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Monique Thomaes: textcollections

Angelika Stepken

– augen blenden – 1998
published in "de passage monique thomaes" vice versa verlag berlin 1998
translation by John Epstein

 

 

couchée
... forward: In the monitor a granular image. Not black-white, but shaded lightly blue. At first glance, perplexity: more than three quarters of the picture's surface reveal nothing more than abstract diffusion. For a brief moment the image remains. With the first movement, which is more similar to a jolt, the eye focuses on some dark patches located at the screen's left edge. The patches become identifiable as a closed eye, filmed from the side, and beneath is the beginning of the nose bridge. The remainder of the image may now be viewed as a face, the surface of which does not reveal itself to be skin, but rather a disintegrating, shapeless mass – boundlessness, in the borders of the screen. The face, or rather this unfamiliarized view of it, shifts, though only in very small degrees, further and further. A tender, intimate close-up. The movement of the picture is strangely discontinuous. Does this shot portray natural movement or rhythm, perhaps even that of human breath? Or does the montaged, pictorial material simply repeat itself? During the period of this frame, the body depicted remains on the equally dangerous as well as relaxed threshold between object and absence, a subject incapable of being captured. The sound track serves to double this ambiguous impression – normal sounds in synchronic time, or mechanical re-production? – The camera observes a sleeping person. In a close-up, her contours fade during motion. Owing to its technical programming, the apparatus both records and then immediately manipulates. The film's granulation cor responds to a precise norm. Coloring and cut are carried out on the stored data. Infinite repetitions are conceivable. The technical image pauses for a moment and then gives time to the film. The glance through objective or viewfinder always keeps its distance, even if it seeks proximity. The voyeur does not touch; he is touched by the presence of distance and the past of proximity. The camera gives birth to a delirium between control and withdrawal of the object. The video cut is omnipotent in its ability to generate new time …

 

heute
… back: In the beginning a sculpture stood here: quadratic four by four glass plates were supported twelve centimeters above the floor by five by five wooden cubes: a strict geometric order comprised of single components and which is, in principle, expandable. Formally and materially the work combines dichotomies: bodies and surfaces, opaque and transparent materials, and the principles of the post-and-lintel system. It is without a pedestal – unless one would like to consider the load-bearing wooden cubes as a pedestal, even though they are integrated into the sculpture. One observes the sculpture from above and consequently sees the levels of glass-plates as creating ambiguity too: they lead one's glance down towards the floor while at the same time displaying the pictorial qualities of a reflecting surface. Another aspect of the sculpture's visual impression is created by light: it both falls through the glass plates and is reflected back by them; it becomes absorbed by the black wooden cubes. Material and immaterial appearances balance each other out. In addition to this minimalist quality, the sculpture also has something playful about it, like a box of building blocks which, in a manner of reduction or extension, can be added to and built upon in numerous ways.

 

räume
A year later, 1992, Monique Thomaes constructed another installation in an at that time still not renovated room belonging to the "Hackesche Höfe". The glass plates now lie closely together and directly on the floor thereby forming a large jointed area which allows only a narrow space of maneuverability about the room. This work no longer has any sculptural, corporeal character; rather, it now refers to the volume and surface of the given room as well as to the room's exterior space. The supporting capacity of the architectural base is visually canceled out; the glass covered floor becomes the room's picture/the picture's room. It is both a sensitive substance and a mirroring surface. The glass reflects both inner and outer space: the ceiling, the radiator, the mullion and transom, the building on the opposite side of the street. Owing to the glass plates' beveled edges, the reflection is distorted and broken up. The empty room invites one to peek in. It is illuminated by natural light changing according to whether conditions and the sun's position during different times of the day and thereby permitting the reflection on the floor to wander. Time moves the transparency, almost as a photograph, or a moving image. It is simply that this supporting material, or rather the medium used in this room installation, has not the storage capacity of celluloid; therefore manipulation of the image is not possible …

