Harald Kraemer Landmarks to the world of shapes
The works of art contained in this book open up worlds of an almost indescribable magnificence. They appear enigmatic, unfathomable in their ambiguity, and thus remain open to various interpretations. One of their characteristics lies in the fact that each individual work is as much an end in itself as it refers to the abundance of all other expressions, and thus has to be considered a fragment. The works are of a processual nature, a singularity which is mirrored in the fact that they are inherently incomplete. If we tried to give an exhaustive explanation of the concept or the primordial idea behind Haag's works this would entail the pictures' essence loosing a considerable amount of their impact. Thus, although the secret can be guessed at, for the time being it can only be described in vague terms. The following is but an attempt at tracing some of the principles underlying these works of art.
The most obvious reference is that to landscapes, which is not only due to the work's motifs, for landscapes and the works reproduced in this book have quite a few other things in common: most of the time they combine several different characteristic in themselves, they are difficult to grasp conceptually, they are subject to constant change and, above all, the way they are perceived is highly subjective. Thus, the following pages may perfectly well be read in geographical terms, as a series of landscapes complete with heaths and hills, moon and moors, mountains and parks, plains and towns. But, as we also discover things such as asteroids and speleothemes, the term landscape has to be understood in quite broad a sense. And there are even figures and bodies. The book's dramaturgy groups, arranges and creates stimulating dialogues.
After only a few pages, ink drawings rendered in delicate grey tones come up against collages assembled from coloured pieces. Stratifications and faults combine into opposite pairs as if natural chaos and constructed order had been put into confrontation with each other. Landscape painting is taken as a starting point so as to have natural landscape and cultivated landscape meet. These 'BILDINGS' are composed of geometric forms consisting of partly coloured surfaces, which results in a sequence of rhythmically composed shades on the one hand, and something like spatial resonating bodies on the other. It is a two-sided dialogue demonstrating the richness of the formal vocabulary. In isolation, the ink drawing 'APEROLIEN' (2004) does not have any spatial depth whatsoever, but consists of convex and concave forms placed next to each other. If the two masses of colour in from the collage no. 14 of the series 'BILDINGS' (1999), a blue one in the foreground and a smaller grey one appearing in the background, combine with the facing page a three-dimensionality is created that is reflected on the left page and which turns the flat, two-dimensional ocean into a stage of sorts, drawing one's eye towards the background. A dark form, reminiscent of a mogul slope and considerably cropped, takes hold of the foreground and creates a spatial distance to the darker element below. Behind it, the skyline appears in almost three-dimensional shape.
The subsequent works are characterised by the playful ease with which interlacing and merging elements of differing density and structure are treated by the artist. The following pages demonstrate the many variants of condensed and porous nuances, floating and rigid biomorphic creations, of mutations and metamorphoses, all of which are subject to nothing but the book's format. In the small ink drawing 'SABALIS' (2004), the presence of transience, incompleteness and imperfection is so strong it is second to none in this respect. The four depicted forms show various states in a continuous metamorphosis. The one on the left, looking a bit like a corroding algette (Haeckel, plate 34), is truncated, porous and incomplete. In a state of disintegration, decay is not far. In the middle there is the fragment of a mutated moss animal (Haeckel, plate 23/4) caught in an incomplete condition between creation and decay. The closeness of the hemisphere-like form at the bottom, remotely reminiscent of a jellyfish's gelatine umbrella (Haeckel, plate 88/5), seems to have grown into the manifestation of permanence on the right and is changing into a pitcher plant of sorts (Haeckel, plate 62). Only when confronted with incomplete and imperfect forms does the transient nature of this condition of compactness come to the fore. The Substantive concreteness is an illusion. Relentlessly, everything is given over to change.
