À rebours

Stefanie Kreuzer, 2009
Translated by Jacqueline Todd

“Painted” against the grain, Roland Schappert’s artworks push classical media to their limits, expanding their space of experience by “spreading” time. This temporal experience crucially determines the perceptual horizon of the works. Painting, drawing and sculpture are combined with timebased media – video, sound, light installations … – and condensed at their points of contact into fundamental epistemological questions. Language and image, abstraction and representation, sound and materiality are interwoven in such a way that the drama of understanding is focused on the enlightening “Fall”, the sudden flash of insight when meaning is produced. Schappert’s works are therefore concentrated on that precarious moment of cognition which transforms the brushstroke into an iconic sign, the letter into a word and the NOISE into a NOTE. They focus on a specific context, a syntagmatic structure which, no sooner has it been created, no sooner has it begun to generate meaning, than it seems almost impossible to circumvent.


In this way Roland Schappert’s works describe a constant, almost archaeological quest to discover the origins of their visual motifs – DAS GIBT’S NUR EINMAL (THAT ONLY HAPPENS ONCE). They place one painted layer over another, one audio track over another and one light reflection over another, paradoxically in order to venture forward time and time again to that decisive moment – HÄTTEN WIR UNS ZUR PRIMETIME GETROFFEN / IF ONLY WE’D MET DURING PRIME TIME – which sees absolute openness as a possibility and an appropriation of something, of experiencing life. With this appropriation, however, they simultaneously delve into the universe of already lived life, the world of cultural conventions, sets of rules and codes – into a moment, therefore, which takes the irretrievable step from MONDLICHT zum NEONLICHT (MOONLIGHT to NEON LIGHT). In the cool artificial neon light of cognition, they melancholically trace the lost paradise of the warm moonlight.

Memory and appropriation, melancholy and visualization maintain the presence of layers of life and layers of personalities within the works, in the brushstroke, the sound, the light reflection and the drawing stroke … in their spatial and temporal reference, modules, syntagmas and “sentences“ – in short, in the manner of their installation and relation; they connect these layers to one another and enable them to shine out from the depths of the image segments – DER SCHATTEN DES DUNKLEN LEUCHTET IMMER WIEDER / THE SHADOW OF THE DARK GLOWS OVER AND OVER.

Emerging out of Plato’s cave, out of the darkness of overlapping layers of meaning, out of quotations and the artist’s own texts, out of lyrics and literature, out of the parallelism of different language systems and visual worlds – in the production of his works Schappert keeps coming back to the point where the question of how history – or indeed a whole range of histories – is dealt with also becomes a question as to the selfassurance of one’s own position.

SHE IS NOT ALONE – identifiable or otherwise as a song title by Sonic Youth that has been transferred unaltered by the artist into his own context, this phrase makes sense to the recipient even without precise identification; however, awareness that it has been appropriated immediately places a further segment over the picture. Rooted in this way within the cultural realm, which is invariably also a social space, the subject as a form of cognition encounters the Other – SHE IS NOT ALONE – and thereby arouses the pleasure in understanding that appears above the web of relation.

