The turning back of perception : Aen Sauerborn

Some remarks concerning paintings and sculptures of Aen Sauerborn (unpublished Ms 1988)

„The practising artist is generally not the one who is capable of supplying the right information about the principles of his art. He is not creative in accordance with principles …“. This is to be found in Edmund Husserl’s “Logische Untersuchungen” [1]. This – as is generally known – widespread topos of the devaluation of the artist”s reflection is in strange contradiction to what Husserl certifies as true for science a few pages further on: “Hence the essence of science includes the unity of the argumentative connection …“ [2]. Not only does the scientist work in accordance with the principles of his scientific discipline and of science altogether, but in addition part at the essence is for him to be able to provide at least rudimentary information about this.

S19, Skulptur 1988/1989, Edelstahl, 680 x 364 x164 cm, Speyer

S19, Skulptur 1988/1989, Edelstahl,
680 x 364 x164 cm, Speyer

The fact that Husserl’s verdict is not suitable for describing the situation of contemporary art is evident [3]. If one does not wish ‘post’ Duchamp to appeal for an hopeless ontological difference between the work of art and the world in which we live, than reflecting on this argumentative connection between the individual works can only mean that it is first produced by reflection [4]. This argumentative connection per reflection links the individual work to the already existing works. The work of art thus reveals itself to be a link in the autopoietic system art [5]. However this evidently does not signify that this linking means the production of a biographical, historical or social context.

For Aen Sauerborn as painter and sculptress, reflection in the work process therefore means “the development of the reflection immanent in the work of art“, as Walter Benjamin once said [6]. She justifies her “claim to authenticity“ which she raises with a concrete picture, a concrete sculpture, in this reflection [7]. Reflection attempts to press forward to the argumentation logic of the works, to the clarity of their problem complex, by establishing these. Thus reflection is not an inconsequential matter post festum, but has a direct bearing on the further work process [8].

2. Structure, vocabulary of forms
The plastic work proceeds from a vocabulary of forms which the artist has developed since the middle of the sixties, initially in her paintings. This vocabulary of forms is based on a precise geometrical structure [9]. It is characterised by “the assertion of the centric system within a frequently quantitatively dominating orthogonal system“ [10].

As Figure l shows, rectangular strips intersect one another at various angles. These rectangular strips segment and overlap a circle which is often described eccentrically in the square of the picture. The structure is rotated in series about fixed point by half a right angle at a time [11]. Thus differing structural sections occur within the square of the picture and the artist thus obtains eight different elements of a structural series [12]. This takes place solely for reasons of compositional economy. The series does not develop any trans-picture connection. The individual picture stands tor itself.

In the transition to the third dimension, the circle becomes a circular cylinder and the rectangular strips become block elements. The bounding square of the picture no longer applies, the individual volume elements stretch out into the room.

3. Color reduction
Extremely light paint colours, taken back towards a boundary value and at the same time with parity of tone, withdraw the structure from the viewer, as it were, and prevent the realisation of the design at a single glance [13]. Although white does not appear, the square of the picture thus becomes an apparently white, apparently diffuse, apparently unstructured field. The structure of the work is „absorbed“, as it were, by the material paint, it volatilises in the paint colour and through the paint colour.

The „factual facts“ [14] of the picture or the sculpture refuse to open themselves to the viewer, at the beginning and then over and over again. However: „The apparent refusal to make a statement proves to be a stimulus for concentrating the attention of the viewer. The viewer experiences his perceptive capability in the perception controlled by the picture (and by the a priori of his sense and apprehension functions, A.)“ [15].

The perception thus becomes reflexive, it turns back on itself. The viewer is challenged to pursue the factual structure, to raise it in a reading process out of its factuality into an actual reality „tor itself“.

4. Time
This means the arrival at an essential position. The work, whether painting or sculpture, radically dismisses the static concept of a work in order to grasp the individual work from its roots as the point of crystallisation of communication processes. The viewer takes over the „work of seeing“ [16], but this cannot be completed in a finite time.

