The Shining Path


Painting, photography

The Shining Path

Past: June 21 → July 27, 2013

Common problematics can be found in the works of Lisa Beck, Bruno Jakob and Martin Widmer. They all have similar tendencies to produce paradox in the form of the work of art. The art pieces exhibited here seem to call up strange external forces which question their objects and threaten their legitimacy. Reflections and paintings are worth the same, distorted frames point out the void taking up space between them, clear water and invisible fluxes are used to draw on canvas and photographs manage to embody the blinding power of the photographic media. Here, the artworks stand facing the abyss of their self-founding contradictions. Just like flowers doomed to fade are nonetheless graciously gathered in fleeting bouquets, they remain on the verge of disappearing.

Although Mi Fu (1051-1107) became a painter in his very late years, he devoted a major part of his life to the practice of calligraphy. He was especially famous for the art of the Chinese cursive script (or the so-called “Grass script”), a shaky and abrupt style of handwriting whose seemingly anxious curves suggest such a rapidity of execution that makes it comparable to a gust of wind. Yet it is said that, however perfectly one may master the art of calligraphy, one should be slightly — or very — drunk to be able to achieve those characters.

Bruno Jakob has been painting for thirty years using a palette mostly comprised of clear water and things which leave no trace behind, such as weather hazards, brainwaves, the wind. he has surrounded himself with plastic cups filled with water and has worked for hours on his canvas, leaving the paper with only very minute modifications. He has dedicated himself to stretching blank canvas in front of either a white horse, or a waterfall, in order to capture the invisible motifs marking the painting. His practice could mistakenly be considered conceptual. But Jakob, as an artist, still works as a painter does, with a painter’s tools, on a painter’s schedule. Only he resorts to clear water rather than to a turpentine solvent. His paintings are sensitive plates through which a lot of invisible materials have passed. They bear the traces of various visions and impressions.

Fu Baoshi, who was quoted by Chan Hoa at the end of the Ming dynasty, claimed that Mi Fu’s technique had a “cloud quality” to it. The more he diluted the ink the more water, by getting rid of remnants of black stone, seemed to absorb an invisible form of turbulence, a flickering void which, once transferred onto the canvas, made the paintings blurry. Landscape painting does not consist of merely copying a pre-existing world, it is a world in itself, a world whose mechanisms are rooted in its pictorial material. Landscape painting appears as as a subtle art of distributing fluids, a bit like an hydraulic engineering would do, however void would replace liquid. This may explain the fact that every viewer, when confronted to Mi Fu’s work, feels like air ‘drinks’ his pieces.

It is hard to investigate Bruno Jakob’s work without thinking that it has been manipulated. There might be a few comic features in his work, whether inherited from silent film, Monty Python episodes or stories about naked kings, but the viewer should keep in mind that it also fits in an odd line bringing together Buddhist paintings, Cézanne, Frenhofer and John Cage. Jakob is involved in the meticulous practice of void art. Paint has lost its pigments, has turned into a purified fluid which makes an infinitesimal imprint on the canvas’ surface. Water or brainwaves flow on the painting in the form of barely perceptible fluxes and dig systems of furrows where the artists’ work reveals itself negatively, in an inverted way. The painter’s landscapes do not achieve any form of representation, but remain mental and imaginary in the most concrete way. His practice, as frail and hallucinated as it is, retains the elegance of Chinese painting, the very one which, according to Bertolt Brecht, is supposed to “happily surrender the thorough subjugation of the viewer, whose illusion can never be complete.”

In January 1977, Patti Smith performed Ain’t It Strange in front of a tired, overcrowded audience in the Tampa Stadium in Florida. On the edge of a 10-feet high stage, she started to sing the third verse:

“I spin, I spiral, and I splatter, hand of God, I feel the finger, hand of God, and I start to whirl, and I whirl, and I whirl…”

Then, she let her microphone fall and began to whirl like a dervish, still singing, although the audience could not hear anything anymore.

“Turn, God, make a move, turn, Lord, I don’t get nervous, oh I just move in another dimension, come move in another dimension…”

Then, reaching an ecstatic state of mind and still turning at a crazy fast pace, she tried to catch the falling microphone, but lost her balance and fell off the stage.

