ADRIAN SCHIESS — THE ACCESSIBILITY OF THE WORLDOver a period of forty years, Adrian Schiess has produced an extensive, many-facetted and also radical oeuvre, which has been widely exhibited, from the Venice Biennale (1990) and documenta IX in Kassel (1992) to a large number of solo shows in international institutions. His early decision to create painting in the form of Platten, flat panels laid on the floor and painted in enamels, entailed breaking away from the conventions of painting and assuming a new, hitherto inaccessible position — a position in which the ambition for pictures and representation intersects and collides with the meaningless, immediate presence of Farbe in its dual sense of paint and colour. To this extent, the great challenge of his oeuvre, and one which has yet to be sufficiently taken up, lies in its radicalness of impurities and mutual intrusions, where picture and Farbe have lost their previous state of integrated co-existence and impinge on each other’s isolated field in unpredictable and uneasy ways.
In the opening room of Schiess’s recent exhibition in the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen (2020 – 2021) the state of painting is shown to be precarious, beleaguered, catastrophic. What is the traumatic reason behind this Helter Skelter? In the words of the artist: “Here again the senselessness, the evident failure of the undertaking, the impossibility of the picture.” The decisive factor here is the historical loss of the picture — ‘picture’ in the sense of re-presentation (making present again, the presence of an absence, portrayal, translation, interpretation). When the picture is lost, what remains behind are moments of coloured materiality, falling asunder, thrust into one another and heaped up like integuments sloughed off, like useless carapaces or cocoons. One particularly significant type of these carefully orchestrated remnants Schiess appositely names Fetzen — scraps, shreds or tatters.
Schiess explains the fruitless ambition of achieving a picture in terms of the excessive complexity of reality. But what type of reality is it that has nothing to offer the picture except its failure? It is a reality that finds itself processed in a network of datasets stretching in all directions and which has disappeared behind an impenetrable screen of images. The painter fails in the attempt to produce a picture of reality since reality has already been totally transformed into images: complete accessibility goes inseparably hand in hand with irredeemable deprivation and withdrawal. The name for this image-hostile totalization of the image is ‘the spectacle’.
The painting of the Platten is the joyous acquiescence in the failure to produce a picture, a staging of meaninglessness, iconoclasm set to work, a punk-driven liberation from the apparatus of representation, an overcoming of the compulsion to explain and justify: peinture and the artist’s gesture are replaced by the craftsman’s uniform application of commercial paint types. Instead of the vertically positioned ‘window’ with its imagined view, a panel of paint and colour with a shiny surface lies flat on the floor: painterly condensation is replaced by the expansive serial alignment of anonymously painted standardized plates.
With the conversion of traumatic loss into a new form of painterly productivity, images return. Yet these are not the pictures of traditional painting, the representation of the real, the portrayal of the absent — all of which has become an impossibility — but a completely different type of image: a mirroring of what is immediately present, a reflection of the actual, current incidence of light, a visual echo of parts of the exhibition space, adjacent areas and persons in attendance. Later, reproductions of the paint-drop-bespattered studio floor or of a flower appear; on individual Platten there are photographic precipitations, but always covered with gloss paint as the uppermost layer, sometimes with iridescent, rainbow or flip-flop lacquer.
Reflections and photographs are related as indexical images: they are as immediately and physically connected as the index finger with the object to which it points or as smoke with fire. In the indexical images that become visible on the Platten, objects, figures, details, elements of reality appear, freed from the ambition of re-presentation, in the form of unique encounters that are forever changing in accord with the movements of the beholder. All the particularities, however, things and coloured panels, are linked by the incidence of light.
Together with the emergence of another kind of image, of gleaming or fading mirrorings of unmitigated, immediate proximity and temporality, the colour of the panels also assumes a different quality from the material weightiness of the paint-soaked Fetzen and other indicators of the impossible picture: the colour of the panels is transferred as a sheen and afterglow, the unseizable effect of the coloured substance that is paint. The constellation of the panels and the objects of indexical images demands and confirms the encounter with reality, yet the shimmering paint infuses it with reality-dispelling tones and tints.
As a painter, Schiess has committed himself to a form of working that involves the unending investigation, alteration, refinement, intensification and renewal of the afterglow of colour — there are Platten with monochrome colour in the most peculiar tones, some with bizarre, funky colour gradients, with the ghostly gleam of iridescent or fluorescent paints, the dark polychromes of matt colour, or the intensive gleam of a newly discovered chrome pigment. Full of contempt for the union of peinture and representation, Schiess at the same time, however, banalizes the painterly ambitions of the Platten, making them into things among things, particles of reality, and slots them into diverse reality complexes where they simultaneously distinguish the latter from themselves. Impregnated with the afterglow of colour and with fleeting, evanescent images, the panels intervene at the point where reality disappears behind the images of the spectacle.
Thrust into the texture of existing things, the horizontally laid Platten are an obstacle, a barrier erected against economy, a squandering of place and space, the ‘claim’ or demarcation of a zone that cannot be stepped into but is withdrawn from common use. In this way, Schiess insists on that corporeality from which the spectacle severs its unrelenting exchange of images. Since the Platten, however, may not be walked on but only looked at, he is at the same time adopting an essential condition of the spectacle. And yet the painting of the Platten transfers the spectacular totalization of the image into a non-complete and non-completable process in which relationships of visuality and corporeality are renegotiated in each individual instance. This process can be set in train and kept in motion just as much by one single panel lying in a certain set of surroundings on the floor as by an extended field of panels that occupy an entire exhibition building.
As a painter, Adrian Schiess combines paint and colour, images, things and persons to achieve exemplary situations which, inserted into the weft of reality, ultimately pose one of the decisive questions of our present time — the question as to the accessibility of the world.