Posts from the ‘english’ category

Andreas Meier – Introduction / Preface

in Monography

“People speak about computer art as if it were art in plaster or bronze. That doesn’t really interest me. To represent a computer screen, I prefer to use a bit of fabric mounted on a frame and stick some coloured thumbtacks into it.”

Pixels, 1993 – punaises colorées sur toile / coloured thumbtacks on canvas – 30 x 40 cm.

Pixels, 1993 – punaises colorées sur toile / coloured thumbtacks on canvas – 30 x 40 cm.

In response to Hervé Graumann’s comment, one might say that we do not necessarily expect a computer artist to depict his computer any more than we would expect a painter to think primarily of painting a picture of paintbrush and pigment. But by the time Pop Art took the floor, there was no denying that a brushstroke could be translated into dots and that the act of painting could be captured in the alien medium of the halftone grid. It was through this form of alienation that Roy Lichtenstein compelled us to reflect not only on the means of expression but also on his subject matter. He represented painting using non-painterly means. And Hervé Graumann achieved his breakthrough on-screen with the antiquated figure of a painter, demonstrating how the “old craft” of painting works using an easel and three pots of paint. Actually, Hervé Graumann’s tools are neither paintbrush and paint nor a computer nor any other means of expression traditionally taught at an art academy. Instead he uses disjunctive changes in vantage point and perspective as well as humour and irony in order to explore questions of reality and art philosophical concerns. Early in life he became acutely aware of being a Francophile with a German name, a name that understandably inspired his penchant for colour [German grau = grey].

For machines, 1996-97 – dispositif informatique, appareils électriques, bande vidéo computer device, electrical objects, video tape – dimensions variables

For machines, 1996-97 – dispositif informatique, appareils électriques, bande vidéo
computer device, electrical objects, video tape – dimensions variables

“Nonchalance” was the title of an exhibition organised in 1997 by the Centre PasquArt in Biel and subsequently shown at the Academy of the Arts in Berlin. Art of life, autopoiesis, self-reflexion, self-subversion, change of paradigm, crossover, aberration, flaneur are some of the keywords discussed in the accompanying catalogue. Hervé Graumann was represented along other artists such as Pipilotti Rist, Daniele Buetti, Fabrice Gygi, Sylvie Fleury, Thomas Hirschhorn and Christian Marclay. Christian Robert-Tissot’s contribution on the CD of the award-winning catalogue publication was called Assez nul (Pretty Shitty), L/B’s Reduzierte Schwerkraft (Gravity Reduced), Stefan Altenburger’s Unsaved Memories and Hervé Graumann’s Music for Printer. To me Hervé Graumann was the quintessential exponent of “Nonchalance”. His installation For machines confronted us with electric household appliances, a hairdryer, a drill, a radio, a record player, lamps, etc., which were programmed to run alternately and simultaneously. The installation included a video of everyday scenes that Hervé Graumann had filmed with his seven-year-old daughter. We one-dimensionally functioning, ambitious everyday people can only dream of the insouciance conveyed by this art and its exquisitely light touch with reality. I know that the dictionary lists a number of negative meanings for “nonchalance” such as carelessness, disdain or disinterest. But we had discovered a word that had lost its function as a deterrent; we saw it as an expanded term for creative dream dancers and jugglers.

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Without entirely dismissing the quality of nonchalance in Hervé Graumann’s work, I do, in retrospect, take a more differentiated view of his artistic developments. I’ve been keeping track of his work for over 10 years and was more than enthusiastic about Raoul Pictor’s first appearance, about hard on soft and Blanc sur Blanc. It is quite natural that the ongoing, developing art of Raoul Pictor initially formed the core of his oeuvre, for it is situated as much in virtual cyberspace and as it is in the space of the museum. And it is equally natural that Graumann continues to dream of an automatic assistant who can generate a host of original pictures here and there and everywhere in the world where he is invited, thereby undermining the concept of the original and making a droll dig at the art trade. Hervé Graumann has often drawn my attention to the beauty of some of the resulting pictures. I do not dispute their aesthetic, but Raoul Pictor obviously also challenges the principle of individual creative activity. He is useful as a metaphor for the shift of interest away from a physically unique picture to visually generated reflection upon artistic processes. Hervé Graumann, the Neodadaist is an astute thinker, who ceaselesly calls into question the idea of the autonomous picture, of its generation and its presentation.