 

point de vue
… forward: The figures appear like white shades of themselves, sections left blank, a negative. Groups of figures move in different directions, advancing toward or away from one another. The room is not identifiable; one could speak of the interior of a room with a window front and then go on to speculate that a group of people has assembled here for some specific occasion. So much for the initial situation, the givens. The situation in the film is another: bodies are deleted out to light contours. Their series of movements are dissected into several long image sequences which are played back in either direction, forward and backward. The cuts represent caesuras in time and, as such, are visible. Movement in space mutates to technical movement in time. There is the time span of the video-tape (ten minutes), and there is the discontinuous time created by the broken, jagged movements which, freed from progression in actual space, drive to insanity since these images no longer spring from technical necessity but rather from pure, technically feasible, imagination. Cold, frozen time assembled piece by piece. The figures of the negative freeze in reproduction, then dissolve in fuzziness. The white shadows liquefy to a fall-out of light …

… back: In the Pergamon Museum Monique Thomaes observes how window and curtains, even the passing of the elevated train, are reflected in the glass of the exhibition display cases. Hence to her the display cases themselves appear to be ideal sculptures, transparent bodies, in that they simultaneously reveal the extensiveness of space, the outer space external to them, and even that true exterior space which is reflected via the glass pains of the window. The object undergoes a multiplication and a synchronism of appearance, the selective cognition and focalization of which are left up to the observer.

 

au lieu de
The year is 1995; the place is the "Parochialkirche" in the district Berlin-Mitte; in church's dome structure, which at that time was being used for cultural events and in a tempo-rary state of renovation, Thomaes placed for her exhibition no less than twelve nearly empty museum display cases before the church's windows. Beneath the tulip glass lay, respectively, two blue-tinted glass plates and, placed at an angle above these, two transparent plates. If one leant over to curiously examine the presentation, one would discover nothing substantial, no sumptuous tidbits worthy of display or preservation, but rather pure light appearances, reflections of the room – a "light sculpture" with its multifarious splinterings and reflections. From sculptures of metal to those of light – so could one describe Monique Thomaes' artistic evolution during her early years in Berlin. The solid material of sculpture, which is meant to be welded and hammered together, has become dismantled, at first formally, according to its components and the various qualities of the materials: light vs. heavy, transparent vs. opaque. It is by means of this separation that the sculpture's mass consequently opens up itself to space as well as to image; light becomes a compositional factor included with all its intrinsic qualities of coincidence. Natural light brings time into play; in other words: images that change, movement …

… repeat: Monique Thomaes used real mirrors only in the installations "Blauäugig“ and "V-ivre“. In all other instances, the quality of reflection has been provided by glass which, on one hand, visually binds the mass/the surface of a sculpture to the surrounding room while simultaneously transposing the room, altering it into an image which is subject to distortions, blurriness, and transformations. The reflecting quality of glass is dubious insofar as it immaterially pulls onto its surface volumes, bodies, and space. These reflections double identities while simultaneously binding them to time. A turning away from the mirror changes the picture, draws it away. This aspect of turning both around and away is similar to various other central situations in Thomaes' works: for example, the processes of disappearance owing to either under or over exposure of light, the exaggeration of picture resolution, or interruption in the time span of a video. By means of doubling a picture in a mirror is multiplicity proposed. Yet in this respect Monique Thomaes does not use the perniciousness of a fun house's reflecting mirrors. She multiplies in time itself and this, consequently, is repetition. The repetition of time as it can be practiced and modulated by video-tape becomes dramatically applied by her ad absurdum. Time is technically stopped, extended, multiplied, quickened, choreographed – it breaks out of the sequence of tense and becomes simply the time of seeing. As a consequence of such a procedure, the binding of vision to the picture can sometimes be driven to the boundary of the durable…

