Bernard Voïta, Jalousie I (Venetian Blinds I), 2017, thermo-lacquered steel, 91 3/8 × 51 1/8 × 96 1/2“ (open), 70 7/8 × 51 1/8 × 2 3/4” (closed).

Bernard Voïta, Jalousie I (Venetian Blinds I), 2017, thermo-lacquered steel, 91 3/8 × 51 1/8 × 96 1/2“ (open), 70 7/8 × 51 1/8 × 2 3/4” (closed).

Bernard Voïta

Bernard Voïta, Jalousie I (Venetian Blinds I), 2017, thermo-lacquered steel, 91 3/8 × 51 1/8 × 96 1/2“ (open), 70 7/8 × 51 1/8 × 2 3/4” (closed).

Two unexpected objects awaited us at the entrance to Bernard Voïta’s exhibition “Hétérotopies (Heterotopias).” On the left wall, a ribbon of shiny red metal folded out into the room from a metal frame like a bizarre relief. Angled on hinges, it changed direction several times only to return to the structure anchoring it. It was as if a line zigzagging across a luminous painting had attempted a daring escape into the third dimension before being folded back into the picture’s two-dimensional surface. This was Jalousie I (Venetian Blinds I, all works 2017). The name alludes to a Venetian blind, and thus to the movements of drawing up and down, of opening and closing. On the opposite wall, another foldable image-object, Jalousie II, was shown closed, condensed into an almost flat monochrome painting in portrait format. Exactly how this piece would spill out into space, were we to handle and unfold it, was left to visitors’ imaginations. 

Voïta’s three-dimensional and photographic works reveal an ongoing preoccupation with moments of transition, both between spaces and surfaces, and between different spaces. For him, one dimension can never be experienced without the others. He first became known for his images of rooms containing everyday objects arranged in highly complex patterns. At first sight, these pictures seem to be simple compositions in black-and-white that resolve themselves into architectural views or abstract patterns on a single illusionistic surface. It is only on closer inspection that a playfully chaotic world of things, with all its nooks and crannies, becomes apparent—a world that first produces this effect before dissolving it. Voïta is a seductive spatial game. But the artist calls his latest series of black-and-white ink-jet prints “Melencolia,” alluding to the objects that lie scattered and untouched, as if devoid of any usefulness, at the feet of Dürer’s famous allegory of melancholy (1514). The way Voïta’s picture surface is broken up into light and dark areas is reminiscent of both the geometrical form of the polyhedron in Dürer’s engraving, and the ladder that divides its visual composition. 

Herbier populaire” (Common Herbarium), the third group of works in “Hétérotopies,” consists of six color photographs of pressed plants stuck to paper. These displays take on a haunting cast as captured under enigmatic, colored light, which seems to permeate the plants’ delicate and fragile structures from every side, even from behind. The supporting surface of the paper suddenly seems to be a sort of fluid where no purchase can be found. The plants, affixed for the purpose of identification and study, start to slip away from the time of their preservation and into a precarious and almost filmic moment of appearance.

The exhibition’s title opened up broader fields of association both for individual works and for the show as a whole. Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopias evokes a hybrid spatiality, generated by heterogeneous geographies and by rituals of opening and closing. Notions of secrecy and exposure are also found in the other meaning of the French word jalousie: Male possessiveness is said to have motivated the invention of the window blind, which allowed women in harems a fleeting glimpse of the street, while at the same time keeping them out of sight. But Voïta’s Jalousies do not induce or assuage any jealousy. They both conceal and reveal space, with the aim of making it available again as an analog sphere of imagination and possibilities beyond all virtual worlds. 

Hans Rudolf Reust 

Translated from German by Nathaniel McBride.