One possibility in view, the other before your eyes
By Jens Peter Koerver
“The great archetypal activities of human society are all permeated with play from the start. Take language, the instance–that first and supreme instrument which man shapes in order to communicate, to teach, to command. Language allows him to distinguish, to establish, to state things; in short, to name them and by naming them to raise them into the domain of the spirit. In the making of speech and language the spirit is continually ‘sparking’ between matter and mind, as it were, playing with this wondrous nominative faculty. Behind every abstract expression there lie the boldest of metaphors, and every metaphor is a play upon words. Thus in giving expression to life man creates a second, poetic world alongside the world of nature.”
The temporary and flexible constellations of the objects shown here create images that, as Johan Huizinga puts it, make the viewer or actor “leap” from the material to the thought in a playful way, thus making him or her become his or her own Spielzeuge (in the sense of a “witness of a game” or “plaything”).
For the German word ‘Spielzeuge’ has two possible meanings: First, it designates the things used in a game, the objects that make a game possible: a toy or plaything. But a Spielzeuge is also someone who watches a game, who witnesses it and can thus enter into a process of reflection that inevitably, involuntarily, arises from witnessing it. A third aspect is at least associatively connected with the above-mentioned ones: that of production, of acting. The passive act of witnessing is joined by the activity of producing and acting. These three fields of meaning have a lot to do with Kurze Zeit Lange Weile (which literally translates as Short Time Long While).
Kurze Zeit Lange Weile is a peculiar, in some respects open work by the artist Britta Lenk that is based more on possibilities than on specifications. This optionality has not yet been tested in full; neither the tangible realizations nor the conceivable and imaginable possibilities of this work are completely foreseeable. Thus Kurze Zeit Lange Weile also has the character of an experiment, is something that is still developing. To begin with, it is an extensive ensemble of unspectacular, handy things. On the one hand, it consists of industrially manufactured coloured glass, which is used in the form of flat rectangular pieces and circular discs that thicken towards the centre, so-called crown glass. On the other hand, various simple sculptural bodies made by Britta Lenk from light-coloured fine concrete–cuboids, cubes, cones, cylinders, slabs, etc., some in different sizes–belong to the set.
A first variant is the possible arrangement by the artist using a selection from this fund. The size and scope of this ensemble would depend on the location, as would the ground. The composition and three-dimensional arrangement of the glass and concrete elements could be a long-term assembly, for example for the duration of an exhibition, and would have the character of a still life. The Lange Weile mentioned in the title would be the timescale for such a realization, which is at first a purely visual matter, and therefore should be viewed but not touched or changed in any tangible way.
A second variant results from the edition, which contains as a pars pro toto a special combination of the ensemble of Kurze Zeit Lange Weile objects in a box. The possibilities for action with this manageable amount of elements are–compared to the total ensemble–limited yet open up an enormous scope of action, which makes essential aspects of this work clear. This activity, whose location is as little defined as its nature and duration, is a free one. This box permits all possible forms of engagement. The (time) span and tension addressed in the title of the work, the potentials of the moment, as well as those of a longer duration can be made effective and can be experienced.
The third variant is characterised by the greatest openness. It consists of solely imagined handling. When one views the illustrations in this publication, or a more extensive real presentation, or the mere contents of the box, ideas of possible other constellations emerge and wishes for change arise, but they remain an intellectual game. This process–regardless of the form it takes–is not exhausted in the moment, but continues on an introspective level as a mental activity rather than a physical one. Kurze Zeit Lange Weile becomes an impulse, a starting point that, thought further, refers to an immaterial optionality that continues in time, a kind of brief appearance of an inner image from which an idea springs.
It is precisely this third variation that brings Kurze Zeit Lange Weile near to conceptual art. Marcel Duchamp already put forward the idea that a work of art is not only continued in the viewing, in the engagement by the perceiving subject, but in a certain respect is only completed in this subject and his or her participatory involvement. This impulse was reinforced and radicalized in the late 1960s by conceptual art, which relied entirely on the imagination and set in motion the realization of the work as an intensive interplay between an initial impetus in the form of a text, an instruction, a provisional object or photographs, and the recipient. This attitude is exemplified in Lawrence Weiner’s oft-quoted “Declaration of Intent”, published in 1969: “1. The artist may construct the piece. / 2. The piece may be fabricated. / 3. The piece need not be built. / Each being equal and consistent with the intent of the artist the decision as to condition rests with the receiver upon the occasion of receivership.” Britta Lenk also provides such openness in Kurze Zeit Lange Weile. The work is invested with different forms of presence and realization. Each has its own specific qualities; they are not mutually exclusive, but rather complement each other and in their entirety form the essence of this work.
What is Kurze Zeit Lange Weile? It is not a game with a rule-based progression. The notion of an intellectual game is more appropriate and perhaps best captures the core of the experiment which is Kurze Zeit Lange Weile. What is possible with what is currently at hand, which constellations does it allow, which ones are pleasing, which ones not, which ones remain stable and which do not ... Of course, all this can also be merely imagined. However, the interplay of hand and thought, the complex interaction or intertwining of view and concept, of fact and language are complete above all in real, tangible action.