 

hombre
… forward: A hysterical body in the image. A male torso turns from the side to frontally face the camera. The picture detail reveals only the section of his body from under the shoulder down to the hips. Colors are manipulated. The negative version of the celluloid creates the effect of exaggerated fading out. The body vanishes in an amplitude of a radiant dissolving. In the center of the picture a red object shines seductively; it is a sash winding itself around the man's torso. He dresses himself. A torero. He assumes a posture. Standing up straight, he places his right hand upon his sashed front side at the level of his stomach. From the side he revolves to face the camera frontally. And again. And again. And again. The movements become reduced in time, in the filmed material. Now he turns just a fraction from the side, yet all that much faster. Then again from the front; that is, from the beginning to the end – the time span of a half turn of the body. A two minute tape. Seduction through beauty and decay mutates from phases of technical omnipotence-fantasies to those of anguish and militant prejudice in a placeless regimentation of movement. End of film …

 

… back: 1997. Among other works, Monique Thomaes also completes the three video tapes "Hombre", "Point De Vue", and "Couchée". She has lived in Berlin for ten years; she has been an artist for much longer. Before she moved to Berlin, the last sculptural works she created were in metal. Then followed sculptures from wood and glass, then room installations, then in 1992 the first photographic works, and since 1995 she has primarily created video tapes and installations. At the beginning of the catalog (which instead of being organized in a chronological manner, groups her works according chapters of creation) is an illustration of a free-standing sculpture located in "Künstlerhaus Bethanien"; the last illustrations in the catalogue display individual frames from the 1997 video production "Point de Vue". If one wanted to concisely connect these two points of her artistic biography and, in an analogous manner, span a kind of bridge, one could maintain that out of the serial components of the sculpture developed the successive pictures of a film sequence: her sculpture's transparent glass, which possessed transparency and qualities of mirror-like reflection, has now become the celluloid stripe or magnetic tape. Light, in the way that a free-standing sculpture requires it, now illumines the picture turning it into a negative. Rather then the voluminous space required for static objects, space now exists as a platform for continuously flowing images. The figures vanish into dazzling areas of light; their movements become either bunched together or extended out. True space as a sustaining reason and base-dimension disappears, disintegrates. Utopia (=groundlessness) in a literal sense. Within the last ten years Monique Thomaes' work has dematerialized or – to state it another way – has been transferred to the time span of media images …

 

time sculpture
… repeat: Any cognition requires time, also when standing before an immovable sculpture. However in this case time is that time which the observers needs, takes, in order to establish a relation to the visible. Time, or perception, before a sculpture is latently open-ended because it establishes a kind of dialogue situation with space. The time of technical picture media is dictated. The observer follows – even if the work in question is of an "interactive" nature – the time, tempo, and rhythm of the apparatus. Before Monique Thomaes began working with the video camera's moving picture, she observed in several experimental situations the phenomenon of light in time, as, for example, in the case of photographic direct exposures. Her studio, then in "Künstlerhof Buch“, became transformed into a camera obscura. Thomaes spread out photographic paper on the floor and observed the etchings which light created during different times of day and under various weather conditions. For her 1994 exhibition in "Martin-Gropius-Bau", she dated, every minute for five hours in the afternoon, a leaf of unexposed photographic paper and then displayed it in one of five glass display cases. These time-notations remained there until evening, free to the further processes of exposure. When Thomaes later collected the sheets, those from the early hours were darkened, that is shadowed-over by light, while those exposed to late evening light had hardly undergone any development.

