text by STEPHANIE POPE
Nicoleta Auersperg’s interdisciplinary practice engages audiences in intricate processes of experimentation and encounter—with materials and with the self.
Having studied ‘Transdisciplinary Art’ at the Vienna Academy of Applied Arts, Auersperg’s works span a broad spectrum of artistic practice, from motor-driven installation, to glass blown sculpture and performance. The artist’s oeuvre is united however, by the characteristics of examination, experimentation and reflection on the basic materials, forms and forces constituting our environment and our existence within it. One of her earliest works, Rueckzieher, 2010,
for example—a looped mechanism consisting of gear motors, drive belts, micro-switches, pull strings, pvc tubes, light bulbs, a rubber band, and cardboard—in which two light bulbs slowly approach each other, one lurching into retreat just before contact is made, engages viewers in an endless loop of frustrated anticipation. The German word Rueckzieher, a colloquial term for ‘backing down’, connotes cowardice, even failure. Failure here translates as the denial of resolution- both mechanical and cognitive, as definitive meaning or representation is withheld
(a humorous reference perhaps to the glowing bulb as the image of ‘Eureka!’). Thus, the simple, repetitive mechanism gradually adopts a plethora of meanings and associations through the viewers’
projection, as the artist states “…an action, a feeling or thought becomes technologized...” and viewers are simultaneously brought into encounter with the potential and limitations of a
mechanical process, and with their own understanding or interpretation thereof.
This visual encounter or “primitive experimentation” with basic mechanical and physical processes as well as our own interaction therewith, is equally relevant to Auersperg’s more recent works, buttressed by increasingly complex epistemological and philosophical enquiry.
In the performative sculpture Kugelvorgang, (‘Sphere Process’) 2014, for example, two large scale spheres made of salt (approx. 1m x 1m, 320kg) are placed underneath two circular hoops and water
tubes suspended from the ceiling. Eventually, in a ‘controlled uncontrolled’ process, the mechanically timed water tubes begin to spray the salt spheres, triggering a process, which eventually
leads to the spheres’ disintegration. Thus, in a nod toward conceptualism, the artist’s role in giving final form to the work is reduced to a thought, while the concept is reduced to the choice
of materials, the final outcome being the result of physical forces, the environment and chance. However, the work’s performative and processual element avoids retreat into a removed physical
determinism, as the artist shares the expectation, the viewing of the procedure and the result with the audience, temporally uniting the finalization of the artistic product with the viewers and
her own perception, thus creating a situation for a shared process of “naïve enquiry” and examination of simple physical and geometrical principles, as well as our encounter with them.
This encounter arose from the artist’s own inability to draw a sphere, more specifically one visually distinct from a circle, an experience which inspired her inquiry into the laws of Euclidean geometrical space that most of us are taught from a young age. The artist became preoccupied with alternatives to Euclidean geometry, the potential of a different set of laws, that of arched, bending space, rather than straight lines for example. In Sphere Process, the circle, in the form of a hoop, supports the water tube that in a ‘controlled-uncontrolled’ process eventually causes the sphere’s disintegration. The artist thereby triggers an encounter between an uncontrolled natural substance and a further natural substance, namely salt, that has been ‘forced’ into a regular geometric form by human hand. The ‘process’ thus refers simultaneously to the physical process causing the salt’s and the sphere’s structural alteration and a process of self-examination through a deconstruction of the basic construct of space and matter the artist must accept as ‘true’. The artist thereby visualises her interest in “relative truths, unanswerable questions and the paradoxical uncertainties of existence as an antidote to apathy, of a single ‘real’ reality”. In other words, Auersperg moves toward a post-structuralist examination of the line between ontology and epistemology, or the way in which the limits of what can be known affect the limits of what can be, to refer to a phrase from Foucault’s ‘The Politics of Truth’, “to question truth on its effects of power and question power on its discourses of truth.”
This questioning of a single reality or truth through an examination of basic materials, forms and physical forces surrounding us and the simultaneous encounter with the limits of our own influence on them is particularly prominent in Auersperg’s performance works such as Materialwaage (‘Material Scales’), 2014. In this performance an industrial role of paper is drawn out and loosely draped across two standing ladders and a table leg in between. The paper is weighed down by a pile of sand on one end and the weight of its own roll on the other. In a steady, almost ritualistic process, the artist moves from one end of the structure to the other, each time pouring a small amount of either salt, sand paint, water or plaster down the paper. Each time a substance is poured, the paper-scale shifts to the right or the left, depending on the weight and movement of the material. Viewers and artist share the experience of each material contacting the paper with a different sound, speed and materiality. Viewers and artist are once again united in their uncertainty as to the moment the paper will rip and the process will conclude. Auersperg particularly plays with the notion of artistic intuition and ratio, conscious and subconscious in the production of a work or process, again experimenting with the capacities and effects of different materials on one another, and encountering her own (limited) ability to intervene and control these processes, in a continuous “search for questions and answers”.
Amidst ever more pervasive virtuality, digitization and seemingly concomitant remove from the ‘matter’ constituting the world around us, Auersperg’s works return us to a place of sustained examination of and reflection on the very ‘matter’ surrounding us and our role or potential within it. The visual clarity of her works—dominated by basic geometric shapes, functional installations consisting of the bare minimum of materials necessitated by the ensuing process, and a near complete absence of non-natural color—encourages us to properly ‘see’. However, far from heralding a romantic celebration of ‘simple matter’, Auersperg’s works often experiment with our limitations when faced by them, triggering our encounter with the material and epistemological laws separating idea from action, that which can and cannot be realized, a revelation both crushing and liberating.