Retreat – Les ecrivains maudits

Just like writing, painting usually starts out as an introspective process.

Jorge Luis Borges once said that he was much prouder of all the books he had read than of those he wrote himself. A quote which to me shows a kind of false modesty. But I recognize myself in this quote: I, too, am very proud of all the books I have read throughout the years. These images are thus meant as a hommage to authors, who, as I discovered them at various points in my life, represent important landmarks in my personal story. The series is conceived as a  work in progress, since my personal list of authors with that quality is quite long: Baudelaire, Papini, Nietzsche, Fuentes, Faulkner, Sontag, etc.

When I read Emil Cioran for the first time, I was fascinated by his aphorisms and how they are able to recreate nothingness and hopeless situations with an immense power. For me, Cioran will always stand for a mixture between Nietzschean aphorisms and Japanese haiku poetry: highly sophisticated, perfect pearls of truth.

Charles Bukowski is the direct opposite to this kind of literature. Using direct, violent words, he describes the pitilessness of life, our tough reality. Sometimes, he might seem a little too bold and simple, but he is always poetic. He is kind of a dirty John Fante combined with an alcoholic Knut Hamsun.

Henry Miller and Samuel Beckett, on the other hand, taught that in literature (and thus art), one is not only able to free oneself from social conventions, but also from the seemingly unshakable laws of grammar. Tropic of Cancer and Molloy are the most striking examples of this type of literature.

But my personal favorite is still Roberto Bolaño. I think he is and will be the best writer of our generation, of this century. Within a very small range of published works, he managed to present to us and combine an all-encompassing bildungsroman (a la Thomas Mann‘s Zauberberg), new experimental forms (a la Ulysses by James Joyce) and pointless violence (as in Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald), Bolaño is our modern Virgil, a literary tutor and companion during our earthly journey.

Forest 2.0

Chance creates beauty
Software. Digital print. Large variables. 2014.

I often promised myself to never let my work as a mathematician and programmer influence my work as an artist. But sometimes it nevertheless happens, for instance in my project Forest 2.0. I hit on the basic idea while contemplating an older oil painting of mine, which shows a symmetrical tree diagram ending in colorful blossoms, together with mysterious mathematical formulas.

My educational background as a number theorist played an important role during the genesis of Forest 2.0: I wrote a computer program, based on the ancient idea that any number can be written as a product of prime numbers. After entering some parameters, this code generates cryptic looking tree diagrams and saves them as vector graphics. I then edit and adjust them using an image editing tool. Since the results are saved as infinitely scalable graphics, they can be printed out in any size.

But although I am responsible for the whole creative process – from the mathematical knowledge required to code the recursive script to the digital editing and printing the result – randomness always plays a role in the process. At its core, chance is a very natural and likewise artistic entity, since it creates beauty. In any closed system with continuously arising random events, human beings recognize a form of pleasing, often truly aesthetic symmetry.

Of course, I always define a specific height and a starting number for all trees, which roughly control the ferocity of their proliferation. But their specfic look is always created by a randomized computer algorithm based on constantly decreasing numerical values. I also let the algorithm randomly define some color parameters.

One thing, however, is always done by myself and not by chance: the actual selection of which of the trees created get printed out and framed in the end. Thus, ultimately, the artist still has final authority when it comes to defining what a real artwork is – and not randomness.

Buy a Print here

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On mercy and being merciless

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,
ora pro nobis peccatoribus
nunc et in hora mortis nostrae.

Amen.

 

This is a prayer many people in Mexico learn as children, and many times these are also their last words: Piedad. Ruega por nosostros.

The series of paintings is the result of deep concerns regarding Mexico and what is happening in the country. The whole series displays tortured and executed human beings, images one can see in newspapers every day. I use these as an outlined foundation and afterwards paint weeping Madonnas over them. I aim to use them to represent the fragmentation and suffering of the nation.

I selected an image from the series which displays six corpses hanging off a footbridge, which happened some years ago in the state of Veracruz. Three of the six were women who were raped and afterwards tortured to death. Their hanging corpses were meant as a direct message to the state, signifying that the Mexican drug cartels are more powerful than official institutions. After this incident, the government stated that the executed people were members of one cartel who were killed by members of a competitor.  Many such statements have been made in similar cases.  It is as if there is often a different, real truth that one will never discover. Piedad. Mercy.

A sketch of an Aesthetic of Infernal Mercy

Hannah Arendt’s concept of the banality of evil can without question be applied to Mexico. The current situation is influenced by enormous problems that can occur in an evil  bureaucracy where the act of killing gets trivialized.

People are not only killed but also tortured. After the murders, their corpses are often also desecrated. I will not go into more detail just for the sake of it.  It is already difficult enough to know that such things are part of Mexican everyday life at all.

There is a long tradition in the visual arts of displaying all kinds of cruelty in paintings. Currently the Schirn museum in Frankfurt exhibits works by Théodore Gericault, who was famous for his accurate and discomforting representations of dissected corpses. The exhibition also includes one of his most famous pieces, The Raft of the Medusa. It displays the wreck of the French naval frigate Méduse, a tragedy during which 132 seamen died.

