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Priska Pasquer Paris is delighted to start the new year with an exhibition that brings the artists Jane Benson and Genaro Strobel into dialogue. Benson is known for her interventions into found objects, literature, and works of art, reconfiguring them into questioning reassemblies. Strobel, too, enables a new reading of the real in his wood engravings on paper using photography, painting, and collage. While his complex, contemporary narratives envision seemingly endless layers of different readings, Benson evokes a critical engagement with the current zeitgeist.

Jane Benson: Methods of Destruction as Strategies of Regeneration

This deliberate play with the viewer, in which Strobel demands a close look, also comes to bear in the multifaceted work of Jane Benson. The artist’s multidisciplinary approach spans the mediums of sculpture, sound, digital media, and prints. The works in Everyday to Come see Benson cutting and fracturing fake plants and books only to reassemble them through her investigative practice. Methods of destruction are used specifically as strategies of regeneration – opportunities to reassemble, redesign, and reinvent existing entities. In her Faux Faux series, the artist explores a prevalent illusionist trend: artificial plants are, unfortunately, in vogue. Today, copies decorate living spaces appearing deceptively, persistently real. Nature is not represented, but imitated, whereby reality and fiction merge in such a way that they become indistinguishable.

Benson cancels this unification of reality and simulation that the artificial flora suggests by cutting the leaves into geometric, unnatural shapes, such as, triangles and squares. Indeed, cutting reduces the artificial plant to fragments of itself, severing it from the familiar to embrace a new interpretation or future reality for the fake.  The process of transformation is made visible and gives the mass-produced flora its own individuality; no element is congruent anymore, creating a more “authentic” rendering of illusory nature by the artist. Benson’s hanging Flat Planter works are an extension of this work into an architectural scale, and a wry comment on the garden wall that has come to represent eco-architecture.

A series of black and white prints complement Benson’s sculpture. The photographs document the silhouettes of the unabashedly fake flora. The images are reminiscent of photograms, which were created out of a desire for an economical, true-to-life image.  Unlike photography, however, a photogram does not involve a camera, light-sensitive paper is exposed directly causing the uncovered areas of the paper to darken, thus, each image is unique. In mimicking the photogram, Benson’s photographs once again reinforce the game of masquerade and show that the perceptibility of the real is accompanied by a multitude of simulated gestures. 

Rewriting Narratives through Music

In dialogue with Benson’s Faux Faux works are a series of text and sound works. The End of the Patriarchal System and A Moral Renaissance are investigations into the contemporary resonances of essays by British suffragette Mona Caird. Benson dismantles and reconstructs the literary works by excising syllables of the musical scale— do, re, mi, fa, soh, la, ti —to reveal a found score.  In a further step, Benson translates the excavated scores into geometric color field prints based on Isaac Newton’s similarly arbitrary Color Spectrum. Layers of dots in various hues create a delicate moiré effect that visually embodies the revolutionary texts. The scores and abstractions invite the viewer to join in the act of translation at a time when it is essential to re-write and re-imagine women’s rights.

Against the Spectacle

Side-stepping the cynical, Benson emphasizes the absurdity of the false green, and classical forms of categorization, prodding us to look anew at culturally accepted objects and ideas. Benson makes the artificial plant what it is: a new creation of reality. Genaro Strobel also evokes a narrative space for possible critical perspectives by expanding the biographical perspective to include a worldly one: “Think so far beyond the planet, the solar system, the galaxy, the universe, until life itself becomes strange.” (Genaro Strobel, 2009) Today, within the current socio-political context, where the fake (news) challenges the real and falsehoods challenge truths, the need to question everything is paramount. Everyday to Come brings together work that refuses the spectacle.

Genaro Strobel: Developing a New Image-Making Technique

Strobel’s works are monumental and rich in detail. Seen from afar, different forms emerge and different layers of narratives can be glimpsed, which nevertheless only become comprehensible from close up.  The eye wanders along the distinctive lines of the wood texture that are characteristic of the artist’s work. Strobel deliberately uses the wood grain as a form defining element, integrating it as a painterly gesture. 

From the traditional medium of woodcutting, Strobel has used laser technology to develop his own new image-making technique that brings together artificially conceived forms with unique natural forms by imprinting them into the grain. The work process begins with photography, which the artist understands as recording the form of his surroundings. In the studio, he further processes the image material taken with medium-format cameras either as individual photos, as collaged image compositions with artificial, digital brushstrokes, or as scanned-in pencil drawings. The printing block is then produced. The laser burns the overall motif, pixel by pixel, into the veneer wood panels Now the printing blocks are processed with brush and roller. Strobel deliberately counters the precision of photography and impression with gestural traces that he paints on the printing plate with a brush. Other areas of the imprint allow large fields of color to dominate the image motif and envelop the sharp photographs in a mist of color. Within this process, the artist paints in mirror image and applies the paint in a sequence of fixed layers, as at the moment of impression the paint mixes and glazes from back to front.  The final step in creating the work is when Strobel applies pressure to the painted wooden blocks to transfer the oil paint onto the paper in mirror image. After that, the paintings are not further processed, but rather deliberately left alone to preserve the thin, homogeneous layer of paint. 

Changing Perspectives through Multi-Layered Narratives

Strobel often works in series of images that extend hermetically and numbered over several printing blocks. Nevertheless, each image also stands for itself, as it reveals its own perspectives and points of view. In his series of color circles, of which there are 15 so far, Strobel refers in the titles to the well-known representations of color circles, but they are paintings that each embody their own color laws and systems. In Farbkreis 14, a horizon line seems to divide the painting into two parts, and a cityscape emerges above the abstract color play. It is an impression of Ella Trebe Street, which the artist captured with a medium format camera. Segel 2 also transports the viewer to Berlin, the print block made of Albasia wood is based on medium format photographs taken in the area of the Nuthegraben. In the studio, the artist further processed the images by collaging cut-out shapes from them and supplementing them with digital painting. At first, the picture appears completely abstract, with formations that verge on threatening, reminiscent of clouds of smoke. Only on closer inspection do the individual elements of the picture seem to emerge. Then, too, the dark surfaces reveal themselves as multi-layered combinations of different colors.

Dr. Wiebke Hahn