Micha Payer geboren 1979 in Wolfsberg; Martin Gabriel geboren 1976 in Linz; leben und arbeiten in Wien
Christine König Galerie, Wien
The visual worlds of Micha Payer and Martin Gabriel have been characterized for many years by complex interdisciplinary thinking. Scientific knowledge, philosophical and psychological issues play just as much of a part as sociological or cultural references do. They make use of the cultural larder of past and present – mixing high science with popular scientific ingredients. “Complexity characterises our being and the world in which we live. Everything living walks a fine line between chaos and order. It follows certain organising principles and regularities that define and rule us in manifold ways, from the blueprint of nature to the cultural code of behaviour. What interests us is how complexity can be aesthetically represented” 1.
The primary medium of both artists is drawing, which always arises in their joint work process, without there being an individual, recognizable signature of one or the other. They have been living and working together since their student days. Dialogue determines the way they work. Their drawings are always preceded by an intensive planning phase. Searches undertaken in literature and on the Internet are mentally scanned, explored, and interwoven with personal reflections. Until a while ago their work often seemed like phenomenological image studies on diverse themes, in some with one rebus chasing another. The flood of images and information technology of our time has been, so to say, reflected analogously in content and form. Using crayon on paper, they piece together fragmented aspects of a thematic area in a minute, graphically very precise reproduction, like a collage, to form a network of associations and links. In more recent work the artist couple have broken up the labyrinth structure. They now extract particular subject matter and have also formally altered their approach. Currently they are using sheets of A4 which are primed with ink except for a narrow white border. These coloured areas form the background on which they draw their chosen motif with pencil. The use of A4, the most common international standard format, stands on the one hand for the advance of global standardization; but it also produces a grid of individual modules that can be re-arranged in the form of puzzle pieces arbitrarily and as if by accident.
For their exhibition project in the Zeppelin Museum Friedrichshafen, the focus is to a certain extent on the everyday, as well as unusual celestial phenomena that they interpret metaphorically; it is being held on the completion of their residency, which took place during the past few months and was funded by a scholarship granted by the ZF Art Foundation. Their starting point is the iron meteorite Hraschina, which fell from the sky at the place of the same name near Zagreb on 26 May 1751. This meteorite fall was among the first to be scientifically investigated; the 39-kilogram piece of iron provided the foundation stone for the world’s oldest and largest public collection of meteorites in the Vienna Natural History Museum. Payer Gabriel translate this celestial stone into an over dimensioned, detailed pencil rendition that is made up of 100 pastel colour primed sheets of A4.
Meteorites are solid bodies of cosmic origin that collide with the Earth after their flight through the atmosphere. They represent the oldest material of our solar system and offer the only direct terrestrial approach to researching its formative phase 2. Mysterious celestial bodies, they suddenly and unexpectedly appear in the firmament with great effect, before immediately slamming into the Earth with a mighty bang and smoke. It is no wonder that such rare, spectacular events have fired the imagination of people since time immemorial: a good or bad omen, fertility symbol, or portent of imminent apocalypse. Approaches to them vary in many cultures and have changed throughout the centuries. The mysteriousness of meteorites has inspired scientists, artists, and writers equally. Even Albrecht Dürer concerned himself with astronomical phenomena, painting on the back of his picture Büßender Hl. Hieronymus (St Jerome in Penitence, c. 1497) an extraordinary apocalyptic celestial phenomenon, which is often regarded in the history of art as the first known autonomous representation of a comet or meteorite. Although scientifically meteorites have hardly any secrets left, in the world of art they have not lost any of their fascination.
