about the alien, in a time of mass migration. Will the twain ever properly meet and merge? We don’t know yet but it is and will remain the challenge of the 21st century. History repeats itself but always in a different and startling way, like in Spiegeler’s work.