Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Morphing shapes

Also at the Kunstmuseum Basel, there is a retrospective of drawings and sculptures created by the Bern artist Markus Raetz. It’s the first time I’ve come across his work, and I am very impressed by his ingenious play with geometry and perception.

Abstract figures
Markus Raetz started his artistic career in the 1960s. For him, the subjects themselves are less interesting than the ways their abstract images coalesce. He constructed images with points, lines, or grids, or rasterized them using halftone or trichromy techniques. (Well, Bjarke thought that his hotel façade in Sweden was innovative…)

Portrait of the Artist as a Typist, Amsterdam, 3.5.1970
Monika, Amsterdam, 27.3.1979
Clever Sphere, Bern, 7.1.1985

In 1979, Raetz started to construct matchstick men out of little twigs. He created a whole series of these abstract figures that sit, recline, or sleep. He called them MIMI and later even developed them into giant sculptures in the landscape using square-section timber or granite. He also made abstract figures as a kind of calligraphic exercise. In L’Amour, he illustrated with smooth brushstrokes the 32 sexual positions described in the Surrealist text The Immaculate Conception (1930) by André Breton and Paul Eluard.
MIMI model
MIMI installation at Centre National des Arts Plastiques, Brittany, 1986
L’Amour, 1980

For the animation film Eben, Raetz made 1525 drawings. Here, shapes appear from the movement of lines, morph with/into another, and dissolve again into nothingness. Hard lines soften, and soft lines harden; divide, combine, expand, contract. With very simple lines, Raetz managed to create highly intriguing visual effects.

The morphing of shape brings forth the status of “in-between,” operating in the zone of ambiguity. One motif that Raetz revisits constantly is the Mobius strip – a topological object that has fascinated many sculptures and architects. It has only one surface and one edge, and this makes it impossible to differentiate over and under, inside and outside, positive and negative.

Mobius Strip, Bern, 16.6.2010

This ambiguity of shapes can be seen back in the 1970 twig sculpture Eva and the 1971 sketch Common Line. They remind me of Rubin’s vase, where the positive and negative forms coalesce into one simple graph. Actually, this reference is more obvious in the 1993 drawing Two Vessels.
Eva, Amsterdam, 1970
Common Line, Carboneras, 20.1.1971
Two Vessels, Bern, 14.12.1993

The most striking play of reversible figures is After Man Ray. At first glance, you see two spinning cast objects with almost identical funny silhouettes. But after staring in between for a bit longer, you realize there’s a female figure swaying her hips loosely back and forth! It’s a reference to Man Ray’s Kiki de Montparnasse, but Kiki doesn’t exist in the sculpture per se. The dancing figure is merely the visual manifestation of a gap between two highly precisely calibrated objects.
After Man Ray, 2005
Man Ray’s Kiki de Montparnasse

View angles
Another fascinating visual play by Raetz is the “spatial drawing.” A shape morphs to another when the viewer changes viewing positions. Raetz carefully places his lines and shapes in a way that a certain image can only be seen from a particular angle.

Head, Merian Park in Brüglingen, Basel
Study for Le Wasistas de Warelwast, Le Ver à Val

He also plays with letters and words. The morphing words, especially in YES / NO, merge two polarized meanings into one singular object. You start to realize, yes or no merely depends on how you see it, and there are so many different shades of ambiguity between a Yes and a No.
NO W HERE, 1979
Study for YES / NO
YES / NO, 2003

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