On the contrary, this reception process cannot be concluded in principle since the factual structure and the factual paint colour of one segment of the picture cannot be retained in their quality by the perceptive consciousness on the transition to the adjacent segment. Hence this finally does away with „the fiction of simultaneity“ [17]. The unity of the picture is dissolved in a processal connection which cannot be grasped as an entirety. The consequence is a reception process which, transcending the perception of sensual facts, finally lifts the central form of time as a fundamental condition into one’s consciousness [18].

With this dissolution of the entirety of the picture, the work rebels „against the idea of geometry“ as a „rational system which forces form and experience into the straits of the commensurable“ [19], it fluidises the geometrical and dissolves it in time.

5. Space – the structure becomes real
This goal, the dissolving of the individual work in time and defining it as the core of crystallisation of communication processes, is the reason for the interest in stretching out into real space by means of sculptures. The dissolution, the fluidisation of statical geometry succeeds via two points of approach within the sculpture.

On the one hand this is achieved, via their polarity of form, by the elements of circular cylinder and rectangular block derived from the pictorial vocabulary of forms, circle/square, themselves.

Rudolf Arnheim [20] has pointed out that through its orthogonality, the square semantically acquires a Cartesian ordering function. The anthropological grounds for the fascination exerted by this are certainly to be found in the fact that the Cartesian network can be employed as an instrument to secure and clarify the survey of a chaotic wealth of world data by dispensing with the relation of these world data to the subject and by interpreting them and making them available as “objective“ data.

Thecircle on the other hand possesses the opposite tendency. The maximum differentiation of direction which is linked with the right angle is suspended. The world data are related to a subjective centre of experience of a non-interchangeable ego. Thus by means of this polarity of the basal elements of the pictorial vocabulary of forms, i.e. circle and square, the Cartesian order of space and the world is transferred into a floating state, „suspended“, „fluidised“.

On the other hand the materials of the sculptures play an essential role in this process of „fluidisation“. The selection of the material is guided both by its colour nature and by its connotations bound into our cultural situation [21].

Just as the paint colour in the pictures in accordance with the problem complex of these pictures takes on the task of dissolving the clear structure, which it manages by being taken back extremely to the boundary value white, so the contours [22] and volumes in the sculptures are dissolved by materials which on the grounds of their colour nature produce osmosis, dissolution of boundaries, immaterialism [23]: colourless polished and transparent plexiglass, extremely finely polished special steel, moving water.

The material and the way in which it is worked trigger off feelings and memories in the viewer. These connotations such as e.g. „weighing down vs. floating“, „hard vs. soft“, “cold vs. warm“, “real vs. unreal“ are the subjective a priori of each actual encounter of a viewer with a sculpture which have „become“ biographical and cultural. And as dimensions of feeling and memory, they are generally of a polar structure and they are integrated in the sculpture, consciously, as opposites.

Transparent polished plexiglass is therefore extremely important for the problem complex of the work. Through its transparency and colourless polished plexiglass effects a diffusion of the media: light and material. The boundary between environment and material becomes permeable, a sliding suspension of boundaries sets in. By the assimilation of the colours of the environment, which appear in the sculpture through multitudinous fractions and reflections, the environment of the sculpture is drawn into its sphere of impact, environment and sculpture interact. This interaction is related both to the processes occurring in the surrounding nature, their reflexes and atmospheric „mood“ (clouds, rain, sun, snow), and to the activity of the persons who enter the environment of the sculpture. A special affinity exists here between the material plexiglass and the element of moving water which plays round the spatial boundaries of the sculptural form and „suspends“ them in an ideal manner.

The same applies by analogy for polished refined steel. „The reflecting material which plays over the contours“ withdraws the determination from the sculpture. By „(seducing) the viewer to walk round the sculpture“ [24], the sculpture brings the viewer to try in vain to establish clarity of his reception and to recover his assuredness. The sculptures of Aen Sauerborn can thus „be interpreted as recognition criticism of … experience and self-identity of the beholder“ [25].