 

tu te souviens
The relation of a single point in time to the span of time – whereby the former is always determined by the person observing – led Thomaes on in the same year to the slide projection "Lichtung". In this work the slides change every five minutes, each transparency showing a cloudy sky at various times over the course of a day. Correspondingly, for respectively 30 seconds each time, a text was blended in "– 14:40 berlin 9. 5. 1993 tu te souviens – 14:45 berlin 9. 5. 1993 tu te souviens – 14:50...". The time of the slide presentation is identical with that time which has been photographed: namely, from 14:40 till 17:35. This "tu" in the text is essentially addressed to the spectator – however it refers to a figure who remains simultaneously anonymous though near, thereby suggesting reliability; this being a relation, an unspecified kinship, which appears again and again in Thomaes' works. In the confrontation between text and picture or, in other words, between measures of time and memory, Monique Thomaes alludes to a melancholy correlation to the stored photographic image. If one is able to recall a definite, meaningful event or situation by means of a picture, a reversion to events occurring in the sky is doomed to failure. Cloud constellations are momentary, just as is memory. Both these moments, – reflection upon media and upon self – which are hereby broached, appear in her following work in an evermore explicit, tension-ridden relationship …

 

white spaces / o.t.
… repeat: If in the time-notions from 1993/94 the image still remains attached to real time (selective or continuous) so that the accordingly coincidental constellations in image reproduction are dealt with, then it is in the case of the photographic or video image that Thomaes' work goes on to become increasingly controlled. It is here that measures of time no longer simply serve for observation and illustration of the melancholic discrepancy which arises from the technical simulation/production of reality. In two senses time itself becomes the very object of artistic inquiry: as the subject of investigation and as the material of production. In all of Thomaes' work, time is dependent on light, and visa versa. She demonstrates this dependence in an almost ironical manner with the 1996 video "untitled" in which the visible picture is shifted back from the wall and into the apparatus, so that quasi a detail of the interior of the apparatus is then presented as image. One sees a light diagram jumping up and down. This drawing stems from the signals of the timed slide projectors, the switches of which beat out acoustic time. In turn this timing generates a lane of light, an analogous visual transference to the photographic process.

 

femmes/
In the 1997 work "Femmes" which uses – as did the 1994 installation "Blauäugig" – the static picture of photography as well as the time sequence of the slide switch, Monique Thomaes exposed the photographic representation of a woman's breast in literally meticulous manipulations. With precise data, she organized the gradually ascending and descending exposure times as regards the reproduction of negatives, thereby reaching into every zone where the motive dissolves either into light or darkness, thus visually vanishing from the surface. The timing of the projection of the transparencies is carried out according to a precise rhythm; however this is not singled out as information concerning the work. This precision of procedure is the basis for the analogous picture producing apparatuses (aperture/exposure time) which Thomaes applies in her capacity as an artist. It is a method according to measure, and a measure giving method. The confrontation arising here leads to creations in which the extremes of control/pressure and loss/dissipation are dealt with. It is precisely these works which tend to exclusively investigate the relationship between time and image (slide switch/ video), thus revealing the escalation of the catastrophic (cf. "Point De Vue", "Hombre") as a delirium with an equally dangerous as well as seductive, demanding absorption and exhausting, dynamic …

 

de passage (1)
… back: 1995-96 Monique Thomaes created various works for rooms or, to state it another way, with and in rooms. Time in space is first of all real time in which movement was also reflected over previous years in the sculptures. In the Potsdam "Kunstspeicher“ she placed a blue pane of plexiglas in front of the gallery window. The exterior light projected a color intensive duplicate onto the gallery floor. This light-image undergoes transformation, yet a transformation so gradual that it is hardly capable of being perceived – or at best only in the mind's eye – during the average time a visitor spends in the gallery. The day's various lighting conditions cause the window and floor presentation to appear respectively different in their qualities of brightness, intensity, and contrast. Toward evening the picture fades, the contours of the mullion and transom blur, and the projection extinguishes.

 

lieux
What the natural light produced here in a 24 hour rhythm, Thomaes reproduced in 1995 with the video camera ("Lieux"). A camera is statically pointed toward two rooms. Gradually and successively the camera's aperture is opened. Initially, the picture in the monitor reveals merely a narrow slit of light located at the lower edge, in appearance somewhat similar to a drawing placed upon a dark background. Slowly but surely the line fills out to a re-cognizable room volume, until ultimately in a glistening white this figure loses both its dimensions and contours and is reduced to an empty surface. This process lasts more than eight minutes. An opening and a closing-up of the room/image to vision, a gentle process.