As a process, cognition has the effect of lighting up – REFLECT ME THE LIGHT –, illuminating or casting light upon something and thus rendering it visible – but what exactly does it render visible? How certain are the things we think we have grasped? Where do they begin to tip over, to recede beyond our grasp, to take flight or shift back and forth between meanings? Unfixed chalk on high gloss paint on sand and metal has a brightly shimmering, silvery or white appearance depending on the fall of light and the way the viewer moves around in front of the work – making the writing appear almost illegible, even porous due to the granularity of the sand. Then perception, light and position are overturned and the opposite occurs: the same work darkens into a black panel that throws the statement REFLECT ME THE LIGHT (which also provides the title of this publication) back to the viewer as an invitation or demand for interaction. “Reflektiere mir das Licht” was the original German text of the work, which was subsequently translated amongst others by computer using a variety of translation software, resulting in different linguistic configurations. Correct suggestions made by the translator Jacqueline Todd (those marked ‘artspeak’) are thus interspersed with others which, although they turn out to be grammatically incorrect in English, nevertheless have considerable lyrical potential. Reflektiere mir das Licht – Reflect the light back to me (artspeak) – Reflect me the light (Babel Fish software) – Reflect to me the light (translator software) – and, when translated back into German by Babel Fish: Reflek tieren Sie mich das Licht. All of the translations reveal shifts, alterations and transformations of the original sentence, echoing the inconsistency that already exists in the material form of these languagebased works due to the light and motiondependency of their reception. Sometimes more, sometimes less easy to distinguish, the words REFLECT ME THE LIGHT appear against a bright, glowing or a dark black background. For a brief moment the meaning is stable as the work is fathomed and grasped, yet no sooner has this occurred than it withdraws again by changing its appearance and thus addressing the fundamental issue of its decipherability. At this point of conten tion as to how meaning is created, at the point of transition from unstructured material to articulated form, REFLECT ME THE LIGHT knows no bounds, even referring to the metaphor of light in a figurative sense as an image of cognitive illumination. A wellknown and often disputed linguistic hypothesis, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, postulates that language determines thought, as opposed to objects being named in an act that follows cognition. If the act of naming, if grammatical and lexical structures are indeed what shape our experience of the world in the first place and also what determine its respective linguistic or symbolic peculiarity, then translation, too, becomes a creative act that amounts to much more than a 1:1 relationship between words or “blue is blue is blue”, as the work Untitled shows. Two different light transformers – one made by a Swiss manufacturer, the other from Germany – generate shades of blue and red that are precisely not identical. Every facet of the language or light thus acquires a dimension of meaning – in the same way as the viewer’s movement in front of the work as well as the positioning and lighting must be taken into account as semantic structures of the work in its mutability.

„Mein Aug’ Bewacht“ – a video sculpture with a shellac lamp – plays on the issue of translation on a material, sculptural level rather than a linguistic one. The shellac record, which contains both music and language, has been transformed into a lamp that casts light onto a video installation of the record playing, in other words, its original use, shown on a screen that cannot be viewed directly by the spectator but is legible only as a reflection in a round mirror facing the monitor. Many of the artist’s major themes seem to be subsumed in this piece, whereby cognition is not direct but rather occurs in a continual process of shifting and changing. This process inscribes itself as a trace in the objects of knowledge, i. e. the artworks, and thus alludes to temporality, transience, segmentation, preservation and appropriation. Temporality here does not mean immobile persistence or rigid permanence but instead allows the objects the possib ility of transition or transformation; mutability and variability are thus presented as an essential element of their existence. For the artist, the eye and the ear are to an extent synonymous within the process of understanding as a whole, even if the majority of his works evoke the imagery of light and hence of the eye. Many works also feature noise or a sound element, whether this is contained de facto as an auditive component of the piece or “only“ appears as a sign or a virtual form of realized sound. Virtual in the sense that it appears as language, text or poetry in the writing-based works, where it offers the possib ility of reading the text out loud. And as a sign it appears in the form of records, album covers or the contours of record sleeves, for example in the polystyrene works with their suggestion of imaginary sound.

In addition to concrete references to sound and music, the polystyrene works – or rather the pictorial objects made of polystyrene in which painting itself has become the support – also contain elements that have been created on the basis of musical structures and thus continue the connection between eye and ear on a different level. Circular structures, gashes, layerings, overpaintings and applications open up a new artistic field by advancing painting with all kinds of different materials. Abstraction and figuration, linguistic quotation and notation no longer conflict but instead complement one another in their efforts to stratify the image and leave almost archaeological traces of lived life in these deposits. Nevertheless they argue with painterly means: paint, layerings, immediacy of access, tension, composition and processuality are conceived and employed as pictorial elements to endow meaning. In other words: what happens at the place where language skips a line, where simple legibility is suspended? What remains, what can still be distinguished? Is this where the relationship between painting and language is thrashed out? To what extent is the still-legible semantic sentence also interesting and imagedetermining in its aesthetic materialization, to what extent does it paint with other means? It is painted against the grain, therefore, in order to clarify something, not – in a figurative sense – to close a breach (of the norm, rule or code), but to keep the wound open and in this way focus the gaze on its inner structure. In this sense, Roland Schappert’s works seem to be a sharp instrument for thinking in pictures.

Reflect me the light, Künstlerbuch, Hardcover, 96 Seiten mit 113 Abb. und Texten von Stefanie Kreuzer, Annette Tietenberg, Thomas Wulffen und Arne Zerbst, deutsch/engl., Salon Verlag, Köln 2009. ISBN 978-3-89770-318-6