‚The Procedural, the Unavailable, and Community Building: On the Performative Character of Jenny Brockmann’s Drawings and the Transformative Power of Her “Cartographies of Thought”‘ by Dr. Jenny Graser

Jenny Brockmann executes her drawings not seated at the table but kneeling on the floor, bent over a large piece of paper. Holding a fine white pencil, her hand glides over a deep black surface, which appears as an infinite and unfathomable space into which she seems to immerse herself while drawing. The paper is usually used as a background for film or photo shoots, but for Brockmann it forms the stage for extensive conceptual worlds in which the complex and dynamic processes of knowledge production are traced.
For her projects, Brockmann seeks contact with scientists, researchers, and artists from a wide range of disciplines, such as physics, mathematics, computer science, philosophy, theology, literature, media studies, dance, and music, because, according to the artist, „A new way of thinking can only develop through what I do not know.“1 In all her projects, Brockmann strives to shed established knowledge and penetrate into new forms of reflection.
The interdisciplinary dialogue is often begun with a concept that is deliberately abstract and thus as open as possible. In that sense, Brockmann has been dealing with the emergence of irrevocable turning points since 2014, with Irreversible Moment.2 In 2019, she explored the aspect of insecurity in Informed Desire, and, in the same year, during a stay in New York, she dealt with the topics of care, resilience, violence, refusal, and emancipation in interactive dialogues.3 In these exchanges with her collaborators, Brockmann approached the concepts and the questions connected to their work—for example, what role uncertainty plays in theology, and which strategies are used to cope with moments of the unavailable or ungraspable, such as death, happiness, or love. Brockmann always focuses on the parameters that characterize her topics and examines how trend-setting situations arise, and how their course and characteristics can be traced.

During her research, which sometimes takes several months, Brockmann examines the specific languages, visual modes of representation, and methodologies of the various disciplines, and then extracts individual elements and transfers them into her own visual system, which she then translates into monumental drawings. At the center of each drawing is a core concept such as the „irreversible moment.“ The artist expands the concept to include further terms, schematized representations of figures and objects, and line or bar diagrams. She links the individual elements with each other via connecting lines and arrows, and merges them into a dense network of pictorial and linguistic signs from worlds that are usually separate from one another. Brockmann also explicitly understands writing as drawing. She entangles different scientific languages and perspectives, transforming and translating them into a new medium. In the context of her practice as a sculptor, in terms of dealing with resistant material, modeling it and transforming it into something new, she creates her own relational system that, for the viewer, becomes a mirror of the artist’s manifold thought processes.
Inspired by modes of representation in the natural sciences, Brockmann’s drawings have a clear visual and formal language that characterizes her oeuvre—her sculptures, installations, and works on paper. Her experimental and interdisciplinary approach results in a discursive aesthetic: unfinished, sometimes rough, clinically cool and rational. Yet in the drawings, each individual stroke resonates with the artist’s personal signature. She draws freely, without using a ruler, compass, or other aids.
Large parts of the drawing ground remain unshaped and empty. The lines are surrounded by something free. Yet this emptiness—recalling Martin Heidegger’s remarks in Die Kunst und der Raum—does not represent nothing, or the lack of something; instead, the space is receptive to external impulses.4 In Brockmann’s drawings, the empty spaces have the potential to trigger thought processes and thus to create moments of vitalization and dynamization on a purely imaginary and immaterial level. The blank parts allow thoughts to circulate freely, both during the drawing process and in the reception of the drawings by the viewer. The visitor encounters “cartographies of thought”—as the artist calls her drawings—capable of generating meaning. Like maps of landscapes, she presents her works on paper, sometimes measuring several meters long, on a tripod in the exhibition space, rolling far into the room. In that way, the paper roll forms two axes, one vertical and one horizontal, like a diagram, expanding in time and space. Brockmann thus also approaches her drawings from the third dimension. From her studies with the sculptor and performance artist Rebecca Horn (b. 1944), she learned the meaningful and atmospheric qualities of materials. Brockmann presents her drawings in an expansive manner, like a theatrical stage. Lying on the floor, the drawings share the same plane as the viewer, but at the same time their contrasting colors clearly distinguish them from their surroundings, thus marking a setting that is separated from the environment and attracts attention.

