FEBRUARY 28 - MARCH 31, 2012
BERND RIBBECK IN FRIEZE MAGAZINE
Frieze issue 145, March 2012
Tomma Abts, Tauba Auerbach, Matt Connors, Charline von Heyl and Bernd Ribbeck talk about the role of abstraction in painting today
by Christopher Bedford
Christopher Bedford: You’ve said that spirituality is central to your interest in abstraction. Can you say a little about that and also where you identify the historical origins of this interest?
Bernd Ribbeck: I am interested in the work of a few artists who used spiritual channels in the creation of their work. These channels elude me, but the shape and character of their art works are unique, so I assume that the specific pathway to their genesis played a great role. Hilma af Klint’s work is seminal in this respect. She found her way to abstraction very early on through spiritual experiences. There is also the Swiss healer Emma Kunz, who used a pendulum to compose her drawings, or the Belgian miner Augustin Lesage, who began to create complex symmetrical paintings following a vision he had in the mine, according to direct instructions from ‘above’. Twentieth-century church architecture also took on shapes that affect me, as ‘bastard’ hybrids of modern rationalism and the spiritual role these buildings were meant to play.
However, my influences can also be much more profane: shapes that, although quite concrete, also convey a promise of luck. The lozenges on a roulette table, for example, or the soundscape in a casino when all of the slot machines emit high notes – to me that’s almost like the divine sound of a very terrestrial joy. The same goes for geometric shapes: they are basic forms but they are also part of the ‘high’ culture; although simple to construct, they can become complex and charged during the process of creating an image.
As a painter, I only believe in what I see, but what I see also causes me to believe or at least to imagine. I’m not a religious person, but one could credit religion and spiritual practices as special methods of imagination, even if one views religion critically. One might understand religion, for instance, as a practice of the imagination.
CB: Are your paintings acts of the imagination that make an effort to transcend the familiar, or are they more referential and terrestrial, like the slot machines singing in unison you describe?
BR: I am not sure if I can really answer the question, because on the one hand there’s a spiritual or intellectual background that enables me to work, but on the other hand, there are the specific problems of the work itself. There’s always a difference, otherwise it wouldn’t be necessary for me to paint.
For me, the idea that my paintings could originate from another world or time gives me the freedom to move artistically. That things are transcended is a mechanism of art – there is a material, then it’s moved into another space or combined with other materials and afterwards it’s not what it was. Materiality is very important to me.