The state of subsequent forms, being simultaneously open and closed, reminds one of those stones called «Suiseki». Viewed up, close strong details are revealed, which again contain landscapes or object-like, sometimes corporeal forms. The meaning of every single motif, as shown in 'HIROLANIUM' (2002), seems to expand in reverse proportion to its actual size. ThisThe basic principle of macrocosm and microcosm corresponds to thethis abundance of details which it entailscomes with it and which can be recovered reappears in these smallest of works. Forms that are falling and floating are continually turned into sitting, lying and standing things. And it is in a more and more closed shape that each single form occupies the space surrounding it. This space on the other hand is more and more turning into a surface, and since everything is reduced to only a few shades of grey contrasting with each other, any feeling of spatial perception is finally overturned. Convex and concave black and white forms mark an end point. Complete reduction of colours. Complete simplicity of forms. Despite all these limitations there is no loss of poetry. An invisible band connects these works, economical and sober in their vocabulary of forms, with the community of 'DUETTE&DUELLE' ('duets&duels'). These pairs again are set against other pairs, and together they form a diversified array made up of fragments and parts reminiscent of transformed bodies. Furthermore, the series 'DUETTE&DUELLE' clarifies one of the underlying artistic principles. It consists of highlighting certain forms by overpainting them and outlining their contours with partly luminescent paint. Thus the form's three-dimensionality is highlighted even more prominently by the one-dimensionality of the painted area. As in some of the works of this series there is strong emphasis on a three-dimensional appearance of forms, it does not seem far-fetched to assume that this step into spatial dimensions did not only occur on paper.
Over the last three years the artist has created wax objects that have served as models for bronze casts. We might call them moments of arrested temporality. They are created by pouring liquid wax into the cool waters of Lake Thun. Objects such as 'YOTRON' (2008), 'CAROSUT' (2005) or 'NARALIS' (2008) reproduce the process of their creation while also being its end product. The wax penetrates the water, sculpting it, while at the same time being sculpted by it. Wax and water, sculpture and form creating each other. This process, where dematerialisation and materialisation go hand in hand, becomes the process that constitutes the work. It is hard to say what exactly constitutes the beauty of these objects. Whether it is due to chance being a distinctive element in the production process or to the strangely liquid and fragile surface structure that appeals so much to our sense of touch - these bronzes are quiet witnesses and concise fragments of strong reactions. As such they must be understood as building blocks of an aesthetics that can occur anywhere and at any times, given the necessary prerequisites, which in our case consists of bringing together two liquids, i.e. hot wax and cold water. This is a special moment full of poetry and elegance, and as an event it is completely singular and beyond repetition. A further secret of Haag's world of images lies in this very characteristic, the singular and erratic nature of the chemical reaction. Haag gives form to a dynamic event. This is also mirrored in his reverse glass paintings, which, not least because of their fragility, look like a cross-section of his bronzes.
These eruptive moments of sculptural creation can also be found in some of Haag's oil paintings. The almost inconceivable power of 'JABONO' (2005) for example forces its way from the top left corner to the area down at the bottom, takes several somersaults, opens up into small eddies, only to peter out into the corners at the bottom. In 'KROWOTA' (2005), this gesture of falling meets up with the aspect of floating. White spray is swept against the dark coast and threatens to devour it. This is happening in a pastel coloured environment which might be aptly defined as non-space. Haag's elemental forces fight with each other. The details are wisely chosen. It remains open whether the forms are growing or dying. Acts of derring-do develop out of a void, or give way to it. This, however, it is not an empty nothingness, but has to be understood as a lively space full of potential. Haag, looking for balance, succeeds in performing a balancing act. Thus growth and transience, in the sense of «pulling and changing» the way Gottfried Keller has 'Green Henry' experience it, co-exist in an environment that is constantly moving towards or away from a void. After this immediate confrontation of forces there is a change of perspective. The subsequent works allow a view from above onto the events going on down below, slowing down the process considerably. Whereas numerous of Haag's works are created in seconds by a pyrolytic procedure, oil paintings such as 'MIFULO' (2005), 'DANUKLIS' (2007) and 'AROTELA' (2005) or some of the drawings stand for a procedure that strictly obeys the rules of deceleration, thus putting the continuity of a permanent drawing act centre stage. What used to be a detail taken out of a process looks like a simultaneous co-operation of all existing things in one single picture. Almost like a parable.
