On Gert and Uwe Tobias

Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens
May 8, 2014 9:06AM
During a visit to the workshop of the twin brothers Gert and Uwe Tobias in Cologne, just about everything life has to offer is discussed. The conversation veers from one topic to ano-ther. From ancestry and food, to politics and art, family and exhibiting, the flowers on the table and Giotto; everything is analysed with a contagious yet critical enthusiasm. The Tobias brothers are never against anything but always in favour of something, and this illustrates their commitment as artists and perhaps also embodies the ultimate richness of their oeuvre. The twins were born in 1973 in Brasov, Romania, where they lived until the age of twelve. They have nothing but fond memories of their youth. They eagerly tell about their small village, the vast open spaces, the smell of cut grass, their relationship with the animals, the beauty of the snow, the folkloric costumes, but especially also the warmth of their family life with grandpa-rents, aunts, uncles, parents and children all living together. No trace of the dreadful side of communist dictatorship. As a child one only experiences the sunny side of existence. Since 1985, they live and work in Germany, but their origin has undoubtedly been a major influence on the development of their visual language.The Tobias brothers became well known for their large format woodcuts. Although the wood-cut is very popular in the domain of folk art, it has also played an important role in the history of modern art and often at times of radical change: think, for instance, of the advent of German Expressionism. Over the course of their artistic career the Tobias brothers have built a huge archive of images. It includes heraldic figures, decorative elements, in short, just about everything. They are inspired by all kinds of art and imagery, from Dürer and Vermeer to Matisse and Felix González-Torres, from outsider art to mass design and from the simple shapes of communist propagandist architecture to the typography of old books and movies. This archive constitutes an inexhaustible alphabet of images. They conceive new compositions through critical dialogue, working together to the point where the individual hand of the two brothers is no longer discernible to the viewer. This level of close collaboration, in combination with their highly personal take on the collage technique, makes that their particular creative process is typified by a high level of discussion and mutual consideration, and simultaneously also opens up a wider range of possibilities, introducing artistic shifts a single creative person would never attain. The wealth of colour and compositional possibilities and the tireless work ethic, dialogue and inspiration of the two brothers result in sublime works, full of energy and freedom, in which past, present and future merge into one another.  The work of the Tobias brothers, however, is more than mere woodcuts. Their rich oeuvre also includes beautiful drawings, gouaches, paintings, sculptures, objects and countless collages. They also manage to add an extra dimension to their exhibitions through the particular attention they pay to the space and the architecture of the venue they exhibit in, turning every exhibition into a complete work of art. Every exhibition also comes with its own unique poster. Together, these posters form as it were the cycle of their artistic thinking. The exhibition at the museum Dhondt-Dhaenens starts from the idea of the ‘Black Hole’. According to the theory of relativity, a black hole is an area from which nothing, not even light, can escape because of the distortion caused by the gravity of an immensely compact mass. The floor of the patio space, the lateral side spaces and the wall on the outside are shrouded in darkness and function as blind spots in the space. They represent the unrestrained and explosive energy of creativity. The monumental woodcuts spread across the white space like expanding planets. They are filled with the artists’ entire vocabulary that originates in a multitude of times and cultures, ranging from horror vacui to atmospheric and cosmic landscapes. Horror vacui was a term used in physical science from Antiquity to the Middle Ages to explain the phenomenon according to which nature seems to abhor emptiness: plants will quickly appear on a bare spot of soil and an empty container is immediately filled with air. In philosophy, horror vacui represents the uncertainty of man, unable as he is to live with doubt and uncertainty and unfulfilled questions. In the visual arts, Horror vacui is the phenomenon where artists seek to fill every possible empty space of a painting. Gert and Uwe Tobias create tension by placing black voids in their overcrowded woodcuts. The woodcuts, in this way, are made to become part of the logic and the experience of the exhibition. Despite the usage of classical techniques and materials, Gert and Uwe Tobias’ work is undeniably contemporary. On the one hand, they are exponents of the globalized world in which all visual references have become one unique historical reference, and on the other, they are typical of the post-digital age in which not the individual image as such is given importance, but rather what one does with it. As artists, they cannot change the world, yet they can affect their own world, and this is a profound commitment.
Joost Declercq (from the exhibition guide)
Gert & Uwe Tobias at
Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens; from 06/04/2014 until 15/06/2014

Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens