July 4. Laurence Rickels
Don't Look Back
including Katy Crowe, Margarete Hahner, HK Zamani
Laurence A. Rickels
Pluto's admonition to Orpheus is like a denial that cannot hold. Katy Crowe's abstract paintings, "Persephone II," "Elevation," and "Wait" name and stage the Orphic impasse within a topography brought back to the paintings from a season of print work. Print making takes steps leading out of the underworld of painting, following lines that look ahead. But then the artist doubled back, retracing the steps to add depth and layers to her main medium.
Living and working in Los Angeles, German artist Margarete Hahner looks back upon the import of her German and European influences through the lens of a foreign place. Her pictorial language hails from German Romanticism but her relocation as artist responds to the other sense of "romance" that Gertrude Stein reserves for the artist abroad.
It is very natural that every one who makes anything inside themselves that is makes it entirely out of what is in them does naturally have to have two civilizations. They have to have the civilization that makes them and the civilization that has nothing to do with them. ...
There is no possibility of mixing up the other civilization with yourself you are you and if you are you in your own civilization you are apt to mix yourself up too much with your civilization but when it is another civilization a complete other a romantic other another that stays there where it is you in it have freedom inside yourself which if you are to do what is inside yourself and nothing else is a very useful thing to have happen to you.[i]
Stein sees the world shrinking, making the prospect of having a second civilization and living there too, less and less important. Before the shrinking had commenced the artist stayed put and a second civilization was afforded by the specialty language of art.
In the early civilizations when any one was to be a creator a writer or a painter and he belonged to his own civilization and could not know another, he inevitably in order to know another had made for him it was one of the things that inevitably existed a language which as an ordinary member of is civilization did not exist for him.[ii]
Abstraction in visual art can be seen as the return of this inner form of the romantic second civilization on the cusp of isolation between a world growing too small and the world of prehistory which proved too vast. A possible continuity shot would be the planetary animism of prehistory: Crowe's abstractions are derived from seed pods and other nature borne signs.
In Germany or in her second civilization, California, Hahner has been addressing at the limit of painting the influence of media reflected in and inflecting her artistic praxis.
At one point in the genealogy of media the table was turned on LPs, detritus from the recent past jettisoned by innovations in sound recording. They offered Hahner for a time affordable surfaces for painting. Often, she chose to depict for the record metamorphosis, which extended over several paintings. She took her cue from the surface and spun her records of transformation into silent films or home movies. While the motion picture, "Kaskadeur," flips through a relay of paintings on records, paralleling the depicted momentum of trains, the painting based on Larry Clark's iconic photograph was a one-shot metamorphosis on Hahner's painterly record of the outer media.
Ever since the technical media inspired ghost-seers to launch modern Spiritualism, ghosts have been coming around the bend of the latest media extension of our sensorium. The digital archive synthesized this momentum and exchanged an opposition, like that of media art versus painting, for accessibility. Painting alone can summon or cite these ghosts. In the foreground of "Malibu" we can make out the underworld illuminated by headlights within the deep surface pooling on the road.
HK Zamani came with his family to LA from Iran in 1971, which may make him as American as apple pie. However, he too shores up the romance setting that keeps him free to make out of himself, through specialty art languages to be sure, but in the main by heading off history at the impasse.
History can be outside but as outside it continues and as it continues it cannot remain inside you and so in this way it is very different from romance. Romance is there but it does not continue it has no time it is neither past or present nor future it is there because it is something with which you cannot come into contact as it exists of itself and by itself and looks as it does where it is. ...
History is what has happened and so having happened it is something that might happen and so does not exist for and by itself and is therefore not romantic.[iii]
In "Painting on Wheels," which was shot in 2011, Zamani offers a rebus of crisscrossing local histories. His own story was that it was time to bring back to PØST his painting taken down at the end of a show in a gallery on the other shore of the Los Angeles River. The 6th Street Bridge was closed for a film shoot and Zamani decided to double book the availability for filming and, stowaway in the other filming, record his passage with the painting. The film crosses the prospect of Boyle Heights, named after the investor who bought much of the view after fighting in the Mexican-American War. Before, when Alta California was still part of the First Mexican Republic, the area was named "White Bluff" (in Spanish). In 2011 gentrification was the other white bluff the locals were calling in an area that the Mexican-American component of the population (95%) had re-taken. The viaduct or bridge, built in 1932, took nine months to demolish in 2016, forestalling its collapse through seismic activity. The painting's journey, a brush stroke across histories, has been sealed by erasure. That's why the film's prop, the painting itself, is also exhibited next to the film as sole survivor of the histories on view.
[i]Gertrude Stein, "An American and France," in: What Are Masterpieces(Los Angeles: The Conference Press, 1940): 62-63.