For Micha Payer and Martin Gabriel, meteorites are the epitome of the foreigner within oneself. “Man”, they write, “is physically composed, so to say, of star dust; there are scientific theories about meteorites having brought to Earth the building bricks for life. Nevertheless the meteorite is a foreign body that comes to us from the depths of the universe. At the same time it is also an uncertain moment, the epitome not just of the foreigner but also of the fall event (Fall), in particular of the accidental (Zufall)” 3. Hence they call their drawings Apologie des Zufälligen (In Defense of the Accidental). This title is taken from the work 4 of the same name by the German philosopher Odo Marquard, and also serves as a collective name for an extensive series of drawings, several of which are being shown in the exhibition. In his complex essay on the accidental, Marquard differentiates between arbitrary accidents that we can change, and fateful accidents that we cannot alter. “We are always more our accidents than our accomplishments” 5, runs the often-quoted phrase, meaning that our life is determined more by fateful accidents than by the much vaunted free choice. Marquard is however of the conviction that the accidental is the guarantor of human freedom. Because every attempt to force human existence into the corset of a saviour ideology, thereby excluding the accidental, inevitably ends in totalitarianism. Certainly, according to Marquard, meteorite hits fall into the category of fateful accidents that can suddenly and unexpectedly have a major influence on our lives.
In their series of artworks Apologie des Zufälligen, another cosmic rock plays a role: the Holsinger Meteorite. This is a fragment of the Canyon Diablo meteorite that on impact produced the gigantic Barringer Crater in Arizona in the USA. Only fairly small parts remain, the best known being the Holsinger Fragment, which Payer Gabriel have been addressing in a series of drawings. With the sub-title Doppelgänger each of these precise pencil drawings takes up three coloured sheets of A4. The seemingly random drips of ink on the paper are in contrast to the exact drawing. Only detective work can reveal that the artists are portraying the meteorite from different perspectives. Variations of the same motif and the principle of repetition have been a central theme in their work for some time. Repetitions in art, where they are not seen as the recognition of a certain artistic signature, are often viewed with suspicion: they raise doubt about the originality – tied to the cult of genius of the 19th century – in the sense of uniqueness, progress, or innovation. Yet especially in the age of copy & paste questions about the relationship of original and copy, and the significance of reproduction or authorship take on new relevance. According to the Austrian philosopher Konrad Paul Liessmann, in art it is important: “in the repetition to make a decisive difference, and in the difference to make the repetition visible. […] If the aspect of repetition can no longer be recognized, what remains is ‘original nonsense’, as Kant once called it – a uniqueness that remains ultimately meaningless.“ 6 After all repetitions define nature: only then can laws be derived. They structure our way of thinking, acting, and our existence, and are therefore a basic constituent.
A central object of their exhibition in the Zeppelin Museum is a sculpture – Monolithen und Idioten – made out of 28 aluminium castings of a piece of driftwood from Lake Constance. Flotsam, from driftwood to bits of fabric, is something Payer Gabriel also seize on in other drawings from the series. For example, based on the Belgian biochemist and Nobel Prize winner Christian De Duve’s theory of the cosmic imperative 7, in their drawing of the same name they carefully arrange different pieces of wood side by side like chemical elements, as if seeking a biological classification. In Monolithen und Idioten Payer Gabriel mount aluminium castings of a small piece of wood on poles in a cloud-like formation. Metallic heaviness is symbolically combined with airy lightness. The cloud motif – in the exhibition even their Hraschina meteorite bursts asunder into a cloud-like construct – is seen by Micha Payer and Martin Gabriel as a metaphor for our time. Clouds are an epitome of the ephemeral, the short-term, of the ever changing. And what categories could better encompass the rapid transformation of our world? Looked at this way, the metaphor of the cloud quickly becomes a sensitive seismograph of social sensitivities. Through global interdependence the reality of our life is constantly becoming more complex and less transparent. Associated with work processes based on economic efficiency, we increasingly have the feeling – anticipated by Franz Kafka – that the world is determined by anonymous proceedings that are negotiated behind closed doors and can no longer be controlled. The feeling of being overburdened is becoming widespread, leading to inner withdrawal. In this sense, for Payer Gabriel the figure of the Idiot serves as a synonym for the social outsider who escapes from the pressure of communication and conformity. “The work can be understood as a poetic reference to escapism. The etymological meaning of the title and the symbolic charge of the find is meant to open up the spectrum of possibilities and perspectives of escapism. Turning one’s back on the world, not taking part in social life, and isolation may be compelled by a society that aims at assimilation; or else brought about through fear of the new, the unknown, or the foreign. And escapism can also be understood as a reaction to the increasing demands of a globalized, highly complex and totally networked world – as a self-defense mechanism against it” 8.