References and Notes
1.       E. Husserl, Logische Untersuchungen. Band 1. Prolegomena zur reinen Logik. 5th Ed. (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1968) p. 9
2.       Husserl [1] p. 15
       The three strategies named by David Carrier, which as he notes are followed by all art historians or critics in order to place an individual work in a context, do not furnish this argumentative connection. For this would have to be a systematic connection. Cf. D. Carrier, „Theoretical Perspectives on the Arts, Sciences and Technology. Part II: Postmodernist Art Criticism“ Leonardo 18, No. 2, pp.108 – 113 (1985) especially p. 108: „Some accounts tell of the individual artist’s evolution, others of the relation of a new work to older art, while still others discuss the political or social significance of that art.“
4.       “The discourse on the modern“ post Duchamp cannot expediently be oriented in the field of arts to a structure immanent to the ontological basis of the work of art. The meaning of a picture, a sculpture, must be understood transitively. It only evolves in a process of being made meaningful for the artist, for the public, for the art scene. This is the secret of every renaissance, every discovery of works to which the cultural „key“ has been lost. But cf. J. Habermas, Der philosophische Diskurs der Moderne. Zwölf Vorlesungen. 2nd Ed. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1985); P. Bourdieu, Zur Soziologie der symbolischen Formen. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, l974).
5.       N. Luhmann, Das Kunstwerk und die Selbstproduktion der Kunst. In H. U. Gumbrecht, ed., Stil. Geschichten und Funktionen eines kulturwissenschaftlichen Diskurselements. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1986)
6.       W. Benjamin, Der Begriff der Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantik. H. Schweppenhäuser, ed. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1973) p. 64
7.       Cf. J. Habermas, Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns. Band 1. Handlungsrationalität und gesellschaftliche Rationalisierung. 3rd Ed. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1985), p. 41
8.       For this reason at the beginning of each new work phase the artist supplies statements which attempt to articulate the starting point and the possible, foreseeable direction of the process. Cf. A. Sauerborn, Statements. In: Katalog (Ludwigshafen: Städtische Kunstsammlungen, 1972) pp. 14 -15; A.S., statement 1975. In: H. Heissenbüttel/B. Kerber/ J. Ahrens, Aen Sauerborn – 32 Zeichnungen. R. Haarmann, ed. (Leutesdorf: Haarmann, 1975) p. 23; A.S., „Der Raum in meinen Bildern“ Kunstreport. Informationsblatt Deutscher Künstlerbund Berlin, No. 1/2, 45 – 46 (1978); A.S., Text zur Ausstellung Kunstlandschaft Bundesrepublik in der Overbeck-Gesellschaft Lübeck. (unpublished manuscript, 1984)
9.       On the development of a series of picture structures from a composition sketch, cf. J. Ahrens, On Sauerborn’s working Method. In: Katalog zur Ausstellung: Aen Sauerborn. Paintings, Screenprints, Sculpture. (Unna: Kunstverein, 1973) pp. 38- 42
10.    E. Sauer-Kirchlinne, Schlüsselbilder. (unpublished manuscript, 1988) p. 3
11.    Compare the series 4/1978 in: Katalog zur Ausstellung: Aen Sauerborn. 8 Bilder – 4 Räume. Neue Arbeiten. (Koblenz: Galerie Juergen Ahrens, 1978) pp. 10, 11
12.    8 times 45 degrees = 360 degrees
13.    Cf. Sauerborn (1978) [8] p. 45
