On ‚The Visible and the Perceptible’ by Marcin Berdyszak

From the dawn of its existence, art has been bound up with perception. When we study the wall paintings in the caves of Lascaux, we experience a sense of colossal realism. Perhaps it was likeness to reality which underlay Sir John George Frazer’s assertion that things which are similar to one another are identical. It created the possibility of receiving and learning about the world by way of images.

One of the themes Jenny Brockmann’s work tackles is the problem of perception and seeing, yet both the experiencing of art and her own consciousness most definitely go beyond the kind of communion which has long seemed insufficient.

What interests me is a dissonance present in this remarkable German artist’s work, a dissonance between seeing, perceiving her objects or installations and experiencing them with one’s tangible presence which, as it transpires, is not merely physical. Jenny Brockmann treats the human being, the viewer, the participant, holistically, both setting the haptic aspects of her works in an interesting situation and, at the same time, undertaking a dialogue with the spaces or architectural spaces and with the substance of the vast quantity of images over the temporal space of the ages to this day. It might be tempting to say that the experiencing of the substance she is proffering lies in the presence and direct participation of people in her works. For the viewer engaging in direct interaction with body and mind alike, every merit and every imperfection provides an opportunity of experiencing which is unique and, in truth, remains uncompleted, because it evades cognitive stereotypes and is difficult to bring to any kind of conclusion. This is not an experience. This is experiencing, remaining open, with no overwhelming urge to hold a culturally agreed opinion. Brockmann offers us experiencing beyond the possibility of verbal definition and even, perhaps, of conveying to others. Others can only view us as integral parts of the works if we are experiencing them, as in her Außer Gleichgewicht / Out of Balance, to give just one instance.

The situation of perceiving, or rather, of observing someone’s experiencing, constitutes an extremely interesting discourse on the perception of works of art and viewing them, which is presented here as rendering the experiencing outright impossible or simply an insignificant, short-lived experience. It is as if the artist makes us aware of the possibility of a more instinctive experiencing that might supplant the intelligent experiencing which is now culturally expended. Maybe this is a proposal for a cultural instinct for experiencing which constitutes a fresh possibility within “liquid modernity”, to use Zygmunt Baumann’s phrase.

Another essential aspect which Jenny Brockmann broaches in the context of any and all development and proper functioning is that of collaboration. In her Out of Balance, where we have to interact in order to maintain the equilibrium, it is collaboration which makes experiencing possible and Brockman is pointing to it here as a fundamental condition for making anything whatsoever possible. Collaboration as a broad concept and in a sociological context was taken up by Joseph Beuys, who considered apian society to be well-nigh ideal and held that there, cooperation was cardinal. It transpires that Brockmann offers us collaboration in the matter of experiencing art and at more or less the basic level, at that. It is as if she wants to make us aware that we have to begin any and every relationship anew. If I turn to Jean Baudrillard and cite his assertion that even the forbidden is no longer transcendent, which might refer to a scene from Paradise and to prohibition in works of art, then what Jenny Brockmann does with her work is open our eyes to the fact that the only thing that might be transcendent is a command, a higher inevitability, where collaboration constitutes both purpose and necessity.

When I recall Joseph Beuys’s performance art piece at the Galerie Schmela in Düsseldorf in 1965, How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, which looked at humans’ absolute rationalisation of everything and juxtaposed it with the intuition of a dead animal, implying a conclusion to the effect that intuition of that kind is better than the explanation of everything and the need to understand it, then what comes to mind is Jenny Brockmann’s Der scheue Raum / Shy Room. The readiness to enter, or making a move toward stepping into the space, results in its closure; it is rendered inaccessible. In this way alone… and it is a way which could well be called ideal… the author provides us with a chance of experiencing what cannot be experienced, which does, after all, constitute the basis of more than just art.

Brockmann builds an interesting concept of space in her Anordnung / Alignment, where the automation set in motion by a human presence becomes oppressive; the door closes and opens and we have to submit to that. This kind of experience goes beyond cultural adaptation. It creates an awareness of the possibilities that space can bring into play with itself and with us, while we have been in the habit of deciding everything ourselves. Rhythmus der Zelle / Cell Rhythm is a work of a similar nature, giving us an opportunity of potential restriction which is intensified by the fact that the cage is only closed to the end by the mechanism of visual suggestion.

Cuddling and embracing are rooted in needs which are natural both to animals and humans. These situations not only arise from the need for closeness, but are also concrete interventions in shaping an object and surroundings or space. On the one hand, Umarmung / Hug Machine, a prosthesis-like object, stands as a sculpture or something by way of being a design prototype. On the other hand, its appearance, form and shape spring from the fact that it is possible to be embraced and cuddled by it. When we are experiencing its embrace, we cannot see ourselves and we cannot see the whole that we create together with the object, just as we cannot see the entirety of shape at the moment when our mother gives us a cuddle. We are experiencing it, but not seeing it. A third person, someone outside that relationship, can see it. What we have here is an extremely interesting moment, for it is in precisely this work that Jenny Brockmann shows us just how worn in its ways perceiving the world and learning about it through images is. What else are we supposed to see, given that the universally functioning pressure of the culture of the image has depleted it to such an extent that the art will instinctively turn to the non-visual in its actions? Which is not to say that visuality is ceasing to exist. Yet never again will it have the immense power of impact that it once possessed. The image is now primarily a medium of information, irrespective of the quality of that information.

Jenny Brockmann’s works should be considered as objects of enormous psychological and sociological potential which diagnose the now spent systems of values and perception of the world, the communion with space and with art itself. In treating of the fundamental relationships of viewer, participation, collaboration and readiness to reveal every mystery in the name of understanding, they constitute a new idea which can be built upon. Not that this hinders her in respecting those which have come before…

From the dawn of its existence, art has been bound up with experiencing. When we study the wall paintings in the caves of Lascaux, we experience a sense of colossal realism. Perhaps it was experiencing reality which underlay Sir John George Frazer’s assertion that experiences which are similar to one another are identical. It created the possibility of receiving and learning about the world by way of experiencing it.

Marcin Berdyszak
English translation by Caryl Swift