This publication is the first to trace the playful and yet rigorously logical path that has led to a coherent oeuvre in which there is much to discover and to admire, especially in the beginnings which emerged alongside the rise of digital technology. Hervé Graumann’s multi-dimensional approach is underrated. No matter what he does, his stringent objectives preclude all banality; he has been known to be extremely severe in his assessment of colleagues who produce nonchalant art and succumb to the temptation of the playful randomness posed by the world of digitally generated images. For more than 10 years he has been exploring the role of the picture as a mimetic phenomenon. What is a canvas? What is a picture frame? What is acrylic paint? What is paint on the computer screen and what happens when a plotter prints pixels and delivers arbitrary identical images? How do we react when we see enlarged pixels painted on a canvas, knowing full well that the paintbrush is perfectly capable of handling organic transitions? What is a printed handwritten signature? What is a machine-made date, listing day, hour and minute, and what does the unique automatic dedication, triggered by the addressee and send to him/herself, mean? It’s exactly like asking an unknown writer for an autograph after a reading, to which he complies with a smile upon asking how the name is spelled.

We will enjoy Graumann’s work only if we also enjoy inquiring into artistic strategies and are willing to surrender a few beloved rules and artistic attitudes concerning individual style and the conventional properties of originality in pictures. We must not fall in love with the randomly generated colour combinations of Raoul Pictor’s pictorial creations even if Hervé Graumann is pleased to find these products framed and mounted on the wall of a room, to wit: computer prints sold for 10 francs or, on another occasion, a free handout for viewers. The comic-like animated image of Raoul Pictor is the final performance of a romantic artist or rather the acronymic caricature of the stereotype of creativity. I sometimes long for that stereotype when I visit a studio filled with computers and bare walls, and am offered a glass of orange juice. Raoul Pictor is the radical destruction of a cherished artist myth that can only function as animated film in today’s age of genetic technology.

Ever since we began making copies of animals, plants and human beings, the need for mimetic creation has lost its attractiveness. Why should we copy reality? Cloning is the ultimate unsurpassable act of artistic creation. Thou shalt not make unto thee  any graven image or any likeness of any thing – and that includes copying nature! Nature doesn’t want to be copied, having demonstrated for thousands of years that it — and we as part of it — generate natural multiplicity instead of reproducing, says the teacher of ethics to the genetic scientist. By cloning, we want to overrule the principles of time and transience. The thought of eternity never fails to seduce the egomania of the human animal. But it cancels out the life principle of constant change and re-creation and the principle of becoming and passing away. Concerned about unpredictable dangers, we try to restrict our potential faculties, just as healthy commonsense has led us to reduce the potential of nuclear arms technology for fear of total annihilation. To compensate, we indulge in virtual expansion. Reality has exploded, expanding into boundless spaces.

Pattern - Vanité 2b, 2003 – installation, objets divers / installation, sundry objects – 400 x 500 cm.

Pattern – Vanité 2b, 2003 – installation, objets divers / installation, sundry objects – 400 x 500 cm.

When Hervé Graumann makes gridlike copies of reality and presents them to us in three dimensions – which we can generate onscreen using the right program and pressing the right key – he is mentally anticipating a reality that a keystroke can reproduce. It may well be that no one has yet realized just how revolutionary Hervé Graumann’s thoughts are. We involve ourselves in ethical, legalistic discussions about cloning living creatures; Graumann translates virtual expansion back into reality. A serious matter served up with disarming nonchalance. The CD-rom as a menu, smarties or ecstasy pills, syringes, cookies, doses of medication for morning, noon and evening, hallucinogens, sedatives and stimulants in the form of sushi: a metaphoric guessing game, a play of illusions, an appeal to differentiated perception and thinking, prodding us to analyse manipulated reality and think about the perception of complex processes. Nonchalant, yes. But the dream dancer, doing multidimensional pirouettes on the stage of our retinas, wants to shake us out of the anesthetic coma of pictorial consumption. Graumann’s enigmatic visual dreams have the mischievous quality of a wakeup call.