 

de passage (2)
In contrast to the newer, time-orientated video works with their insisting rhythm or repetitions, Monique Thomaes' room creations are slower, more boreing, and more poetic. The processes of visual disintegration are also more sensible. Instead of using slices, lengthenings, and accelerations, she works with gentle transitions and transitional zones. Corresponding to the blue window picture in the Potsdamer "Kunstspeicher", she projected in this same location "blank“ slides onto a large wall using three slide projections. When with the fall of darkness the natural transparency of the window fades out or even extinguishes completely, the effects of the slide projection become just that much more strong and intense. The right transparency stands as a slightly angled projection surface, constantly zooming in and out searching to focus sharply on the emptiness. The mirroring left picture changes alternatively with the middle projection which moves the same form slightly to the right, projecting it in blue upon the wall. The constellation of two partially cut geometric transparencies creates spatial vision which in rhythm to the superimposed slide switch slightly shifts each time. The left section of the picture searches for junction with the right one. The blue actually becomes connected, the white light leaving a small gap. It is worth noting that blue is the dominant color throughout the entire spectrum of Thomaes' light-works. Her blue is an intensive one suggesting coldness as well as clarity, and going on to conjure up romantic associations. The position of the slide equipment in the installation "de passage“ is held a certain distance from the focal plane so that visitors to the exhibition could locate themselves as sha- dows in the rooms of light. It was this creation that formed the basis for a still not realized work, a concept for the former concentration camp Ravensbrück. There Monique Thomaes wants to create an empty room of light in which people can move about and encounter one another. Several projectors in the room are used to double the shadows. By means of overhead projectors, clear foils are projected onto the walls which visitors had previously written and drawn upon. A room of silence and movement; a coming together with oneself and with others, with silhouettes and the continual production of text …

 

blauäugig
… back/repeat: The possibility that the human figure could enter in Thomaes' work was never excluded. This role was always filled by the observer of her work who, in a 1:1 ratio, could find himself reflected in the sculptures and installations. In the works dealing with room space as well, it is the visitor's living, moving body which produces reflections or silhouettes in the light. On the level of image creation, it is in the first place the photography of sculpture that offers a primary, static – and twice reproduced, therefore mediated – picture of the human being. In Berlin's Pergamon museum Monique Thomaes photographed antique sculptures. These photos became – as is characteristic for her method of procedure – the "raw materials" for various media defamiliarizations and combinations. For the installation "Blauäugig" (1995), she transformed her initial working material into photographic details, actual reflections as well as video films and slide projections. From these documents of anonymous sculptures, she deleted the eyes and the area about them – a motive similar to that used later in the video "Couchée". Thus the eyes of the stony figures are blank; they do not offer an observant glance, but rather its omission. The eyes of the photograph are shadowed zones. In the center of the picture is, nevertheless, the distance between the eyes, that point between the eyebrows which leads to the forehead and which, in the condition of tension-filled concentra-tion, forms into wrinkles. It is that imaginary point where an exchange of the senses between interior and exterior, between vision and cognition, becomes focused, and where projections from interior and exterior images intersect. This point gives hardly anything away visually and it is considerably less attractive than the eyes; for one intuitively searches for eye contact with one's peer even if that peer is a centuries-old sculpture in photographic reproduction. First comes an intimate jolt caused by confrontation with the set-back eye cavities and absent eye contact of the sculpture which thereby forces one's glance to wander to the forehead, a surface formed by light and thereby giving it only a small degree of depth. Like a blind mirror this image throws back the observer's intruding stare, tossing it back behind his forehead. Vision meets the visionless. A short-circuit, a silent implosion. The body as a sculpted, objective given have sought refuge in the work of Monique Thomaes. It has retreated back to the level of its representation, the image, and has revealed itself as a doubtful witness of its very self. Doubts are existentially connected with symbolization. The possibilities of manipulation offered by the procedures in technical image making, allow Thomaes, on the most diversified levels of visual presentation, to manifest these doubts (both self and media reflexive) in a visual form.

