At risk of stating the obvious, Svenja Deininger’s work is really something to be seen up close. The pared back minimalism of the Austrian artist’s paintings mean that subtle textural shifts take on an important nuanced role in the articulation between tessellating panels of colour and abstract forms. Noticing the fine grain of a wood panel slotted into the canvas, or the highly buffed sheen of a protrusion like nubuck leather, is one of the small rewards that come by spending more than a fleeting glance on each work.
The artist’s solo exhibition ‘Two Thoughts’ at the Collezione Maramotti in Reggio Emilia risked, for a while, going entirely unseen as it opened on the 8th of March, just one day before Italy became the first European country to impose a national quarantine in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It has since been prolonged, and will remain on view until 5th December 2020. The historical context of this exhibition and its viewing experience, under such a state of exception, impact the reading of the show in a subtle way.
The twelve panels on view are ostensibly a response to four paintings from 1928-9 by Polish Constructivist painter Wladysaw Strezeminski, whose principal project was to create “new aesthetic solutions” adapted to the historical moment. “A work of art was expected to exist in and of itself,” writes Paulina Kurc Maj in an essay on his work published in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, “to express nothing, and created according to laws specific to itself.” Working in the wake of the First World War, Strezeminski subscribed to the hope for a rationalist ethos which would build new, socially competent worlds.
Deininger operates in a historical moment far removed from the avant-garde painters of the 1920s. What’s more, her working process allows for the incorporation of error, rather than the mathematical precision of Strezeminski’s so-called ‘architectural paintings’. Nevertheless, the development of a unique abstract aesthetic language — based on encounter (between forms, between artist and process, between individual paintings, between bodies of work and spaces) — echoes a belief in so-called aesthetic solutions at a time when humanity seems to be going to hell in a handcart.
The works may be resolutely abstract, yet it is clear they are not systematic. Critic Luigi Fassi reads this as a feminist response to the Strezeminski works and the movements within which he operated. Her work, contrasting the “upright, vertical posture found throughout the canon of Western thought and culture,” is a haptic encounter of curved lines, interknitted textures and an organic palette.
While Fassi’s feminist reading is by no means an overstretch, there is, above all, a quietness to Deininger’s works, a wilful opacity that manifests through the careful encoding of their painterly language. Deininger originally created 23 paintings for the show, 17 of which are presented within the exhibition. The strategic omissions are the result of a retroactive editing process, fostered as the artist works and completes several paintings at the same time, resulting in a cohesive “phrase”. We speak briefly at the opening, but it is the paintings that really do the speaking for the artist; yet their language is obliquely discreet, the title of each work is simply ‘Untitled’.