And here we are, back at the beginning of the 20th century with the Dadaists, who expanded expression in all directions and blithely subverted cherished conventions and traditions, or with the ready-mades that took the magic out of established principles of art and still manage to bewilder contemporaries today. Ancestral portraits are legion but Graumann does not want to be linked with the super fathers of the early 20th century. In time, however, he will inevitably be associated and reliably compared with more recent contemporaries like Giulio Paolini, Martin Kippenberger or Markus Raetz. We shall leave it at that for the moment because Hervé Graumann steadfastly exploits the new visual technologies and is, undoubtedly, a pioneer in the exploration of these new visual worlds. Nonetheless, although he is a child of the computer age, he does not ignore paintbrush and paint, and he plays with the quality of the new materials until he has created new forms of watercolors. When he places a chirping printer, from a generation which has since vanished into obsolescence, on a foam rubber stand, the supposed stability of primary reality becomes extremely precarious. That is more than a visualized play on the words ‘hard’ and ‘soft’. It is also an attempt to extract a maximum of poetry from the short-lived realities of modern-day life. It is tempting to speak of a romantic dreamer again, of one who manages to find the most enchanting cubbyholes and chambers in Plato’s cave system despite the flagrant economic underpinnings that drive this technology.

For me, the computer is a luxurious, comfortably glorified typewriter and I have absolutely no notion of programming. That makes me wonder whether I have a fundamentally different perception of this artist’s oeuvre than someone who possesses skills similar to Hervé Graumann’s own and can therefore easily follow and understand how his ideas are generated. Whatever the case, the appeal of Graumann’s work is obviously as accessible to me as it is to a younger generation of viewers and computer adepts. The work vaguely hints at the dimensions of future virtual art spaces but it is also inseparably linked up with art history and the old aesthetic concepts of earlier periods.

HOS_moving_

Hard on soft, 1993 – computer, dot matrix printer, foam base – 145 x 50 x 40 cm.

Graumann raises a difficult question during the interview when he asks whether we human beings should be controlling computers, or vice versa. He immediately comes up with examples, anticipating those who tend to reject the dominance of the machine and consider the idea absurd. Graumann keeps abreast of technical developments, always playfully entwining and encircling them with reflections and questions. He takes them in with childlike wonder, turns them upside down, peers under surfaces and into the machines themselves, listens to their sounds and adjusts to their growing speed and ever new potential, like someone who does not have to work with them but is simply allowed to play with them. The computer is a discovery machine and he can use it and its latest programmes in the sense intended by those who invented them, but he can also gaze at the computer from a great distance as if it were a ladder to the skies.

Humour in art is always a sign of uninhibited experimentation and reflection. Irony appears to be Graumann’s constant companion. It gives him the necessary detachment. But irony not only requires the nonchalance of free association and improvisation; it also demands a discerning mind and self-discipline. As viewers we tend to look only at the finished works. Eliminating and systematically avoiding irrelevant temptations in order to follow a goal that is as yet unknown – that is the uncharted territory into which pioneers venture to carve paths of their own.

Andreas Meier
Translation: Catherine Schelbert

 

link: Hard on soft post

HG Monography

Monography_big

Textes / Texts:
Andreas Meier : Préface / Preface
Hans Rudolf Reust : Échanges de surfaces” / “Swapping Surfaces”
Laurence Dreyfus & Hervé Graumann : Interview

->Monography PDF (13.9 mb)

Andreas Meier
Vorwort (original german text)
Préface
Preface

Hans Rudolf Reust
“Oberflächentausch”
 (original german text)
“Swapping surfaces”
“Échange de surfaces” 

Bärtschi-Salomon Editions
208 pages couleurs / 208 pages colour
Français / English
30 x 24.5 cm.
Prix indicatif 35€ / indicated price 35€
ISBN 2-940292-04-3

Hans Rudolf Reust in ArtForum

Hervé Graumann – Geneva – installations by the artist are on display at the Musee d’art moderne et contemporain

ArtForum, Sept, 2003 by Hans Rudolf Reust

raoul_salmamco1_pdef

Raoul Pictor cherche son style… «Anniversary show 1993-2003»

Raoul_BigPaint_line_pdef

Composition (version flash), 2003 – inkjet print – 350 x 500 cm.