What had become apparent in the named above-mentioned paintings, shows even more clearly in the paintings 'EFALERIA' (2006) und 'FALERONIA' (2006) and 'PATAGALIA' (2006). It is not in the pompous moments of monumentality that Haag's visual idea reveals itself, but in the delicate moments of beginning and ending. As a chronicler of nuances he is interested in the documentation of fleeting moments. These are details so delicate and inconspicuous, they easily escape notice at a first glance. It seems hardly surprising therefore that the size of some of his paintings does not go past that of a few millimetres. And painting is definitely an appropriate term, for in his mini formats Haag renders visible the monumentality of the microcosm. The closer the visual contents get to the idea of a void, the more intensely they are experienced and the more complete they seem. There seems to be an almost homeopathic strategy behind these ink drawings. The works' impact is augmented by this reduction of means, as is the picture's message by the concentration on a single detail. Abstraction and realism go hand in hand, as 'LAMPULO' (2005) shows in an exemplary way. For it is up to the viewer to decide whether we are talking about a manifestation of gestural abstract expressionism or about sea anemones, marine sponges, ciliata (Haeckel, plate 49, 5, 3) or even about pure finger painting.
And all of a sudden the thicket of 'PATAGALIA' (2006) opens up on the following pages, creating the effect of a caesura. In 'INJECTION 57' clusters of asteroids and other celestial bodies in cosmic darkness strive towards a light-flooded centre. Associations with distant galaxies suggest themselves, yet they are nothing but linguistic and visual aides in order to voice the incomprehensible. Only those who are patient with both themselves and the pictures will glean the powers behind things. In this respect the subsequent pictures should be understood as measures means towards deceleration, leading, by their increasing condensation, from macrocosm to microcosm. Once more there is a change in perspective, for in 'PERFOTA' (2005), 'VATALIA' (2005) or 'OPOSI' (2005) space and surface are not what they seem. Foreground and background have become obsolete in a monotonous network that keeps the eye constantly moving. And with 'ZALMALA' (2008) we leave the wattlework structure and approach landscapes full of invisible cities. The pencil drawing 'ULVERGLIS' (2007) for example contains abundant architectural reminiscences, which can described in terms of Rudofsky's «architecture without architects». Thus, the fortified villages of Swanetia in the Caucasus come up against the pointillist townscape of Zanzibar, while the wanderer walks along the cone-shaped houses of Nuraghi in Sardinia, which are surrounded by the circular amphitheatres of Muyu-uray in Peru, towards the hanging gardens of Semiramis. It takes time and leisure to stroll these treasures with one's eyes. Take enough time and leisure when you let your eyes stroll over these treasures. This At this is the only way how to turn the tour into an event taking place between one's own person and the picture.
Haag himself fulfils the requirements of a cautiously moving wanderer perfectly. Works such as 'RAPULIEN' (2007), 'SUPTION' (2006) or 'CLASTRIDIEN' (2007) seem like landmarks indications and offer, apart from associations of landscapes, insight into different notions of time. No matter whether rendered in ink, oil or wax, the time it took to produce them is the constituent element of all of Haag's works. While created in a chemical reaction that takes but seconds, consciously selecting the definite detail of an ink drawing measuring only millimetres can take years. These thunderbolts in ink stand vis-à-vis oil paintings whose production time almost equals the speed of growth of small dripstones. Or the wax works, cast in bronze to last forever. Giving it time. Letting time evolve. So, alongside calligraphic impulses and a surrealist écriture automatique we find in Haag's work Henri Bergson's notion of time, who thought of time as a river flowing very fast at times, rather sedately at others, but obeying its very own speed that can be neither reversed nor repeated. This notion of 'flowing' has its very own qualities, which come to the fore in some of Haag's drawings, but even more so in 'INJECTION 34'. Just as with 'INJECTION 57', this double page is also mirrored. By mirroring a simple cascade of grey shapes, two rivers of energy merge towards a central axis, and by flowing out together they seem to be able to serve a continuous circulation. Things arrive. Things remain. Things fade away. To no other work does the book's title seem more applicable than to this elementary image of coming and going. Coming up against Confronting the river of life, we are well advised to accept the inevitability of our own transience. It is no surprise then that, when faced with it, we are overcome by a feeling of quiet abandonment and delicate sadness. But the subsequent works do not allow for any of this. They are far too powerful, colourful and impulsive, and their diversity reveals the richness of Haag's world of images.