Sometimes Brockmann also incorporates sound and movement into her drawing practice, and draws in front of an audience, so that the process becomes a performance, as in the multipartite project Collective Dialogue “Gertrud Grunow” (2018–19). In it, Brockmann dealt intensively with the teachings and „harmonization theory“ of Gertrud Grunow (1870–1944), who taught at the Bauhaus in Weimar between 1919 and 1924.5 Grunow instructed her students to imagine colors and shapes in their imaginations alone, to develop them from their subconscious, allowing the pupils to arrive at an individual mode of expression. All six senses were equally mobilized to sensitize the students‘ synesthetic perception. In a workshop, a lecture performance, and a later performance, which Brockmann organized with dancers, singers, and musicians, the participants reconstructed Grunow’s teachings.6 During her performance Drawing Gertrud Grunow, which took place during the opening of Bauhaus Week Berlin, August 30, 2019, at Bauhaus Reuse, Brockmann and the expressionist dancer Katja Erfurt (b. 1971) took Grunow’s theory as the basis for a performance, accompanied by cellist and guitarist Philipp Thimm (b. 1987). As Erfurt moved parallel to the resounding music, Brockmann drew, and so physical and linear forms took shape by stimulating one another. Drawing, dance, sound, spoken contributions from the audience, and both planned and accidental elements were incorporated into the performance. The actions of the two artists and the audience thus interlocked, allowing those present to grow together into a community.7 Recalling performance art from the second half of the twentieth century, or the so-called “fourth wall,”8 the separation between stage and auditorium turned into a permeable threshold: together, artists and audience directed and influenced the performance.9 The situation, as it included random occurrences, was completely unpredictable, and thus manifested itself as a unique event.

For Brockmann, the process of drawing is a method of transporting inner reflections to the outside world. The focus lies not on representation, but on the act of drawing itself, the act of making, following performance and drawing artist Tomas Schmit (1943–2006), who described his own drawing practice as, „‚making things,‘ not representing things or commenting on them, or schematizing or interpreting them, but ‚making‘ them.“10 Brockmann’s drawing is realized as performance: the art event is processual and inaccessible, and correlates with the artist’s understanding of knowledge, which is always subject to a dynamic process, never completely tangible, but instead always being revised and expanded.
As Erika Fischer-Lichte declared regarding the limits of science, „humans are not able to control the ‚invisible forces‘ that permeate the world. Even if they seek to control and determine them, they will always be controlled and determined by them at the same time.“11 The theater scholar continues to explain that artists have always let their artistic actions be guided intuitively by this insight, making the „mysterious unavailability“ perceptible.12 In her performative drawings, Brockmann transforms established orders and structures of meaning, and forms new, relational constellations in which she combines seemingly incompatible elements in order to initiate a new way of thinking. Her cartographies of thought thus become “irreversible moments” in themselves, turning points that, once passed, make us aware of the dynamics and mobility of all knowledge. Human-created systems are both fragile and pliable at the same time.

[1] Jenny Brockmann in conversation with the author, April 7, 2020. The manuscript is in the possession of the author.
[2] See Open Lab “Irreversible Moment,” exh. cat. Ernst Schering Foundation in cooperation with Willms Neuhaus Stiftung, Zufall und Gestaltung, published by Ernst Schering Foundation (Berlin, 2016).
[3] See Dialogues on a Future Communication, exh. cat. 1014 inc. (New York, 2019).
[4] Martin Heidegger, Die Kunst und der Raum (St. Gallen, 1969), p. 12.
[5] Niklas Hoffmann-Walbeck, Julia Korrek, and Janek Müller, eds., Ein Archiv von Hitze und Kälte (Weimar, 2018), pp. 99–106.
[6] The three-part project comprised the following events: WORKSHOP—Collective Dialogue “Gertrud Grunow,” B Vocal—House of Vocal Art, Berlin, 19.04.2018; LECTURE PERFORMANCE—Collective Dialogue “Gertrud Grunow”—Farbe Ton Bewegung, in the program of Kunstfest Weimar and the project Hitze, Kälte, Apparate, ACC Galerie, Weimar, 02.09.2018; PERFORMANCE—Drawing Gertrud Grunow, on occasion of 100 Jahre Bauhaus—Bauhauswoche Berlin, Bauhaus Reuse, Berlin, 30.08.2019.
[7] Erika Fischer-Lichte, Ästhetik des Performativen (Frankfurt am Main, 2004), p. 82.
[8] For the “fourth wall” in the performing and visual arts, see Erika Fischer-Lichte, Doris Kolesch, and Matthias Warstat, eds., Metzler Lexikon Theatertheorie (Stuttgart and Weimar, 2005), pp. 260–61; Barbara Gronau, “Mambo auf der Vierten Wand: Sitzstreiks, Liebeserklärungen und andere Krisenszenarien,” in Auf der Schwelle: Kunst, Risiken und Nebenwirkungen, eds., Erika Fischer-Lichte, Robert Sollich, Sandra Umathum, and Matthias Warstat, (München, 2006), pp. 43–56.
[9] Fischer-Lichte 2004 (see note 7), p. 29.
[10] Tomas Schmit, “Montagsgespräch 7, 19. September 2005,” in Tomas Schmit and Wilma Lukatsch, Dreizehn Montagsgespräche, eds., Barbara Wien and Wilma Lukatsch (Berlin, 2008), p. 229.
[11] Fischer-Lichte 2004 (see note 7), p. 361.
[12] Ibid., p. 362.