14.    Josef Albers has differentiated the physical organisation of the picture surface with the term „factual facts“ from its effect in the viewer, the “actual facts“. This conceptual distinctioh is at the same time the physiological nucleus of a transcending division between the aesthetics of production and of reception. If the factual facts of the pictures and sculptures refuse to open themselves to the viewer initially and thereafter, than the work of Aen Sauerborn can be characterised by the radical experience of the difference between production and reception. The work is therefore at the same time a plea for a reception- aesthetics approach, as has been formulated e.g. by Hans R. Jauß. The misgivings which sound through in Panofsky result from his conviction that it is possible to arrive at “objective“ statements about arthistory subjects by pursuing a methodically reflected path, hence to describe a „correct“ reception form. But it is precisely this which Aen Sauerborn do not consider legitimate, and her pictures and sculptures are her counter-argument here. For Schleiermacher, for instance, it was natural to overcome and permanently suspend this difference in a divinatory act of comprehension with regard to each work of art. However in view of the colour organisation of the pictures of Aen Sauerborn this “divination“ collapses time and again. Admittedly anticipating pre-understanding is always and repeatedly required. But it is always only confirmed or corrected for an instant. Hence at the same time the new type of „reception in disparsal“ so euphorically celebrated by Walter Benjamin is lost in her works (and perhaps altogether ?). Cf. H. R. Jauß, Ästhetische Erfahrung und literarische Hermeneutik. Band I: Versuche im Feld dar ästhetischen Erfahrung. (Munich: Fink, 1977); E. Panofsky, Zum Problem der Beschreibung und Inhaltsdeutung von Werken der bildenden Kunst (1932). In: id., Aufsätze zu Grundfragen der Kunstwissenschaft. H. Oberer and E. Verheyen, edd. 2nd Ed. (Berlin: Hessling, 1974) p. 97; W. Benjamin, Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit (1936). Drei Studien zur Kunstsoziologie. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1963) p. 46; K. Honnef, Zu den Bildern Aen Sauerborns. In: Katalog (1978) [11] pp. 5 – 8, especially p. 6.
15.    G. Ch. Rump, “Von der Arbeit das Sehens. Notizen zu Aen Sauerborn“ Kunst-Nachrichten 15, No. 2, 42 (1979)
16.    Sauerborn (1975) [8] p. 23
17.    E. Sauer-Kirchlinne, Aen Sauerborn, Bilder – Skulpturen. In: Begegnungen III. Kunst in Rheinland-Pfalz (Landau i.d. Pfalz: Pfälzische Verlagsanstalt, 1987) p. 75. In my opinion Lessing’s constructed categories in Laokoon 1766 of simultaneity and successiveness are not generally suitable for distinguishing between the receptiveness of visual arts and literature. They are quite evidently an iconological index of an essentialistic interpretation of world.
18.    This is certainly to be understood as a recourse on Kant’s „Vernunftkritik“ which discusses time as a „pure form of sensuous consideration“ in transcendental aesthetics (B47). Insofar as they trigger off a return of the acquisition and perceptive process on itself, the pictures and sculptures of Aen Sauerborn are „reflection pieces“. cf. Sauerborn (1978) [8]
19.    R. Rosenblum, Die moderne Malerei und die Tradition der Romantik. From C. D. Friedrich zu Mark Rothko. [Modern Painting and the Northern Romantic Tradition 1975]. (Munich: Schirmer-Mosel, 1981) p. 221; there related to William Blake and Barnett Newman.
20.    R. Arnheim, Die Macht der Mitte (The Power of the Center. 1982). Eine Kompositionslehre für die bildenden Künste. (Cologne: DuMont, 1983) p. 121 and passim; my thanks to E. Sauer-Kirchlinne for this reference.
21.    For: sculptures are always simply our cognitions of sculptures.
22.    Sauer-Kirchlinne [17] p. 78
23.    In this connection consider the linking of immaterialism and „form-obsession“ in Brancusi, for instance in Muse endormi II (polished bronze, 1926) or La négresse (polished bronze, 1933)
24.    Sauer-Kirchlinne [17] p. 78
25.    B. Kerber, Über Aen Sauerborn. In: H. Heissenbüttel/ B. Kerber / J. Ahrens [8] pp. 13 – 18, here p. 16