That Raoul Pictor is a painter is obvious. Wearing a black beret and the white smock of his profession, he paces back and forth in his studio in search of inspiration, from the stool to the bookshelf to the table where a wineglass stands and then over to the easel. Wildly, he dunks a thick brush and begins to paint, accompanied by the sounds of splattering pigment. By the time he takes his masterpiece down from the easel and carries it off, we’ve still seen only the back of the canvas–and, indeed, we can only view the completed artwork by printing it out. With Raoul Pictor, Hervé Graumann has created a virtual painter who pursues the aura of the painted original via the random constellation of a computer-generated image. With the click of a mouse, our dear painter will paint as many pictures as we like. The auctorial gesture of painting serves to animate the black-box image production of the computer processor, which is ultimately invisible. The computer as artist, assuming it has an intelligence distinguishable from the designs of its programmers, wears every face and no face at all. So why not the one under the beret of a Montmartre painter?

At the exhibition in Geneva, this piece, Raoul Pictor cherche son style… (Raoul Pictor searches for his style…), 1993, could be navigated from the sofa in a small lounge, bringing a living-room mode of perception into the museum while ironizing the aesthetics of image consumption in the ’90s. L.o.s.t., 1997, Graumann’s piece for Documenta 10, was housed exclusively on the Web. In a luminous white circle controlled by the mouse, like the beam of a searching flashlight, fragments of a text appear–traces of language in the search for a network of lost existence, ending in an offer of contact with a cryptic e-mail address, perhaps that of the person lost. The blackened monitor screen becomes a metaphor for the dark, incomprehensible side of global connectedness.

In comparison, the installation of Pattern–Vanité 2b, 2003, which filled one of the bays at MAMCO such that it became inaccessible, seems easily comprehensible. Graumann worked for a time in the neuroscience and dermatology department at a hospital in Geneva, and here he created a sculpturally fantastic ensemble from the little objects one typically finds by a patient’s bed: Surrounded by the sweeping oval of a cannula, pill cups in primary colors are piled up along with a gleaming, silver-colored plastic plate topped with meringue; a CD shining in rainbow colors rests on a paper doily with an enormous nail that has pierced a tin-foil ball; on the very top of the plastic-cup tower is a little polystyrene skull with silver rays (in the form of pipe cleaners) beaming from its dark eye sockets, gleaming in the bright museum light. Next to this is a still life with a breakfast egg, a red rose, and a large syringe. The many elements of this nature morte alternate between the traditional meanings of a memento mori and the contemporary realities of high technology in medicine. On the floor, through the perfectly executed repetition of the same filigree, eighty times, a hallucinatory pattern emerges–threatening to reproduce endlessly and to absorb the entire world. The fascination of glittery Christmas decorations in a store display is combined here with the fear of the uncontrollable growth of one’s own cells.

Pattern – Vanité 2b, 2003 – installation, objets divers / installation, sundry objects – 400 x 500 cm.

–Hans Rudolf Reust Translated from German by Sara Ogger.

© 2003 Artforum International Magazine, Inc.
© 2003 Gale Group

Andreas Münch – “Dislocations”

in cat Cairo Biennial 2006

e-still life, 2006 - endura print mounted on alu dibond – 180 x 220 cm.

e-still life, 2006 – endura print mounted on alu dibond – 180 x 220 cm.

In the 1990s, Hervé Graumann was among the pioneers of digital media art in Switzerland. He became widely known in 1993 with his work “Raoul Pictor cherche son style…” (1993), a slightly modernized version of which is available on the Internet to this day (www.raoulpictor.com). In this computer animation, we can watch the artist Raoul Pictor – a simple little cartoon man of the generation of “Super Mario” – at work: he is painting a picture for us. It is only at the end of the roughly five-minute clip that we get a front view of the painting once we have printed it out. Until then, we follow the painter, who is represented with all the characteristics of the archetypal romantic artist, through the heights and depths of the creative process: he mixes colors, he consults works of literature, he experiences artistic ecstasy in the act of painting, he interrupts his work to take a drink etc. At the end, the finished painting bearing the signature of the artist is ready for print-out. Both the creative process and the printed “painting” are different every time due to the digital random generator used for the animation.

