Sunday, October 5, 2008

Gerhard Richter: An ‘ism’ of Perception

Gerhard Richter
An ‘ism’ of Perception
by Jane Crayton

Gerhard Richter is an important oppositional artist whose work focuses on perception, reality, reference frame, personal identity and belief. His work seeks to contradict any possible system or ‘ism’ of belief that could form. He does this by questioning and disclosing another point of reference indifferent to the ‘norm’ or to what is expected and envisioned by his audience. Richter is a theorist working in the medium of art, seeking to solve the problems of perception and assumptions. He seeks to find truth in our individualism, by embracing opposition through his utopian lack of illusions and assumptions.

Richter is working against perception, he is working against the ideals and rules we assume. Richter explains, “my method, or my expectations which, so to speak, drives me to painting, is opposition.” His work is the act of working against the view, working in opposition to styles and boundaries. He seeks to change perception, or blur the reality, so you can see, and understand the greater indifference of our diversity. His works depicted as blurs are an indication of just that; an imperfect reality, someone’s reality, another view, another understanding.

For example in his landscape paintings (Image A) he often renders the images in with a blur, he is playing with an altered state of ‘seeing’. He is not rendering the image or photograph as it were rendered from a camera; he is altering that perception, by changing the focus, or the sharpness of the photo, which he creates. He is painting the image to be perceived as a photograph, yet rendered within an altered state, that questions the applied assumptions about ‘seeing’ and ‘believing’ which we take for granted in photography. As he looked through the lens, and learned to see, he learned to focus, and blur those perceptive realities through the lens. This led him to question the entire system of photography all together, once he started to question his reality and his perceptions too.

For Richter his series of grey paintings is just that, a question of what [is]. The color grey is a collection of all colors combined, ironically creating a ‘non’ color. His work in the ‘non’ or ‘lack of style’ is extremely progressive.

I do not pursue any particular intentions, system or direction, I do not have a programme, a style or a course to follow…I like things that are indeterminate and boundless, and I like persistent uncertainty.

Richter’s Acht Grau (Image B) depict that lack of expectation that something should emerge. Does there have to be an image? According to Weintraub, “Richter is disengaged from belief systems. He presents no platform, forms no alliances, promotes no doctrines, expresses no preferences, and creates no trademark style.” Thus his series Grau show us how Richter thinks of the world, the many shades of grey, the many intentions, yet none implied. There is nothing, yet there is an endless possibility. Images are grey in color, there is substance and texture, they breathe, but there is no illusion, there is no promotion of ideas, there is just grey a static energy of ‘nothing’ implied or rendered.

Richter is interested in the view, the perception, the altered reference frames in opposition to the assumed ideal. His experience in Germany barely escaping to West Germany before the building of the Berlin Wall, is significant to the reasons why Richter feels encouraged to nullify. Richter is curious to see how preference, and or indifference are formed. He is curious to push belief systems, in order to question and the greater ‘nothing’. At a time when systems of belief are so strong, his opposition to these systems is seen in his work regarding perception.

His work Eight Grey (Image C) pushes the concept of his grey paintings even further. By producing 8 mirrored paintings, which reflect and present an altered view, a distorted reality to the viewer. Eight Grey creates a timeless approach to the ‘nothingness’ previously seen in his grey painting, yet this pushes the concept of the blurred, the reflected and the individual state of ‘seeing’ and blends them together in a magnificent way.

Richter is of great controversy because his works border on so many genres and systems, he is unclassifiable. His work with photography and painting overlaps a great deal, yet he ties it together with his philosophical approach in opposition to traditional ideas. In his work which he calls “pure pictures” , Richter explains,

“I’m not trying to imitate a photograph; I’m trying to make one. And if I disregard the assumption that a photograph is a piece of paper exposed to light, then, I am practicing photography by other means.”

Richter continues to push the boundaries of what is, and what is not. He continues to pursue philosophy, science and art into a form of altered non belief. Richter continues to explain, “no style, no composition, no judgment. [Photography] freed me from personal experience” Thus he can eliminate aesthetics from the theory of art, opening up a whole world of possibilities for artist and the practice there of. Richter explains the “practice of pictorial production,”

To create a painting is to fulfill something seen in the secondary reality of the painted image. The initial reality, the model, is no longer a motif a la Cezanne, but a photograph, that is to say, already an image.

This leads him to his work of frames and interactivity, where he chooses to include the viewer into the perceptive reality. (Image D)

the frames themselves were what constituted the “pictures” in the first place. The mobility of the panes of glass was intended to give the viewer the opportunity to “make a picture” in the truest sense, by positioning the frames and thus determining the excerpts of space the picture would represent.

Richter works to include his audience, within their own perception, into the framework of the art itself. He is concerned with the perceptive and altered state, the opposition to tradition or the expected, and foreseen. He is questioning and disproving theories, changing and altering previous assumptions. He is discussing diversity and individuality, through personal experience with his work of Mirrors and Frames. These experiences help us form our individual views and perceptions ultimately leading to a creation of our world view. Richter is interested in questioning reality or perceived reality; he is addressing the adherent problem of reference frames in regards to our world view. Weintraub explains, “Richter invites reality itself to enter his art.” This is achieved by including everything and nothing, by affecting reality, by questioning it.

