In Search of Nothing

After having focused my artwork on mural projects in private and public spaces, a few years ago I found it impossible to take up the conventional painting on canvas again.
The murals I had painted were very much linked to the specific site. The condition of the wall, as real space and support material in one, had a great bearing on the development of the paintings – not only formally but also in terms of content and meaning.
The process of working was dominated by a dialogue between my artistic proposal and the site-specific situation I was confronted with.
I suddenly had the feeling that it was presumptuous to make a formal declaration of intent without taking into account the reality I was dealing with: namely, the support material, that is my real counterpart in terms of dialogue.
On a blank canvas everything is possible and nothing is necessary.

I didn’t want to miss the dialogue between my ideas and the possibilities provided by the material. It seems to me that it is more interesting and more enriching to be surprised every now and then by an unanticipated outcome and the subsequent need to react coherently with one’s own ideas. For me, in a way, this process-based way of working is very close to life.

The wall-painting projects required a big effort in regard of organisation and time. Looking for a more manageable support material, I discovered that used fabric could be employed as an alternative real space for my artistic intervention.
Just like with walls, time has left its mark on textiles; sometimes more, sometimes less visible, but always in some way perceptible.
I selected blankets, table cloths and sheets with graphic structures as support for my paintings, yet never used clothes, since their specific forms tend to emphasise a sculptural aspect that holds no interest for me. The square form of a sheet in contrast makes reference to a picture without being a traditional painting on canvas.

Even though a textile is being used as support material for painting it still retains its own physical properties: its own weight causes it to hang down, the application of many layers of paint makes it stiff, etc.
I consider it important to conserve this proper reaction of the material and so I do not mount my paintings over a stretcher and I often even decide not to frame them, as this would mean forcing them into a shape or space that does not correspond to them.
A fabric with a graphic structure streched over a frame automatically evokes our identification of it as a picture. My intention is for the fabric to become a picture merely by the act of painting on it. This is why I`d rather talk of paintings than pictures.
It is only when the painted textile becomes too much of an object, that I frame it in subtle manner so as to eliminate the sculptural reference.

The artistic intervention on the fabric consists basically of painting. Nevertheless recently I developed a way of working in which I interfere directly with the support material. The pieces that originate in this process are manipulations of material structures inherent to the textile due to the eloboration process (whether knitting, weaving, etc).

My graphic works are less tactile; here I focus my attention on different printed drawings or patterns on paper (mostly in black-and-white). I act out manipulations of these patterns by covering, scraching off or superimposing them. The final result is the disintegration of a structure with the aim of creating a new arrangement in which certain details are picked out.

The structures

Structures are constant repetitions of one or a group of elements that build up a homogeneous surface, in which the unique element with its specific attributes looses its protagonism.
Repetition generally serves to emphasise and reinforce a statement with regard to the element. A structure, therefore can be considered to be a repetitive formal statement – in other words, clearly positivist.
Included within a structure, the function of each unique element is to maintain the cohesion of the whole, with its individuality subordinated to the greatest possible uniformity.
In order to restore the individuality of the unique elements of a structure and, along with this, its inherent richness of possible interpretations, the detail has to be abstracted from its surroundings and released in an open space.

The Nothing

My fascination with the issue of Nothing arose when I began to apply the process of deconstruction in the acoustic field.
In short sound-collages I worked out certain acoustic details from recordings of commonplace noises in my day-to-day surroundings. Using special software programs I filtered the little sounds which, because they were embedded the common noise, would not be heard at all.
But isolated from their noisy surrounding, they could be perceived as autonomous sounds in all their beauty.

The Nothing is basically perceived as the absence of something (silence as the absence of sound, and void or emptiness as the absence of objects, meaning or emotions). It is therefore mostly considered to be something negative.
The absolute Nothing in terms of philosophical, theological and physical investigation is the absence of all existence and can only be described through aproximation by means of elimination; an enumeration of all that it is not.
The question arises whether Nothing is a post-destructive concept as being the end of all or, on the contrary, a pre-constructive concept as being the origin of all that comes into being. Or is it -after all, both one and the other as being a specific stage of an eternal cycle?

My artwork is an effort to make Nothing perceivable, to show that there is a difference not only in meaning, but also in a formal sense, between a void that results from the disappearance or destruction of something and a void from which originates something.
In order to perceive Nothing we always need a referential element that is disappearing in or emerging from this void.
The Nothing that I create is the meticulous deconstruction of given structures. After thoroughly analysing the unique elements and their connections to each other, I break these connections (e.g. by covering them with paint) and expose certain details. The act of analysing the pattern and its formal details is fundamental in the procedure. My working process starts with observation, leads to comprehension and ends with destruction (even though, due to the meticulousness of the work, I would rather say deconstruction, for it mostly lacks the violence evoked by the term destruction). Once a comprehension has been achieved of the given structure, it can be reduced in order to sculp out the essential elements. This is like undoing the creative process step by step, that is, negative painting.
Theoretically, therefore this void would be considered as “post-destructive” in nature. Nevertheless, the formal appearance of the details that are sculpted from the former structure or pattern have the ambiguous aspect of something that emerges rather then something that disappears.

Svantje Bußhoff 2008