Christiane Baumgartner: Liquid Light
21 March – 21 April, 2018
Review by Kevin Brazil
Viewed from afar, Christiane Baumgartner’s ‘Phoenix’ (2018) shows a plume of smoke from an explosion rising into the air. Viewed up close, the contours of the clouds dissolve into horizontal lines of red ink that fade out into dark blue. The lines vary in size, like waves, in this woodcut print copied from a digital image. The print layers different images of time: the time of the explosion, the time of its recording, the instant it was preserved in a digital still. It also layers different ways of imaging time: the live transmission of the digital feed, the grainy horror of the still, the laborious carving of each line into a block of wood.
A print is an index: a sign which indicates a relationship of cause and effect to its source. The prints ‘Liquid Light I and II’ (2017) and ‘The Wave’ (2017) index frozen moments of the sea’s motion: ripples, churns, the breaking of a wave. The details of Baumgartner’s intricate woodcutting produce a tactile dissonance in these prints. Water, that most yielding of substances has left its trace imprinted into paper. Light, so yielding it lies beyond our sense of touch, leaves its trace by an absence: expanses of white are produced by what has been cut away from the imprinting block.
Baumgartner calls herself an artist who works in print, rather than a print maker. Her foregrounding of printmaking as a medium leads her to present what could be called dissonant images of time. The series ‘Nordlicht’ (2018) shows images of light coming through trees at specific minutes in time: 5.59pm, 6.00pm, 6.01pm and 6.08pm. If the series suggests time’s fleeting passage, the woodcut technique records a long labour of carving by hand. The index is often privileged as a more authentic form of representation than the arbitrary symbol: hence its much discussed place in photography theory. These prints remind us that the index is as much a form of making as any recreation of the world; these pictures required time to represent time.
The exhibition presents two other series, ‘Lindenalle’ (2018) and the etchings ‘With or Without Thinking – Ultramarine’ (2018), in which ultramarine ink lines runs vertically, coagulating to form presences and pressures. Together Baumgartner’s suite of series foregrounds another temporal dissonance of printing: it was the woodcut, and not the photograph, that gave the instant an aura by threatening it with infinite reproduction. This interest in what remediated images can tell us about the history of media is shared by the New Leipzig School of painters, based in the city where Baumgartner studied and now lives. But Baumgartner also shows us how images make time. In ‘Rosenthal (Park)’ 2018, horizontal lines of navy ink become dense as they recede into the distance, thickening into a darkness in which is suspended a chain of green lights. It’s an image of suspense and distance, of waiting to see what will be revealed as the woodcutter’s knife carves out light.