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Andreas Weiland

'Jahresdruck' and Other Works by Els Patoor 
The 'Jahresdruck' 


Jahresdruck (lithographic print, 42 x 33 cm)
'Jahresdruck', Els Patoor called this quite recent work which she printed at the lithography workshop in Eichstaett, Germany.* To  me, this work is of a startling intensity. Hieronymus Bosch comes to mind, the era of the late middle ages, of early modern times, with their witch hunts, the dance of death, wars and persecutions. Disquietening, isn't it, to view a contemporary work of art that calls up such memories, such worrying associations? Is it because we are, again, in these days, facing an era where torture has returned, where wars are as brutal as ever, and where persecutions and forms of discrimination abound even though they are generally overlooked?

This work is, I would say, the work of a "constructeur." And this despite the fact that it shows "the unconscious at work." An intuitive constructivist approach, can that be?  CAN I SPEAK OF MONTAGE, something in me has demanded to know from that faculty, within me, which claimed that this is an intrinsically modern work of art, a work of art that, like Brecht in his plays, and Eisenstein in his filmic work, uses "material" from different sources, combining it in the creative process that brings forth the unity of a work of art as well as its disturbing or unsettling effects. Els Patoor writes that she printed the work in a single instant, rather than three consecutive printings. But three sources can be deciphered. The first is obviously one of these "gravures" that artists in the 16th and 17th century liked to produce, especially in the "Holy" German Empire and the Pays Bas that were ruled by the Habsburg dynasty since the days of Charles Quinze (the so-called Low Countries or Netherlands which included Belgium at the time). Els Patoor mentions that it is a "gravure" by Merian, done in 1627. The second is of unidentified and, at least for me, unidentifiable origin. It is a dense, somewhat repetitive structure, perhaps a detail that was, in a different context, "depicting" parts of a "sky" or of a "water surface." It seems, in other words, like a "blown up" (greatly enlarged) segment of an image. "And the animal I found on a postcard, one of these cards that depict fossiles and that can be found there [... in Eichstaett]. It's not the archeopterix. I have probably emphasized its expression and neglected scientific precision." (Els Patoor)That we see an ossified fossile, the trace left by an animal that died at a time when man had not yet made his appearance on earth, is immediately perceived. What is not immediately perceived is the accidental, casual discovery of a trivial object, the postcard, and how (like the startling objects singled out by surrealist artists in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s), it propelled something. And thus unleashed a creative impulse in the artist, Els Patoor, that instinctively made her integrate this image in the course of a work process that (consciously or not) relied on combination, on montage, without blurring the boundaries of the combined images, as major Hollywood filmmakers, in opposition to Eisenstein, always tended to do. It is quite true that overpainting, in a mixed media work, could have amounted to a similar camouflage of the combinatory approach that integrates basically heterogenous "material."
Perhaps it is the increasing preponderance of black in the lower part of the middle segment and  the entirely black background ("in front of which" the fossil stands out) which help "blur" the line of contact between middle and lower image to some degree. But that three distinct "layers" or strata (that owe their existence to three different image "sources") exist in this work, is clearly recognized. Is there a significance inscribed in this recognizable existence of "layers"? I think, yes, it is indeed meaningful. I tend to read the "urbs" (the bird's eyes' view of a "town" embedded in a landscape) as a metaphor for a world, a "human universe" (as Charles Olson called it), a representation of "our" society (or rather, in a global context, "our" societies), "our" contemporary, threatened existence. The middle section, the largest of the three sections, suggests, quite concretely, "depth": I read it as the "underground", the subsoil, that is, and I read its graphic structure as a representation of geological layers. Very deep down, in the deepest, darkest "inside" of the earth, the "underground" or "subsoil", the animal seems to be "at work", opening its jaws, spreading its wings or spreading out its arms as if ready to surge upward, into the open air. Read metaphorically, it embodies all the looming, quite clearly existencing dangers to our human existence, and the anxieties suppressed in us that are called up by such dangers.

Looking at this 'Jahresdruck', I cannot help seeing in it a work that by employing both an old technique (lithography) and a new one (the combination of pre-existent, 'found' material - thus, montage) also combines age-old fears traceable to the drawings of the neolithic, to biblical mythological texts (that still echo in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times) with contemporary concerns which are characteristic of the specific historical and social conditions we continue to face today.

Perhaps it is to this dual 'signification' that we must attribute its unsettling, subversive effect - an impact that can stir and move the viewer, triggering a flow of thoughts and emotions that continue inside the mind when we have already turned away from this work.




* The Lithography Workshop in Eichstaett is a remarkable center of artistic creativity situated in the middle of a limestone mining area. As the director of the workshop, Ms. Li Portenlaenger, pointed out, "the best lithographic stones" available globally today are mined in this area which is also the region where the inventor of lithography, Senefelder, was born. In recent years, artists in residence have been invited by the city of Eichstaett to stay and work here for a fixed period of time. Apart from being a co-founder of the workshop and its present director, Ms. Portenlaenger is also a remarkable artist. She was recently invited to a symposium on contemporary  lithography in Tianjin, P.R. China. The publication produced on the occasion of this Sino-European Print-making Symposium contains a reproduction of Els Patoor's 'Jahresdruck.'

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