 

v-ivre
Bodies become anonymous figures in her photographic and video works. Even her own body – the "pre-" picture from the video installation "V-ivre" – refrains from drawing attention to it-self and surrenders over to the granulation of the photosensitive paper. Only through cognition of the non-identical, the blank areas of representation, is identity reflected …

… forward: Two monitors, a ten minute filming sequence, uncut. Standing some distance back, both projection surfaces can be observed. Two statues. A shadow extends almost imperceptibly to the right. Darkening. The aperture contracts. The camera is close up against the body – thus when inhaling, the picture seems to edge closer, so large the minimal extension. Silently and slowly. Inhaling. Exhaling. The other picture, time deferred. Inhaling, exhaling. Another rhythm. At the same time, the same body, the same breath, unsimultaneous images. Restless breathing – fast, under pressure. The image in the monitor is black-white; i.e. gray, for the most part. Many grays. Gray like basalt. Granular like basalt stone. Rigid surface, continuous pictures. Breath on the threshold. No body. Or better: no body in the picture. No flesh, no skin. Surface, movement in time, changing volume, no location, no mass, no touching. Intimate. With what? Between whom? – De-caying. Spreading of Light. – Details – The camera before the video monitor. Picture after picture is photographed. Shudder release, dilation of aperture, shudder release. A different rhythm from the breathing in the film. Inconsiderate. In the beginning of photography one referred to the "Pencil of Nature", that which draws upon the slides. What could be more authentic and more identical then nature's own picture of itself? – The mirror? A fleeting picture. The mirror divides into two and yet still needs the one which finds its reflection in it. No solutions can be expected from the mirror. – Pictures with a high resolu-tion. Pictures of a relieved body. Losing itself and finding itself again. A look in the mirror. After a longish absence, I recognize myself again. – Take a step back in order to come closer to oneself. Art is abstraction for a picture. One's own body stays back as a prototype, perhaps also as an after-image. Fear. Rigidity causes fear. De- caying causes fear. Design images of a tender transit … – always too many and always too few. Thirsty and drunken. Inhale, exhale ... Repeat!

 

 


– Window reflections – 2000
published in the catalogue Interim, Schloß Plüschow
translation by Wolfgang Liss

(e)space(s)
Windows, being architectural elisions, enable exchange between the interior and the exterior space. Natural light passes through windows into buildings. Through windows the outside becomes visible as the space uncontained by buildings. Windows in Schloss Plüschow, filmed by Monique Thomaes for several minutes respectively, were later to be shown on two screens. During the filming she varied the degree of light exposure through the camera lense. With the diaphragm wide open the motif is overexposed, fading, brightening until invisible, whereas the smallest lens aperture covers the scene in darkness, withdrawing it from the eye of the beholder. Changing between these poles the images on the screens brighten up or get darker, with the left screen always darkening when the images on right screen get brighter and vice versa. The images are mute, without underlying sound. No change of events, taking place in front of or behind the windows is perceived by the static gaze of the camera. The only element that with the course of time is slowly changing in the softly flowing succession of images, is the light in which the pictures appear. To regard the images on both screens for some time results in a changing perception of the piece. The eye, getting increasingly entangled in a slow and rhythmic, yet fragile loop of film sequences, is relieved more and more of its original task of identifying space and motif. Light and darkness of the emerging and disappearing space detach perception from matter. Through the flowing process of seeing, an imaginary state between the extremes of a material and an immaterial state between absolute clarity and the complete deprivation of visibility, becomes perceptible. The regarding of a picture reflects the borderline to the non-representable.



installations