Thomas Scheibitz: ONE-Time Pad
BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art
26 July - 3 November 2013
Review by Michael Mulvihill
ONE-Time Pad is an encryption method that, if used correctly, should be impossible to crack. Its beauty is in its simplicity, consisting of changing random keys that are typed onto pages of two identical pads of paper. One pad is used to create the ciphered message while the other is used to decipher the message; no encryption is ever repeated hence the name one time pad. Yet there is a fundamental problem in the nature of randomness whereby it is never random enough; this means a true one time is a technological mirage, a myth suspended between the real and ideal. It is within these kinds of ideological fissures that art can operate.
Thomas Scheibitz has adopted ‘ONE-Time Pad’ as the title for both an individual painting and this immaculate survey exhibition at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. The exhibition consists of over two hundred works of painting, sculpture and items from Scheibitz’s archive of works on paper and collected objects. The work is split between two floors with BALTIC’s immense upper gallery laid out like collection of antiquarian artefacts, with large sculptures occupying three grand plinths and paintings hung around the surrounding walls. The paintings and sculpture are suspended between figuration and abstraction; they are beautifully constructed with finely articulated lines of permanent marker against rich fields of oil colour. These works are simultaneously alien and familiar, assimilating images drawn from the whole span of art history, where figures in the style of Francis Bacon merge with medieval heraldic icons and the typography of the everyday street sign.
The archive of collected material, displayed in vitrines which also insinuate museological objects, is like a Rosetta stone for decoding Scheibitz’s working process. The archive gives a profound sense that the artist is engaged in a heuristic search to decipher the enigma of shapes, geometry and imagery. For Scheibitz the ONE-Time Pad is a simile for a key to decipher the abstract and figural configurations in his work. This key is suggested in the painting ‘One-Time pad’ (2012) that consists of architectural forms and typography. The suggestion of a key is also apparent in the sculpture ‘Masterplan’ (2010) which is made of a cube intersected by sheets of glass and contains all the materials Scheibitz uses in his other sculptures. This apparent arcane searching for meaning transcends a conventional structuralist reading of Scheibitz’s oeuvre in terms of ‘post-modern’ abstraction. Instead Shiebitz is aligned with the metaphysical pythagorean philosophers of Ancient Greece who sought the elusive knowledge of hidden geometry of the five platonic solids. Scheibitz, almost in acknowledgement of these ancient philosophers, creates a self-portrait, a fallen monument entitled ‘EX Block’ (2012). The sculpture consists of a letter T toppled from the top of a tall white column, reminding us that long after civilisations disappear their Art remains to be decoded.