Bern

Lisa Milroy/Bethan Huws

Kunsthalle Bern

Maybe it was only a byproduct of these dog days, but the white grounds in Lisa Milroy’s paintings suddenly seemed to turn into imaginary snowscapes. For an instant, they were transformed into white, soft, indeed cloudy covers, on which the lovingly painted everyday objects seemed to rest gently. Before a work entitled Sailors’ Caps, 1985, consisting of five stacked rows of five sailors’ caps with dark visors, my heat-induced mirage clued me into the unobserved spatiality of these paintings. At first, each row of caps gained its own spatial depth and identity; then, seen in terms of the totality, each individual cap gained its own presence and surrounding space within the overall composition.

This tendency to individualize the specific objects is underscored by the application of pigment, which counteracts the underlying, systematic composition. At first sight, one might think that the artist practiced the familiar method of visual repetition, whereby objects are isolated and neutralized. Milroy’s approach, however, cannot be reduced to this simple model. Not only does she allow the object its own individual existence, she also paradoxically appears to bestow an individual stamp on her systems of pictorial composition, which seem to correspond to the objects rather than being merely plunked down upon them. This does not necessarily mean that this logic can be explained rationally in every case. By whatever means a given composition develops in her work, her method is highly intuitive. In some of the subjects—for example Japanese Prints, 1986, Greek Vases, 1989, or Stamps, 1990—the grid arrangement is determined by the depicted objects, almost as a matter of course. This also demonstrates the extent to which the composition functions as a second and self-contained pictorial reality. For while Prints or Stamps offers a normal disposition of flat objects on a plane, the Greek vases, arranged according to the same visual principle, turn into unreal, hovering manifestations. In her latest works, the figurative pictorial objects are replaced by strokes or geometric shapes that reveal the composition as the pictorial entity, exposing the ultimately unintelligible abstract system that lurks behind familiar reality.

Aside from the fact that various realities are cogently interwoven in a highly restrained fashion, there is no appreciable similarity between Bethan Huws’ installations and Milroy’s paintings. Each oeuvre makes its own individual claim, yet together they form a harmonious ensemble. Huws’ installation related to the three ground-floor rooms of the Kunsthalle; the symmetry of the two narrow tracts, which flank the almost square middle space, is transferred to this center room. In four places in these three rooms, the artist laid a slightly higher second parquet floor over the normal one, which ran against its grain. This addition transformed the large center room into a passageway between the smaller exhibition spaces. The higher parquet floor discreetly blocks the main entrance, compelling visitors to walk around through the side wings. This detour provides them with a new and unexpected spatial experience, whereby the circular shift transforms the three rooms into one concept.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.