HANNO OTTEN – SCHLACHT
Opening 14 April 2016
Exhibition 15 April to 18 June 2016
“I don’t explain war and I don’t say how it should be seen either.”
HANNO OTTEN (born 1954) is renowned above all for his work with color. For some years, however, the Cologne-based artist has become increasingly interested in war as a theme: What is war? How does war come about? What is war about? Exploring the subject in intense detail, OTTEN developed a new cycle of works, part of which is now to be exhibited for the first time in public at | PRISKA PASQUER. The exhibition consists of three large-scale battle pictures, photo-text piece “Schlacht/ Beirut” and video “Beirut”.
HANNO OTTEN is an artist whose work is derived from plumbing the depths of his theme for years on end. He has
explored color for many years, taking an almost scientifically systematic approach. Another important theme in his art is war. The first photo-text piece was completed back in 1993, followed by the video “Beirut” five years later. However, it was to take some further years until OTTEN found what he felt to be an adequate form for presenting his subject: the battle pictures measuring 2.30 x 7 metres in landscape format.
For HANNO OTTEN, the outbreak of the Balkan War was the catalyst for his interest in exploring the subject on an artistic level. Having been brought up believing that war was a thing of the past in Central Europe, the Yugoslav Wars in the early 1990s changed his worldview fundamentally. What is war? How does war come about? What is war about? Based on these underlying questions, HANNO OTTEN revisited the scenes of the First and Second World Wars. He delved into artistic works on the subject such as historical paintings, war novels, operas and war films, but also into specialist literature on military history and research into violence. And then he began to approach the subject with his own artistic means. The photo-text piece “Schlacht/ Beirut” was created in 1993, based on an article by German newspaper correspondent Monika Borgmann.
Filmed in 1998, the “Beirut” video alludes to the ritual and stigmatizing cutting of hair, a widespread practice in times of war. While the photo-text piece is by definition based on the printed word, he uses the spoken word in “Beirut”. In its acoustic state, removed from the fixed gaze and overlaid with environmental noises, the language loses something of its explicit clarity here, while still retaining a very concrete literalness. Several years later, HANNO OTTEN finally knew how he would approach the subject: “It must simply be painted. There has to be a physical conflict. We have certain thought structures that we always repeat, even when examining war. But I want to get away from the
representational documentary depiction and move towards a non-conceptual, physical approach.”
Leaving aside the specific events, all wars ultimately show the same basic structures: there are recurring elements that are
displaced and disrupted at certain points by unusual and unforeseeable events. Based on this knowledge, HANNO OTTEN developed the various picture structures for the battle pictures, opting for a wide landscape format in homage to the classic genre. However, the size of the pictures ended up presenting a particular challenge for him: they should be large and powerful – but without overwhelming the audience. He experimented until he found a suitable format “at eye level” – 2.30 × 7 metres. He completed the first battle pictures in 2006.
HANNO OTTEN is not a painter, but rather sees himself as an artist who uses the medium he deems the most appropriate in each case. When dealing with the subject of war, the physical aspect was of particular importance to him – this was to be a key factor in both the creation and reception of the battle pictures. Even though he prepares each work with numerous composition studies, OTTEN then allows himself free rein on the canvas. The three battle pictures in the exhibition were created in 2007, 2014 and 2015. The works themselves could not be more different: one is in bright colors with cross-running stripes, another sober and unreserved with a pattern on colorless ground canvas, the third
entirely in black and white with gentle, deliquescent structures. All pictures have several levels. They can be observed from a distance, but also right up close – you can walk past them or head straight towards them and out again. They are battle pictures of the 21st century.