Baroque Worlds and White Cubes

The Baroque [...] curves the folds round and round. Drives them to infinity, fold on fold, fold after fold. The endlessly ongoing fold is a characteristic feature of the Baroque.
(Gilles Deleuze: Le pli. Leibniz et le baroque)

The perhaps most fascinating feature of Heike Weber's work remains hidden from the exhibition visitor: namely the fact that to begin with at least, everything is white, immaculately white. Before the actual drawing act begins, before Heike Weber tackles the site with bright-colored permanent felt markers, the entire room has already been transformed into a three-dimensional sheet of paper. The artist's temporary workplace is covered in white PVC and makes up a projection room in which the viewer can recapitulate for him/herself the genesis of the floor and ceiling drawings as a poetic after-image. A white cube that only exists as a statement, as an aesthetic backdrop that inevitably vanishes, effaced by the drawing that appears in situ. This provisional arena gradually fills with reductional graphic gestures, which in a leisurely, but nevertheless labor-intensive process floods the room. A flood that swells over several days, beginning with space-determining coordinates that slowly invade the space available. The gently flung-out lines begin at the pillars and niches, steps or corners and are propelled into the room, gathering an unimagined force and drive. The minimized graphic lineation and the smallest of expressive tools turn into a flat all-over that breaks around barriers. Gesture gains serial dynamism within the framework of the white cube and is bundled into a swinging, space-flooding motif.

The foundation of her work is the idea of a neutral space whose potential is first realized through the drawing and is what consciously positions Heike Weber within the critically reflected tradition of Minimal Art. Judd's cubes, Andre's metal plates or Morris' serial objects had focused for the first time on the referentiality of art to its neutral environs. Via these ‘specific objects' that are, at first glance, stark and absolutely uneventful, the actual exhibition room – a still very formalistically understood context – became tangible as the central category of a newly evolving work concept. However, Frank Stella's “What you see is what you get”, or the radical wish of this heterogeneous artists' group in the late-modernist New York of the 1960s to make the viewer and his/her perception into the constitutive factor of their art, is something Heike Weber takes literally and thereby leads the spare, material-based formalism of the Americans in the direction of handwriting and the subjective. The reality of the room is confirmed, classically, stroke for stroke, line by line, only the next minute to be thrown out of sync. The gestural input, the physical working on a picture support that expands in all directions, seems to veer towards a momentum that now on its part appropriates the viewer. It is not the object on view that finds its irreconcilable and multi-angled visibility made manifest, but the ‘specific object' that strikes back. The former, genuinely intellectual act of perception becomes an eminently physical experience when the whole space complex is caught up in oscillating lines, when wall and floor, steps and corners turn into a multilayered object of perception.

What Heike Weber undertakes is the, in the meantime, proverbial expansion of the concept of Modernism. Her extending and broadening of tradition hereby takes itself at its word in a very exciting way and (in ever new formulations that revolve around the medium and its perception) sounds out the room and sets it in motion. That at the same time the manifold augmentations to conceptuality spell out the notion of drawing in a fundamentally new way and generate new variants of its space is a fact that allows reality, as the central concept of Minimal Art and its succeeding isms, to appear marvelously ambiguous and flexible.

Along with actual space – which is, as it were, appropriated en passant by a few lines or elements – the whole banal inventory of the everyday enters the scene. For: the medium of different graphic undertakings is only an exception to the rule of the classically guided pen. Clotheslines or hairnets, carpeting or light tubes, video loops on PVC or window paint on pins give the lie to the presumed flatness of the drawing. The specific object-orientation of Minimal Art, whose new three-dimensional objects want neither to be painting nor sculpture and yet borrow essential aspects from both, is something Heike Weber thinks out to its logical end.

The reductional gesture gains in volume, the line enters space, and sculpture and drawing become communicating components. On the periphery of these expressive forms that can no longer be clearly differentiated, various interpenetrations are formed that set gesture and space, volume and sculpture into new respective relationships. The lines that gradually surge into the room, the convolutions of an endless loop that are expertly cut into the carpeting, or the clothesline that meanders across the wall all take on a life of their own that is difficult to hold onto. Floor and ceiling begin to float, walls to shift, and an Icarus who plummets head first into a bottomless deep is only secured by the slimmest of pins.

The simple gesture, the austere experimental framework, the sober means applied, in other words the legacy of the old-timers and their ‘specific object', is cunningly turned against them. The only things minimal here are the rudimentary game rules and the formal guidelines. What Heike Weber makes of these – despite all her manifest reduction – has more in common with seductive sensuous complexity and an unerringly orchestrated ambiguity. The neutralized and clean-swept spaces seem now to radiate once again the energy that was invested and stored for days as the moment of fullness and satiety, of outflowing sensual pleasure and Baroque plenitude. The boundaries of wall and floor blur together, contract and solidify. Set side by side, lines and structures, which dynamize both flat plane and depth, recall visualized sound waves just as much as they recall ornamentation. And, as in early Modernist painting, the picture-defining motif explodes the planes and induces the three-dimensional space to roll and pitch.

As on Matisse's wallpapers and carpets, as on Cézanne's surfaces that proclaim their own special worldliness, ornament and structure drive conventional three-dimensional depth out of the picture. The entire available space becomes the picture support, which under the weight of ornament and pattern, arabesque and motif, threatens to disappear entirely.

Instead of a linear-perspectival network and a static emplacement, we are surrounded by a Baroque horror vacui that robs us of our orientation as viewers, one that in a superfluity of the motif negates any center or hierarchy. In a singularly interpreted reference to a specific locality, the original reality of the space is driven out, or better: the reality of the first order is overlaid by a second, artificial one. As in a trompe l'oeil or an illusionistic ceiling fresco, the room's given properties are both confirmed and muffled, genres fuse and the viewer is incorporated into an all-encompassing theatrical production: this new, artificial reality winds itself fold for fold, stroke for stroke, around the viewer's perception. Comparable to the heaven-storming ceiling paintings or the receding stage-settings of Baroque palaces and churches between stucco, painting, light and architecture, Heike Weber's graphical-sculptural interventions extend the boundaries of her site towards infinity. The Baroque and, at the same time, the site-related spatial maelstrom take hold of the viewer.

With her unerringly orchestrated spatial creations between Minimal Art and the Baroque, between all-over and white cube , Heike Weber establishes a moment of performative dynamization: she circles around her picture plane – half minimalist hallucination, half a slow-motion Pollock – and simultaneously incites the picture plane to circle around the viewer.

Martin Engler, Freiburg, August 2004

From the German by Jeanne Haunschild