In her art pieces Lisa Beck associates opposing phenomena and makes them interact. She puts in relation positive and negative, pattern and randomness, color and grayscale, flatness and depth. The circle is the most prevalent motif in her work and enables her to intervene in the field of painting through contradictory entities. The circle suggests an enclosed and bi-dimensional surface and yet, an amazing number of other categories of circles can be attached to its form. The Shining Path (1989) is a combination of large circles whose shapes are materialised by small negative frames with arched edges. Those very distorted frames, by differing from traditional orthogonal ones, suggest and point at the blank space surrounding them. Column (2012) is a mirror-like repetitive pattern composed of reflective silver monochromes hung on one wall of a corner. If the piece obviously refers to Brancusi’s work it also questions and challenges it. The use of the polyester mylar film, thanks to its optimal reflective quality, emphasizes the condition of painting as an object. Beck’s painting is invaded by utter void, the positive confronts the negative, the work makes itself real by dealing with impalpable forces and iridescent chaos.

After crashing on the Stadium floor in Tampa, Patti Smith was found with many broken neck vertebrae and had to be immobilized for several months. During her convalescence she watched Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar over and over again, and discovered that the film somehow echoed American Abstract Expressionism in many ways. In the character of Gérard, she recognised the explosive personality of Jackson Pollock. At some point in the film, a scene portrays two painters riding donkeys through the countryside, and there is noise coming from a waterfall:

“Then, a multitude of patterns over which I have no influence rose from my painting. Each of them has a proper dialectic. I do not want to capture the waterfall, I intend to capture what it expresses, what it projects. The water falling is what makes me paint.
— Can that be a form of mental painting, thought painting?
— It is the act of painting an action, action-painting.”

Pollock, throughout his career, built the figure of the painter as an actor. On the other hand, Bresson’s characters can be seen as painters. Despite Balthazar being no painter, he is the main character in the movie, and silently testifies the chaotic movements and exhausting routine of humanity. Balthazar is the donkey.

Lucretia used to think that in the air, just like lingering smoke or draperies filling a theatre with their diffuse colors, traces of bodies with no definite outlines float around us and mark our senses. They can be compared to sheets of paper which are so thin they are barely real, or remainings of snake molts. Simulacra make their way through one’s eyes and skin pores and interfere with one’s sleep, dreams are infused with the exterior world. The New-Platonic demonology has alluded to aerial bodies whose shapes evolve according to their imagination and reflect in the air just like in a mirror. And while opticians were studying these phenomena, some people attempted to take control over others by introducing images in their dreams.

Martin Widmer says he photographs things which have “nothing worth seeing”. The Here Comes The Sun series displays pictures of geometrical shapes cutting through withered architectural constructions. On first impression, the photographs seem to result from very bad photo printing, but in reality, they are the product of what Widmer calls “natural overexposure”, i.e an optic phenomenon he relentlessly hunts down, a solar irradiation system which can only be captured using a telescopic lens with a specific shooting angle at a particular distance. In the proper context, light flattens volumes and has the same blinding effect as when eyes open to the early morning sun after a heavy drinking night. Widmer explores blurry, out of focus photographic matters by staging and integrating them into the very act of taking a picture. The world thus appears and disappears in the same process. By doing such, Widmer highlights how thick the invisibility of the visible is, therefore reversing the modernist attempt at making the invisible visible.

Just as there are two suns, there are two paintings. In “Soleil Pourri”, the 1931 essay he wrote for the periodical Documents, Georges Bataille has evoked a solar star which, when reaching its highest position, has the capacity to “elevate the spirit” by radiating specific solar rays and give “mathematical serenity” to whoever avoids glancing at it. A solar star nobody should look at and which does not look at anyone. The mere fact of refusing to look away and staring at it annihilates the power of seeing. Eyes burn until they become mere organic waste and are deprived from their power to produce and elaborate complex shapes, thus unable to contemplate anymore. This very state of extreme decomposition, a pure nonsense in itself, should therefore lead individuals to try and “prevent their ascending movement to that highest point where light shines its blinding rays.”

Bruno Botella, June 2013 — translated by Chloé Labaye
Samy Abraham Gallery Gallery
Map Map
20 Paris 20 Zoom in 20 Paris 20 Zoom out

43, rue Ramponeau

75020 Paris

T. 01 43 58 04 16


Opening hours

Wednesday – Saturday, 11 AM – 7 PM
Other times by appointment

The artists

  • Lisa Beck
  • Bruno Jakob
  • Martin Widmer