Yet Richter finds a dilemma in the ‘Readymade’ he explains in Marking Time, how this dilemma affects painting and the view we perceive.

It seems to me that the invention of the Readymade was the invention of reality. It was the crucial discovery that what counts is reality, not any world-view whatever. Since then, painting has never represented reality; it has been reality (creating itself). And sooner or later the value of this reality will have to be denied, in order (as usual) to set up pictures of a better world.

In his work he does not disclose a doctrine, he chooses to nullify it. Richter explains, “art without doctrine is capable of conveying the ‘highest longing for truth and happiness and love.’” To be released from those assumptions, to be released from those false ideals, to be able to just be, and to accept that everyone else has their own reality, their own perception, and reference frame, from which they view life. With this understanding of Richter’s art, we can understand what his motives were in creating such minimal and oppositional art.

“The only “ism” that suits Richter’s career may be the “pluralism.” Richter defies all genres and styles, he explores in opposition to the ‘ism’. Richter is a philosopher through his study of perception, reality and identity in the ‘ism’ of our reference frame. He has broken many boundaries, and created many styles of minimalism and anti-ism through his dialog on opposition of illusionary assumptions. Richter has transformed into a timeless lack of identity, through the altered perceptions of the ‘none’ and the ‘blur,’ of the indifferent, yet uniquely framing the individual quality of our perceptive reality.

Image List
(Image A) Gerhard Richter Bäume, 1990

(Image B) Gerhard Richter. Acht Grau, 2002

(Image C) Gerhard Richter. Eight Grey, 2002

(Image D) Gerhard Richter. Study for Frames, 1965


Buchloh, Benjamin H.D. Gerhard Richter: Eight Grey. New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. 2002
Hubertus Butin/Stefan Gronert. Gerhard Richter: Editions 1965 – 2004 Catalogue raisonnĂ©. Dallas Museum of Art. 2004
Elkins, James. Photography Theory. New York, Taylor and Francis Group. 2007
Keeney, Gavin. The Language of the World. On the Nature of Things: Contemporary American Landscape Architecture. Basel: Birkhauser 2000
Rainow, Paul. Marking Time: On the Anthropology of the Contemporary. New Jersey, Princeton University Press. 2008
Taylor, Brandon. Contemporary Art: Art Since 1970. London, Laurence King Publishing Ltd. 2005
Weintraub, Linda. Art on and Over the Edge. Litchfield, Art Insights, Inc. 1996

Thursday, October 2, 2008

How can the Personal be Political in Art?

Many working artist find an interesting juxtaposition to our personal politics in art, yet we find no way around it; often it embodies us and our work. Many develop alter ego personalities or personas’ to help them deal with this identity dilemma. Allowing this alter ego to take the critical action and activist role in our political nature, while protecting the fragile social creature, which must interact daily.

JanedaPain is my political persona that I developed as an alias for my artistic pursuits. Its is actually a name that was given to me in second grade. I’ve always been a ‘pain’ in the ass; I’ve always been political, outspoken, and an activist.

However at first I did not recognize this name, I did not like to be called JanedaPain, and I hated the song that my classmates created about me. I hated to be made fun of.

“JanedaPain the dodo brain, flush her down the toilet drain. Make her go a million miles, fall in love with Rockford Files.”

As a woman, as a girl, I often found myself struggling to keep up and even striving to over achieve my male peers. I participated in many programs at the local planetarium in Eugene, Oregon where I learned computers, astronomy and art. I also participated in political action groups on the campus of University of Oregon, and Portland State.

If there was something to fight for, if there was some kind of political agenda, then I would speak, march, sit-out, publish and create a scene to express my political stance. Activist like the Yes Men became my idols, with multimedia political stunts to capture mass media attention. I don’t know where I learned it, I’m not sure what inspired me to be such a fighter, such an activist, but I’ve always been interested in this kind of work and expression.

We have to respect our politics has humans, and my politics tell me to be honest with my opinions and my voice. I will stand and speak when ever I feel it to be necessary, even if I stand alone. I believe it is my duty as a citizen to engage in political and critical discourse to further the consciousness of our human existence.

I am a political being who chooses to engage in a critical dialogue through my persona and my art as a way to communicate to the masses. I find that my political persona is easier to accept through my art. My audience is able to relate personally to my politics and to the politics of our social nature, which I choose to comment on through art and critical public dialog.

I seek to question my peers and loved ones as I directly engage them, requiring them to respond and interact with my art. I am a leader in my community for women and technology and I strive to keep this techno-feminism growing into a greater political forum.

My art often comments on the gender gap in technology and science. I pose questions to society through my art concerning the feminine identity and the male dominated field of Art and Technology for which I strive to create my political identity.

In my video work ‘lil self portraits’ I explore my identity as a sexual object, this is a political statement concerning feminism. My ability to be powerful, smart, beautiful and sexy in the wake of my work in technology. In these short videos you see me exploring my sexual feminine power. I express my frustration with the feminist culture and how it has corrupted my view of the goddess and sexual desire.

