THE MAGIC OF UTOPIA
What does an American artist in her mid 40s have to do with a German artists’ group that was founded in Düsseldorf in 1958 and disbanded in 1966? The key to the connection between Carol Bove’s works and those by the exponents of the ZERO group rests in her artistic approach, in her fascination for the social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s, the intellectual world into which the artist was born in 1971.
In 1958 a group of artists came together under the name ZERO with the purpose of heralding in a new beginning in art after the horrors of the Second World War and explicitly opposing the psychologically charged pictorial inventions of Abstract Expressionism. This expressed itself in the refutation of such traditional concepts as representationality or the subjective personal handwriting as well as in the orientation on natural phenomena. The group quickly spread out into diverse, widely ramified international branches. Despite the diversity of its approaches, ZERO is in essence supported by three basic tenets:
The recourse to the fundamental principles defined by Wassily Kandinsky in his Point and Line to Plane from 1926 resulted in the production of such works as Heinz Mack’s Dynamic Structure, Erwin Thorn’s Fire Drawing, Yayoi Kusama’s Silver Wind and Günther Uecker’s Polychrome Series. They have the serial moment in common that negates the personal handwriting of the author by means of repetition as opposed to the subjective grasping of the world that shows itself in representationality or Abstract Expressionism. The configuration of the picture plane on the basis of a previously defined system illustrates ZERO’s affinity to geometry and its associated rational mathematical and scientific parameters that no longer have anything to do with the subliminally controlled emotionality of Informalist painting, for example.
The occupation with the plane also finds expression in its expansion into the third dimension such as in Lucio Fontana’s Concetti Spaziali series. Outdated notions are symbolically destroyed here by means of slashes or perforations while canvas, ceramic or sculpture are opened up for space, time and dynamic processes. Dadamaino’s Volume is also to be seen in this context, as is Hermann Goepfert’s Aluminium Relief (Statistical Reflector) in which the two-dimensional plane is spatialized by way of reflections.
Reflections point to another central element of ZERO, namely the dealing with natural and perceptual phenomena, particularly light as a material that in itself is intangible but which makes everything visible and whose traces can be captured. Light itself consequently became a medium of drawing in a work such as Otto Piene’s Light. Or it was employed as reflective material by Goepfert as well as Heinz Mack in his Light Relief with a Large and Small Wing. Or it seemingly glows from within like the deep-blue sponge in Yves Klein’s Sculpture éponge bleu. Or when fire and its resultant smoke are used in the creation of a picture, for example in Thorn’s Fire Drawing or Otto Piene’s Green Giant and Smoke Picture.
Aside from these formal specifics, ZERO is above all one of the great artistic utopian movements of the mid 20th century, expressly placing its form finding in an overall societal context in its struggle with the renunciation of traditional procedures and carried by the idea of a fundamental new beginning. And here is where the connection to Carol Bove comes full circle. It is precisely the multifaceted reforms from the time after 1960 which she regularly traces in her artistic work, posing the question concerning its significance for the present day and which she links to further
A formal proximity to the artists of the ZERO group is evident in Ars Moriendo. But Bove expands the reflective surface with its serial notchings over and above the quality of their light refractions and spatial extensions with notions of mortality that is symbolised in many cultures by the mirror (mirrors are covered when someone dies), and in doing so she opens it up for a layer of meaning extending beyond ZERO. The collage Strawberries Need Rain (After Dark Photo Collage) also takes up the seriality typical of ZERO in the staggered, outwards enlarging prints of the very same image. In contrast to ZERO, however, Bove for example employs found material in Ars Moriendi, here a photograph from a 1970s fashion magazine, weaving in the process forms of artistic expression and contemporary pop culture into a more
This is in essence the basic procedure followed by Carol Bove, even if the other works on show in the exhibition are not directly related to ZERO but present instead a picture of the intellectual atmosphere of the time in which ZERO also attained its zenith. Conversation with Jorge Luis Borges, Untitled (Elysium Publications) and ULTRA jet black, for example, gather together a cross section of the design, handcraft, literature, magazines, album covers and artworks into atmospheric pictures of the 1960s and 1970s that incorporate the contrasts of intellectual enlightenment, political protest movement, sexual liberation, interest in foreign cultures and artistic new beginnings that were of importance at that time. And an untitled collage made of peacock feathers expands the chronological range even further in order to trace the significance of serially employed material from antiquity and neoclassicism to the 1960s and reminiscences of one’s own grandmother – always with an equally affectionate as well as analytical view that questions the meaning of the past for the present.
Janneke de Vries