Goya’s The Third of May 1808 or his Black Paintings shocked Spanish society. Among currently active artists, the works of Gottfried Helnwein express a direct offense to the idea of innocence. One can also think of Hermann Nitsch and his depiction of sacramental violence, and of Joel-Peter Witkin and his representation of raw ugliness.

Mercy in times of drug wars

In the last twelve years, over fifty thousand Mexicans were killed in the drug war. Among them were many innocent people, who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Often, the Mexican government considers these victims as suspects and regards their death as deserved.

The response of the Catholic Church to these problems is two-faced. On one hand, many priests fight for social equality,  and regularly receive death threats and thus constantly fear for their lives.  However on the other hand are many priests who are accomplices of the cartels, for example they accept payments of several million pesos to splendidly renovate their churches, in keeping with the motto: When god receives the money, it is always just.

Almost 500 years ago, the Virgin Mary supposedly appeared to the indigenous man Juan Diego. Tradition has it that she stated: I take Mexico under my wings. You are the very smallest of all my children.
Does she still protect Mexico today? Did she forget us?

Within this context, the work presented here was also heavily influenced by Georges Bataille, especially his philosophical treatise The Tears of Eros.

If mercy is God’s expression of love, what then is mercilessness? Is it God’s hatred? Oblivion? Indifference? Or was Pelagius right when he stated that God’s creation was malignant?

 

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Aletheia – Theory of everything

This series of images is strongly influenced by my scientific background.  It functions as a monumental catalog that reveals relationships between anatomy, organic symmetry and mathematical diagrams.

Every work within this series can be described as a more or less evident form of collage. Not only are the motifs often composed as a collage, but the specific effect of the images is also a result of the different, characterizing painting materials: acryl, oil and ink.

Because of specific emulsion effects due to interfacial tension, these three painting substances can be combined in very interesting ways. In a way, I force them to work together in a kind of artistic quarrel and let the results of this quarrel define themselves. Thus, I can analyze them scientifically and not as artworks.

But I also try to break this scheme by intervening at specific points during the process. In this way – and by rotating the canvas 90 and 180 degrees multiple times – I constantly try not to be subjugated by usually consulted compositional schemes.

A strong contrast between defined forms and incomplete figures, between partially shown muscle complexes and intense motifs can be recognized in these works. The mysterious diagrams and symmetrical ornaments – held together by the theoretical concept of cohomology – let the viewer dive into the worlds that exist within both my artistic and mathematical mindset.

These paintings unite the differences between reason and faith, science and chaos, control and violence. The result is an impulsive competition between forms and concepts, which invite the viewer to participate in their dynamic expression.

Un aristócrata melenudo que escribe

Peter Esterhazy es uno de esos autores a los que sólo he leído en alemán.  Richard KapuscinskiHerta Müller son otros.

Es como si sólo les conociera una voz. Me explico. Bruce Willis. Si, Die Hard, o duro de matar o Stirb langsam, Bruce tiene zu voz original, su voz en español latinoamericano y su voz en alemán y afortunadamente los actores que doblan su voz al aleman y al español son los mismos (eso creo), entonces siempre suena igual.

Lo mismo pasa con Woody Allen, sus películas viejas estan dobladas por el mismo actor en español y por el mismo en alemán.

A menos que se sea un genio linguistico no se puede leer siempre en el orginal, Kapuściński o Lem en Polaco, Sorokin en ruso, Soseki en japones,  Houellebecq en frances, etc, etc. En algún momento tomé la decisión de dividir mis lecturas de la siguiente forma:

– Autores cuyo idioma original es el español, los leo en español, a menos que lo que quiera sea comparar la traducción alemana con el original, así es como leí 2666 en sendos idomas.
– Autores cuyo idioma origina es el alemán, los leo en alemán.
– Autores cuyo primer libro leí en alemania en alemán, los leo en alemán.
– El resto los leo indistintamente

De vez en cuendo intento leer alguno en Ingles, pero normalmente el intento se pierde en el camino.

Mi mayor problema es que no domino el alemán como el “mexicano”. Y con libros muy gruesos, me tardo millones de años, así que en alemán las lecturas se vuelven más cortas, algo así como libros de menos de 250 Páginas, con algunas excepciones, por ejemplo Harmonia Caelestis de Esterhazy , o  Vertrauen und Gewalt de Jan Philipp Reemtsma, o Stalingrad de Beevor.

Con Esterhazy siempre topo con pared. Cuando leo las criticas que escriben sobre sus libros en el Die Zeit, se me hace agua la boca, los argumentos normalmente son su increible manejo del idioma, su despanpanente humor y su enorme conocimiento en general. Y en mi caso cada dos de tres pierdo. Por más que me caiga muy bien, este aristocrata venido a escritor, cuando le leo en alemán siempre tengo la sensación de estarme perdiendo la mejor parte. El principio de Incertidumbre de Heisenberg, lo puedo aplicar durante mi lectura de cualquier libro de Esterhazy: o lo entiendo o me rio o aprendo. Pero nunca más de una.