The handling of the various elements can be described with processual terms that have a lot to do with contemporary sculpture: lay, stand, lean, stack, clamp, layer ... However, it is not about the production of temporary small sculptures, but rather about a possibility of purposeless, abstracted action transcending categories (art, play, meaning, sense ...). Hence Kurze Zeit Lange Weile is also an offer for pre-conceptual action. This strange, rare state can be an opening to the new, to the still unthought, the unfamiliar, also in the realm of solutions and answers.
And yet it may not always be possible to dispense with these various categorical frameworks. And self-reflection will sooner or later begin, and with it involuntarily questions and considerations that mix into the handling of Kurze Zeit Lange Weile, accompany, disturb, supplement or even complete it. Understood in this way, Kurze Zeit Lange Weile is not just a complex toy or plaything; anyone who uses it in some way or other has the opportunity to become a Spielzeuge–a witness of the game one is playing.
Translated from the German by Burke Barrett
Short time, long while
A game of abstract metaphors
By Giuliana Benassi
Thought slips, changes, transforms. This is exactly what’s happening now, as I write, so I try to stop it for a moment and instead linger over the various images of Britta Lenk’s work saved as JPEGs on my PC, to refresh my memory. In January I saw at first hand the work the artist has entitled Short time, long while, but it was not the finished version that time either.
In fact, there is no finished version of the work and images of it vary because it does not have a definitively given form.
Like the game Boggle, consisting of a set of dice with letters that combine to make different words, Lenk’s work is composed of a “set” of various concrete solids and quadrangular or circular pieces of coloured glass. Similarly, different compositions emerge from their various juxtapositions. The comparison with Boggle comes not only from the sometimes playful tone of the work, but primarily from another reflection proper to this work in terms of the relationship between thought and language.
“Thought and speech anticipate each other. They continually take one another’s place. They are waypoints, stimuli for one another. All thought comes from spoken words and returns to them; every spoken word is born in thoughts and ends up in them. Between men and within each men there is an incredible growth of spoken words, whose nerve is ‘thoughts’”, wrote Maurice Merleau-Ponty in 1960 to define the close correlation that exists between language and thought. It is precisely from this correlation, this essential relationship, that Lenk creates her work. Each composition shaped by the artist becomes a “word”, a transitory work that can be rewritten and is indefinite. It is constantly changing, like our language.
The long while of the title thus becomes the dimension of thought and its crystallisation; the short time becomes the rapid intuition, the action that coincides with the act of assembling the elements. These timescales can overlap, coincide or replace one another.
For the artist the work is both a mental and physical exercise, formal research that aims to transform the act into thought and vice versa, an intuition intended to construct as well as a potential constant deconstruction.
A game of abstract metaphors.
I venture to use this oxymoron to describe the beating heart of Lenk’s work.
Metaphors are closely related to the discourse on language: “The same use of metaphors, moreover, is characteristic of our conceptual language, designed to make manifest the life of the mind,” wrote Hannah Arendt in her final book The Life of the Mind, emphasising how “thought [...] stands in need of metaphors in order to bridge the gap between a world given to sense experience and a realm where no such immediate apprehension of evidence can ever exist.”
In some way the metaphor allows for the transfer (metapherein, trans-port) of those meanings that do not fall within the jurisdiction of the senses, in a sensory regime that allows the interior to make a sensible appearance on the exterior.
This sensible appearance is rendered by the artist through given elements that, when combined, in turn generate abstract forms. The work triggers references to meanings, becomes a mirror for reflecting thought, to return to the mind and search for new metaphors.
The process of reiterating thought emerges in other works by the German artist, albeit with different approaches, for example with a perceptive tone in o. T. (I 02-1-2016), an installation consisting of a wooden box, one-way glass and LED lights suspended in a metal structure. Whenever the LEDs inside the structure are switched off or on, it corresponds to a different view of the box, of the mirrored surface facing outwards or of potentially infinite space generated by the internal reflection of the one-way mirror respectively. The reflection and ability to generate possible configurations, in this case of space, are provided by the unusual alternation of the view of the special mirrored surface. In the Collages series, on the other hand, Lenk plays with the potential of abstract forms to include areas of white surface, leaving–if I may risk a play on words–“carte blanche” to the viewer. Therefore, the abstract form is conceived by Lenk as an image capable of showing something invisible thus referring to the philosopher and art historian Gottfried Boehm, according to whom images not only refer to themselves, but also to the world.
We might say that in Short time, long while the concept of abstract coincides with both form and thought in a circular relationship, where thought becomes form and returns to thought in abstract form.
Lenk’s work is located in this potentially infinite back and forth, as if it were an eternally unfinished work, an open work in which the images of the combinations that can be seen in the catalogue and exhibition do not constitute the definitive work, but merely some of its possible forms.
Viewers are therefore called upon to transform the work in their minds by making new assemblages, participating in the infinite game of abstract metaphors.
Translated from the Italian by Laura Bennett