Let us go back to landscape. Comparing two ink drawings reveals how deceptive the term 'landscape' can be. Whereas 'HERBISTAN' (2002) looks like a valley opening up towards the horizon and bordered by steep slopes, 'FELIOTO' (2000) pulls the eye over a hill in the foreground, set with neatly arranged bushes, and growing wider towards the background. These associations notwithstanding there is something wrong. Both landscapes have elements that seem to contravene the things observed. The harmony of the valley in 'HERBISTAN' is disturbed by several cuts that run across the image in a horizontal direction. And in 'FELIOTO' there is a white field of light, surrounded by floating globe-like elements, that dazzles the eye wandering over the gentle hill. The alien elements are irritating and unsettling. Landscape is cancelled out for the sake of abstraction, which in the left area is perceived as a disruption, in the right one as some sort of dissolution. A rather static landscape is thus translated into a dynamic structure by a process of abstraction, creating a dramaturgy that governs space and surface, movement and stagnancy. These forms of mutation have to be understood as some kind of liquid landscape architecture, allowing for a vagueness and ambivalence characteristic of conditions approaching a state of nothingness. Last but not least the 'BILDINGS' return, those geometric shapes of using a reduced formal vocabulary, which enter into a graceful and exciting dialogue with the biomorphic elements. On the last pages finally, there is a change in the closed state of the cube-like forms, in the narrowness of landscapes and, the river's edges, so that all forms open up 'clear and void'.
Our idea of the world does not correspond to the worlds here depicted. They are more like imaginary worlds whose character remains vague and open, for the individual viewer to decide, but at the same time closed to other's eyes. Haag's worlds of images visualise areas that go beyond the visual. All his works - some of them reminiscent of Arp and Bacon, some of Michaux and Tobey and last but not least of Haeckel's «Art Forms in Nature» - create worlds of their own, which could be realised nowhere or anywhere, and thus everywhere. Whoever lets themselves in for Haag's worlds of indescribable magnificence will perceive their surroundings with different senses: A branch, fallen to the ground, looking like an eel's writhing body writhing in the green grass of the a meadow. A sleeping scrap-heap next to railroad tracks, awaiting its awakening. A slice of light-coloured limestone, offset against the reddish grey of the forest slope. A mossy pantheon playing with the roof's sleet. It is the simple discoveries that bring about change.
All of Haag's works are interconnected, and it seems that the essence underlying each individual work can only be truly grasped when understanding the totality of all principles behind them. Assuming that the place where this knowledge is conserved lies hidden in the works themselves, and that language or writing cannot render it but insufficiently, we have to conclude that knowledge about the essence of all things, in the sense of an all-encompassing existence, can only register when it is appreciated as such. To all intents and purposes we are dealing with mere shadows between being and appearing, and that which cannot be named remains a constant. This might be the only certainty left to the viewer. Keeping this in mind, works of art only exist when they reveal to us, the viewers, their qualities as driving forces and mechanisms of perception, and when we have learnt to acknowledge these qualities. Or, to conclude in the words of Carl Gustav Carus: «Climb to the topmost mountain peak, gaze out across long chains of hills, and observe the rivers in their courses and all the magnificence that offers itself to your eye - what feeling takes hold of you? There is a silent reverence within you; you lose yourself in infinite space; silently, your whole being is purified and cleansed; your ego disappears. You are nothing; God is all.» In this respect, Filip Haag, observer and chronicler of wondrous worlds of images, is still as romantic a realist as what he has always been:
A romantic when a realist. A realist when a romantic.
2008 (translation: Sylvia Rüttimann) in:
Filip Haag . "Es kommt. Es bleibt. Es geht."