Letter from BERLIN
Galerie Inga Kondeyne, Berlin
August 28 – September 27, 2009
When Stefan Wolpe (1902-1972) began “Battle Piece” in 1942, it was to have been the first of a series of works for solo piano titled “Encouragements,” intended as a composer’s contribution to the struggle against Fascism; part of the genre Kampfmusik that had earlier included chamber operas, theatre music, and agitprop songs. The composition not only addressed the social and political struggles of the day, but also a desire to transform disparate musical idioms into a subjective communication of personal experience. The complex, multi-part structure of “Battle Piece” that finally emerged in 1947 is characterized not only by thematic repetitions but also by a sense that the music continuously seeks to discover itself rather than express a previously well-articulated premise. His music is a philosophy, a two-way street connecting communal and solitary modes of being at the junction of their interrelation. As this is music, the philosophy is an abstraction, not a description.
Eve Aschheim’s series of drawings evolve one to the next through disjunctive and yet coherent relationships, a consistent process of discovering through reinventing and realigning, rather than stating a sequence of simple thematic variations. As with Wolpe’s composition, there is a sense of conflict, here in the multiple spaces and varied, searching textures. It is a dynamic appropriate to the experience of moving around a city, in this case New York City: a place where things are happening, have happened, or are about to happen, and very flagrantly. This is Aschheim’s home and was Wolpe’s home after he left Berlin in 1939. There seems little reason to doubt that an environment partly determines interior life as much as interior life determines an environment. It probably should not be underestimated.
Establishing a coherent urban environment is no straightforward process, nor is it necessarily desirable, since cities obviously benefit from provisional but dynamic growth or are in fact just that—unplanned but functioning in surprising and compelling ways. Aschheim has the constant flow of jump cuts and simultaneity of urban experience without making a metaphor of it. The drawings have just as much to do with interior life and the lack of certainty, even anxiety, establishing a formal arena for such concepts to be made visible and their impact felt.
The slightly larger than writing paper sized drawings, made with gesso, black gesso, ink, and graphite on Mylar (not completely opaque and worked often from both sides), may recall, as Stephen Maine has remarked about architectural plans or diagrams, “left brain communication,” though this association only serves to distance the work from the idea that it derives from a knowable source. The drawings subtly establish a non-fixed space of their own making, a space fluctuating with so many changes of speed, abrupt elisions, shifting planes, and slow accretions, that lived time seems captured and released in a state impossible to pin down as either entropic or expansive. The size of the drawings have an intimacy related to the gestures, lines, and emendations a hand can make rather than the movement of the rest of the body. As with poetry, small scale does not preclude a large impact or contained energy, and Aschheim is well acquainted with the community of New York poets, including her husband, the poet and writer John Yau.
Artists as different as Terry Winters and Alex Katz come to mind when thinking of a context for these works. Winters perhaps more obviously, since his graphic works in particular address issues of thought and experience through a redefined notion of the diagrammatic. With Katz it is a marking of time, day on day, and a shared explicitness in each mark, and in each change of direction of each mark: vital, dynamic, graphic, and evident. One could also add Jasper Johns; in his early febrile, monochromatic work, Johns traces a surface as present as his unfolding spaces are temporal. Again and again Aschheim achieves through a multitude of unexpected tempi, both astringent and subtle, an unexpected beauty.