Joel Fisher

Joel Fisher’s linked drawings and sculptures subtly explore an area of the exhibition space between the second and third dimensions. The work can be comprehended logically up to a certain point. but then something snaps, and unfathomable reaches of space open up for interpretation. Fisher’s severe conceptual compositional modes do not restrict perception, then, but establish fixed points, rules of the game, within which viewers can embark on their own expeditions. In one section of this show, the rules were directly illustrated by the confrontation of four sculptures with the drawings from which they originated, making the interdependence of sculpture and drawing immediately clear. These dependencies or interrelationships comprise the pivot around which the whole oeuvre revolves.

Fisher’s sculptures are neither representational nor abstract in the usual sense of either term. Their origin lies in his drawings, which in turn grow out of the irregularities in his own handmade paper. The tiny specks of matter woven into a piece of paper in the fabrication process, the fibers of felt that stick to it while it’s drying—Fisher depicts such tiny, accidental configurations as these, in enlarged form, on the same sheet of paper in which they occur. The chance element takes on a precise shape; what was undefined is developed into a definite sign, but a sign with no meaning, a sign that is only itself.

In the normal process of visual perception we constantly compare signs with familiar forms in order to classify them and give them meaning. The sign is thus pulled into a force field in which it must constantly assert its autonomy against the viewer, who essentially wants to see in it what he or she already knows. On top of this, we interpret two-dimensional drawings as projections of a three-dimensional reality with the greatest of ease—mostly unconsciously, in fact—as if to do so were the most natural thing in the world. Fisher stands this mechanism of perception on its head; he takes the chance structure, makes of it a definite sign, and searches in a kind of backward projection for the sculpture that might represent such a configuration in three dimensions. Line becomes a possible edge or outline, surface a potential volume, recess, or bump. A precisely delineated paradigm thus becomes the starting point for countless potential structures. The “apograph,” as Fisher calls his drawings, can give birth to numerous apostasies and digressions in every direction; Fisher’s sculptures range over a wide spectrum of forms, for the drawings, of course, give no clue as to medium, color, or size of the three-dimensional object. The sculpture grows freely out of the artist’s reservoir of personal associations and confronts the viewer with a very intimate vision of a kind of reverse side of the graphic projection.

Having discovered the dialogue between the sculpture and the drawing, the viewer may explore the sculpture in search of other drawings, perceiving the three-dimensional object as if it were two-dimensional. The drawings in turn may be seen as if they were solid. Thus a frustrating situation arises in which nothing remains quite what it is; the everyday, un-self-conscious process of abstraction that shapes our mode of percept ion suddenly stands at the center of our conscious attention. This preoccupation with the distinctions and relationships within a display of forms and figures, and with the viewer’s own capacity to generate images, awakens the senses. The qualities of the artist’s handmade paper in its own right, the delicacy of his drawings, and his subtle use of sculptural materials reveal their own seductions. On a level of consciousness that allows no possible confusion with emotionalism, Fisher evokes the poetry or nature of things. We find ourselves in a strange intermediate realm between the sensually perceptible, unequivocal manifestations of the second dimension and those of the third, between drawing and sculpture, flat and solid. And this in-between space becomes a place where reality and perception meet, a place where reality is revealed to be perception, and perception, reality.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.