New View of Things
Translation from German: Anne Mitzen
Gregor Jansen / 2008
Geometric patterns with clear horizontal and vertical lines are positioned parallel or close to the picture plane within a pictorial space in landscape format. Drawn razor sharp, they adhere to a set of rules, but nevertheless do not follow an exact schema or structural design, rather mark the possibilities of variations in horizon and height definition, as a system of coordinates with three axes within the space. The x and y lines delineate surfaces in various proportional relationships, and all possess a z axis that defines the space. This is however mostly depicted only in shadow, thus as the absence of light, which materializes due to a slight shifting of the depicted surfaces away from a central perspective and center axis. Just as decisive is the pictorial space surrounding the geometric pattern, the image foreground, which always begins at the lower picture edge, just as the pictorial background always ends at the upper picture edge. The intersection of both spaces in the actual picture or the depicted spaces in the visualized image is the most tension-filled zone, because this is largely concealed by the geometric form in the image center and middle ground, which thus lies in the background but is still visible in the areas of the left and right picture edge—and always situated very low. The ruling principle of the pictures is axiality and symmetry, color reduction of that which is depicted—usually only two or three colors are presented in a picture—and a classical proportioning of the pictorial space according to the principles of landscape painting with a low horizon. The dimensions of the works amplify this effect; however they are not classical, but rather associated media-historically with photography or film. This brings us to the issue at hand.
The pictures of Hannes Norberg are photographs. Photographs are based on the exposure of objects to light through lenses onto light sensitive material. The rays of light concentrated through a lens are recorded, which is why one refers to it as a storage medium. This mapped memory is accordingly finite and holds nevertheless endless variations at the ready. Photographs have the advantage of their iconic status; the relationship between the real and depicted object is very close, whereby they are assigned a higher validity. Because the objects rendered in the photographs of Hannes Norberg are very simple geometric forms reduced to a limited palette, the impression is formed quickly of an objective, concrete and true-to-life image. This makes it easy for the eye to capture the content of the scene and, thanks to the radically invariant pattern, to also quickly recognize and understand it as a photographed model within the space. The photographs therefore follow a code from which a particular rhetoric is developed. The pictorial associations and their differing actualities express themselves anew according to a basic pattern and yet remain constant, so that the works are defined by a clear syntax: the two-dimensional construction of space and its parallel saturation. The lines of the axes are endowed with volumes characterized by light and conveyed by the texture of the materials and, in the latest pictures, by the two-dimensional patterns in the image foreground and the model platforms. Simply modeled, clearly structured, three-dimensionally modulated, rhythmically composed, compo-sitionally balanced, defined through lighting, spatially abstracted and iconically unambiguous in their absolute pictorial logic, we are confronted with painterly thinking in a spatial composition on the level of photographic rendition. And in the medium of photography, everything remains completely abstracted and yet extremely precise as to what it is—at least as an archetype of the medium! What can we therefore conclude?
Let us approach an exceptional and recently completed project in Norberg’s oeuvre. An actual constructed object, not a model, but a church entrance in Worms, for which he designed glass panels between the steel architectural elements. In a new, almost deconstructivist, extension to a medieval convent church, four vacant spaces between the cortens steel plates—the entrance and three window panels—were to be constructed. Norberg chose a color neutral circular pattern for the entrance area that corresponds to the traditional crown glass in the church interior, whose circular inner surface is sandblasted from the outside to achieve a heightened light effect inside and a transfigured view to the outside. The narrow skylight opposite the entrance features a highly magnified detail of the crown glass with an emblematic effect. In the back section of the annex, the thematic framework of the featured elements is explored through color. One plate is sectioned into a yellow and grey rectangle; opposite, the largest glass panel is divided into transparent green and blue geometric planes. The spaces surrounding the entrance, in a manner of speaking the incidence of light from the architecture and from nature, become filtered beams of light for the viewer standing in the entrance. The viewer gets a filtered view through the geometric circular and rectangular forms, which have always played a definitive role in the relationship between exterior and interior, as the metaphor of light within the space and the image as a view from a window.
Much can be recounted about pictorial compositions from past centuries, in churches and houses, in paintings and photographs, regarding the shift in attitude of artists and their increasingly abstracted world view as an interior perspective. Narratives on the exchange of perception and awareness ultimately led to new perceptions; as a result perception developed into a differentiated system, most of all with respect to the image. Norberg also creates his images in a study, a workspace, a workbench, or a laboratory if you will which examines and studies visual perception. Likewise the preliminary studies on graph paper are akin to architectural sketches, in which he tests and analyzes the proportions of architectural structures, spatial objects and sculptural monumentality and subjects them to two-dimensional examination. Then there is a series of color tests and finally, as a model on the drawing table, a study of the extension into the depth and height of the space. The result is usually a large format photograph, in whose visible image area appears the spatial metaphor of “image as construction,” which does not repudiate its model character but also largely foils any relationship between the surface and the surrounding space. It is therefore not explicit whether it is the painterly component, which Norberg projects into the space, or the spatial component that prevails, by which he suggests the painterly within a fictive pictorial space. Or if it is cinematographically intended, whether the screen represents the rectangle within a space encompassing the old movie house idea—comparable to the drive-ins of the Japanese photographer Sugimoto—and only awaits the projection. They are sometimes projection screens, clear and prosaic, statically constructed, divided, cropped or splintered, shredded.
But it remains very deliberately undetermined! Here the last works offer insight, with sometimes black, blue or orange-colored Styrofoam elements interlocked and nested in each other, constituting a type of Arctic Sea by Caspar David Friedrich, assembled as a panel but also constituting a deconstructivist architecture, fabricated with the means of a CAD program. These structures are striations without a functional attribution—constructed images as if specified by the normal static conditions of wall and support. But in them the situation of the studio is made clearer and the proximity to painting more abstract. Hannes Norberg represents in the monochromatic forms parallel to the picture plane another side, a sublime, monumental placement of the image as model and picture within a photographic image, whereby the distinction between the aforementioned picture-space-constructions becomes more explicit but is nonetheless left undetermined.
One issue remains. It is the indeterminability between the media and the stages of perception, between the principles of the lab and those of its application. Technical perfection in control of the model or the model in control of technology—in the sense of that which is human, in the sense of humanity. Must we ask? Hannes Norberg succeeds in transforming our conventional relationships to our surroundings by creating spatially compacted and tension-filled pictorial spaces that are conceived in a strict geometry and highlight and transcend reality.
Norberg works extraordinarily precisely with model building materials that evoke architectural fragments or models and at the same time thematize abstract painting. In his analytical handling of the displacement of scale and fragmentation, a cool aesthetic emerges, full of clarity and simple forms, but also inevitable alienations arise, giving new vision to that which is well known.
Gregor Jansen is a German art historian, art critic and curator. From 2005 to 2010 he was director of the ZKM / Museum für Moderne Kunst in Karlsruhe, and since 2010 he has been director of the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf.
Published in: Monograph Hannes Norberg, Salon Verlag, Cologne, 2008. With texts by Mark Gisbourne and Gregor Jansen, English / German. Hardcover, 22 × 28 cm, 80 pages, ISBN 978-3-89770-334-6
Gregor Jansen / 2008