With ‘lil self portraits’ I pushed the boundaries of my sexual identity by presenting myself as an erotic, goddess of provocative nature. Yet in a juxtaposition, I am also shown in my sweats, working as a visual artist in the local community. I was a real person, not a doll, or a sexual object, as shown in contrast.

I grew up with a feminist mother always telling me that nobody will take me serious if they see me as a sexual object, first. I grew up thinking I had to hide my body, and that I couldn’t be sexy if I was to be taken seriously. ‘lil self portraits’ comments on those boundaries, and explores those issues through self portrait videos, displayed as a net art piece on my web site.

lil self portraits:

I comment politically through my art, through the subjects I employ, as they relate personally to my life. There is no moral aesthetic to be achieved, there is no ideal in reality, especially in my reality. I’ve explored feminism, racism, discrimination, war, terrorism, and self and society. There are so many subjects of politics within my art, it’s hard to pin point my art to one subject or genre. Just as it would be hard to do that with so many artist of today who work in multimedia formats.

I find that my work reflects politics in personal as well as societal spaces. And it is the subject of great controversy to many different groups of people. According to Haacke, “[s]o-called ‘avant-garde art’ is at best working close to the limitations set by its cultural/political environment, but it always operates within that allowance.”

Like Banksy, or the Yes Men, their art has to work within a certain set of anonymous parameters or they will not be able to continue their work as guerrilla artist. It is their duty to work within the parameters that exist the legal boundaries, realizing them, and bending, or breaking them with precise intent. These artist ‘operate within that cultural/political allowance’. Yet also at the same time commenting on the system they are bound by, making their work that much more profound.

In my own work I have pushed the boundaries, yet still working within them. My creation of the Interactive Parental Digitizer, was one of these culture questioning pieces. This piece explores the different aspects of parenting, and decision making, through an new media, digital narrative. This piece became great controversy in the Burning Man community in 2004, soon after my son Jared attended the festival and created his own political persona, ‘The Cusskid’.

Interactive Parental Digitizer:

Blog Article about ‘Interactive Parental Digitizer’:

In this piece I explore the questions parents face when parenting. I explored and questioned the users personal and social boundaries, through film and new media by pushing the viewer to participate in a series of questions.

However the discussion that prevailed on public forums and discussion boards far exceeded my interest into the results of my own work. I used this process to help me solve this political and personal issue I had with parenting. And I’m just glad to be sparking some political discourse in my community, because I think the dialogue has to continue for growth to expand personally and politically within my community.

Freedom from being confined in society, freedom from conforming to these rules, is what we seek through our political discourse. JanedaPain the artist is exempt from this, I have created a persona which can speak freely, and this discourse can be seen as JanedaPain not Jane Crayton. There is this sense of security for my public persona, this sense of power and privilege.

How to Sustain our Future, is a new media film made with my friend Katastraphonik’s music. I created a film in the Adbuster remixed media style commenting on our current social, economic, environmental and political situation. It is a political piece, it is a piece that reflects my beliefs, and my wish to use my art as a catalyst to educate people. I feel I have a lot to offer my network of people though my art. I feel there are so many things to comment on, the will never be enough time.

How 2 Sustain our Future:

Technology and media are power in today’s market and in our community. We can affect and change people, we can manipulate truth, and distort realities into ideals, or we can present reality without bias, from our personal perception to simply document our histories. I think we have a responsibility to represent the perspective of our realities, any way we see it. Our creative response is our only limitation, and its personal to our own reference frame.

On the front page of my web site I have a short statement, a short poem, prose, which describes my work, which describes me, and my politics.

“identities are nothing short of a name times a face divided by an attitude at the square root of the observer. art is a place where i can explore and express the different identities that create me. i am an artist, poet, scientist, athlete, inventor, theorist, student, feminist, naturalist, parent, sister, daughter, friend, and what ever else i decide to be today or in the future. so as i travel this long twisted road through this perceptive reality of my reference frame, least i can do is document it….”

This is an important political statement for my persona JanedaPain. This statement embodies the idea that I can create and comment on everything, because it is from my perspective, which is unique to me, like my fingerprint.

Our political agendas are unique to us, just like our perspective from which it developed. There is no separating the persona from the political. There is a form of controversy in every work that is created, from some point of view. It can be personally political, which can engage critical dialog in the intended or unintended audience, or it can question society, or be questioned by it. What ever form the political agenda takes, I think we need to embrace our poetic justice through art, and see it as our leading form of activism and respectively in opposition as propaganda.

May we not forget that for each yen there is a yang, for each left a right, for each beginning an end. And so continues the cycle, which is why it is important to keep creating, to keep expressing our own personal perceptions. We thus have to accept propaganda as its opposition to political discourse.

It is our schizophrenia mind set that keeps us from really allowing our subconscious to examine our political mindset and express it thoroughly. We are torn between the ideal and the real, between the right and the wrong. Because with every positive there is a negative, and we can not create all positive all the time, we can not be successful, we have to accept that there will be some political agenda implemented always because it is our nature to create political discourse propaganda and art.