En caso de Harmonia Caelestis, aprendí, en el de Eine Frau (Una mujer), reí ; y en el de die Markus-Version tambien reí. Pero entonces para mí Esterhzy se ha estado conviertodo en escritor de anecdotas divertidas, lo cual es muy triste.

Sin embargo, cada vez lo intento una y otra vez, y no quiero darme por vencido y leerlo en Español.

 

Péter Esterházy und sein Buch 'Die Markus-Version'

Recuerdos de Banana Yoshimoto

Ahora que fuí a México, no pude resistirma a comprar el ultimo libro de Banana Yoshimoto: Recuerdos de un callejón sin salida. Debo confesar que soy un gran adomirador de esta autora, ya no tan joven, japonesa. Hace millones de años, leí el libro que la mandó al estrellato literario: kitchen. Me impresionó, me encantó era un librito, triste, depresivo, aprensivo pero al mismo tiempo bastante nuevo, con una subtrama divertida e interesante.

Supongo que tiene que ver mucho con la edad a la que lo leí. No recuerdo muy bien como la descrubrí. Kitchen se publico en Japón en 1988, en 1991 lo publico TusQuest, así que supongo debió haber llegado a mis manos en el 92 o 93. Yo tenía 17 años, ella 28. Éramos muy jóvenes.

Yo estaba maravillado de que una autora tan jóven (y de tan lejos) hubiera tenido tanto exito con su primer libro, que este se traduciera a un monton de idiomas y de que yo pudiera leerlo de camino a la universidad. Basicamente era un puberto mexicano leyendo a una puberta japonesa.

Su estilo sencillo, sin retrueques, directo hizo que me enamorara de este libro, Mi entorno de aquel momento, mi vida, mi dolor encontró un eco en ese libro. Libro que he leído muchas, muchas veces desde entonces, y al que recuerdo como a la primera novia.

Despúes de él, siguieron muchos libros de Yoshimoto, que yo siempre leía: N.P., Amrita, Tsugimi, Sueño Profundo, Honeymoon y Presagio triste. Cada libro que encontraba de ella, lo compraba y lo leía y me ponía triste y melancólico. Sus libros estan llenos de triste alegria.

Al llegar a la fria Alemania, hace trece años uno de los primeros libros que leí en Alemán fue kitchen. Y lo leí ¡claro! ¡donde más! en la cocina de la casa donde vivia, el lugar más calientito y acogedor de la casa en Frankfurt. Ese era mi intento de encontrar un lugar seguro en este nuevo hogar: releyendo mis libros favoritos en mi nuevo idioma.

En fin que es un libro que me ha marcado. Despues, por alguna razón, deje de leerla, más de diez años, casi quince de no leer nada nuevo de Banana Yoshimoto. Entonces en México la reencontré. Nuevamente ahí estaba. Sólo que los dos ya no somos los mismos que éramos hace 23 años cuando nos encontramos la primera vez.

Ella ya tiene más de 50, yo más de 40. La portada del libro es sencilla. Lo abrí, y en el interior una fotos de Banana Yoshimoto, si, los años han pasado factura, pero supongo que si alguien viera una foto mía de cuando yo tenía 17 y una actual, tambien sufriria un shock. Ahí estaba, un nuevo libro de uno de mis amores juveniles (la otra es Ameliè Nothomb).

Y exactamente como suele ocurrir cuando uno se encentra un amor antiguo y intenta revivir los mismos sentimientos de antes, puede uno llevarse una decepción. Banana, jura y perjura en el epílogo que este es su mejor libro. Yo me siento un poco herido, que ella no considere a kitchen su mejor obra es como si no fueran importantes las horas, y vaya que han sido muchas en todos estos años, que yo he invertido amorosamente leyendo kitchen. Así que como un amante despechado, paso ahora a destrozar su ultimo libro.

Asi es, mi amada Yoshimoto. No me gusto. Vamos que es lo mismo de ti, que escribes con 50 el libro que debiste escribir con 25, no sé. La verdad no sé que decirte. El libro sabe a ti, el libro tiene tu aroma. Pero los dos ya no somos los mismos de antes. No sé, tal vez, te lea otra vez, por que, bueno, por que uno es así, regresa a los mismos lugares para ver si se siente vivo otra vez.

Yo lo más seguro, es que vuelva a releer kitchen, como cuando se vuelven a sacar viejas fotos, volveré a sentir el calorcito que despide el refrigerador, volveré a buscar en lugar seguro en tu libro. Volveré a recordarte como cuando tu tenías 28 y yo 17 y caminabamos juntos (tu bajo mi brazo), por la ciudad de mexico con lluvias torrenciales, protegiendonos bajo el palacio de bellas artes. Y me imagino que igual, así debió haber sido, recorrer contigo tokio bajo la lluvia.

 

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