Peter Weibel

Galerie Grita Insam

The annual Vienna festival is regularly accompanied by large-scale exhibitions; this year’s is entitled “Bildlicht: Malerei zwischen Material und Immaterialität” (Picture-light: painting between materiality and immateriality), and curated by Peter Weibel together with Wolfgang Drechsler. Concurrently, Weibel and Kasper König organized a group show. “Das Bild nach dem letzten Bild” (The picture after the last picture), which attempts to locate the meaning of easel painting today. Parallel to these two efforts as curator and theoretician, Weibel showed his own works. His artistic and theoretical positions are linked to the information media—computers and videos. In the language of information technology, scanning refers to the technique of reading dots and/or lines of an object and processing the results. In a direct visual translation, the objects shown in this exhibition make visible this process of dissolving things into scannable fragments. The things—ranging from a traditional painting to a door, a chair, a crucifix, a rolling pin, a wall—are cut up into single panes. Between the object strips there is always a panel of Plexiglas, so that the individual parts, shifted and slightly moved, are combined into a new image. The viewer may change his or her position to focus the images, but these efforts are futile: once the whole has shattered into parts, numerous variations for random changes are possible, but no path is laid out for returning to its initial state, to a coherent totality.

No viewing can ignore the fact that the digital code equalizes fundamental distinctions, which used to be taken for granted when looking at a painting. In the virtual space of data technology, paintings are reprocessed just as sculptures are, images of reality are designed and altered, and even the difference between image and language is eliminated. In the exhibitions cocurated by Weibel, the theme is painting, for painting is shaken at its foundation. Nor can sculptures and objects be excluded. If everyday objects and icons are put on an equal level, then the technological egalitarianism is accompanied by its pictorial translation. A further result is that the objects dissolve into information units that are drained of meaning. Weibel poses the question: What meanings can paintings “still” convey? Or: What can the dissolution of images mean to us? Or vice versa: What can the faith in objects still mean to us? Weibel’s “Scanned Objects” demand an assignment of value through fragmentation, through the possibility of random deformation, as well as through random combination. Sloughing off their traditional values and distinctions, the elements of reality can be reused and re-questioned. Fragmentation is seen as the prerequisite for a dialogue about objects—how art can avail itself of data technology for artistic purposes.

Initially, concepts such as immateriality, information technology, and scanning exclude values that traditionally have been used to describe visual art. Weibel is interested in the approaches and conditions of production influenced by new media and technologies, and a classical oil painting that is broken down into tiny panels certainly demands new and very different ways of looking at it. It demands a reflective contemplation of the picture, a viewing that can satisfy the simultaneity of the space of the life-world (known earlier simply as reality) and the spaces of information.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.