On the face of it, Graumann’s animation appears to be an amusing persiflage on an obsolete image of the artist. Upon closer contemplation, however, it calls for some reflection on the condition of art and the status of the artist in the era of digital reproduction. On the one hand, we have modern new media artist Hervé Graumann who writes programs that in turn generate pictures. As is the case with computer lyrics, the question arises what we are actually holding in our hand when the printer spits out a “painting”: is it a work of art by Hervé Graumann? by Raoul Pictor? or no art at all? On the other hand, the digital world presents us with the classic view of artistic genius: Raoul Pictor with his brush and his beret fighting an inner battle to find his own “personal style”, unique and authentic, qualities that the artist substantiates by putting his signature on the paintings. A rather outmoded image of the contemporary artist perhaps, yet one that is still at the heart of the world of art and its economic structures. At least none of the young computer and Internet artists has so far succeeded in establishing himself on the Mount Olympus of contemporary art with programmed works that can be reproduced in any quantity.

The characteristic wit and critical potential of many of Hervé Graumann’s works is based on a process of a transformation and dislocation whereby elements are displaced from one system to another. As part of this dislocation, certain rules from the old system are retained in the new one, and it is for the very fact that they seem out of place there that they become noticeable. In the video sculptures “EZmodels”, virtual rides through computer-generated rooms, Hervé Graumann uses a computer to convert photographs into three-dimensional objects. Whereas mental adjustments are easily made for the opposite process of flattening space to create a photograph the resultant products being read as a faithful replica of reality, the conversion of photographs into three-dimensional structures gives rise to a disconcerting and uncanny world with visual blanks revealing all that was lost when the photographs were made in the first place. The same disconcerting quality can still be detected in the virtual worlds of computer games, though it will probably not be long before we feel at home as much in the space of the video sculptures as we do in the showroom. The path from space to picture and back to space corresponds to the media change from nature to photography and from there to video. Hervé Graumann’s artistic research focuses on such media changes and their implications rather than the actual use of the “new media”.

At first sight, Hervé Graumann’s works from the series of “Patterns” which he shows in Cairo seem to represent what their title suggests: ornamental compositions with an endless repetition of a single motif. After all, it is precisely in the world of computers that such visual ornaments have once again attained a ubiquitous presence in the form of wallpapers for desktops and other sites. That said, Graumann’s “Patterns” only pretend to do justice to their name, for they were not created on the computer, in the economic spirit of “copy and paste”. Instead, they are based on traditional artistic handicraft: Hervé Graumann builds his compositions as spatial installations and subsequently photographs them for further use as a framed picture or wallpaper. Thus on the basis of various media changes, his patterns unite different genres characterized, in the European tradition, by different rules and valuations. The synthetic object accumulation of the installation – in the tradition of Pop Art and Nouveau Réalisme – overlaps with the mimetic details of the perspectively shortened pictorial space of photography and also with the abstract world of the ornament with its balanced color and form compositions. Depending on point of view and cultural background, this interaction of various visual elements can be seen as a path from “low” to “high” and back to “low”. Akin to fables and travesty as a theatrical device, the real nature of the figures is revealed when they are dressed in fake clothes. But even the power of clothes only fully manifests itself when they are worn by fake figures.

Andreas Münch

 

Hans Rudolf Reust – “Swapping surfaces”

Hans Rudolf Reust in Monography HG

2meubles_EDS

“Échanges de surfaces”, 1990 – meubles, découpage, collage / furniture, cut up and collaged

Hervé Graumann’s work on the deep structures of a current worldview

Since Hervé Graumann exploited the personal computer at a very early stage in his artistic practice, one is often tempted to see him only as a pioneer of electronic media-based art in Switzerland. Since he uses names and signatures as elements of landscape representations or colour orders, one also suspects that conceptual art resonates in his oeuvre. In both cases, such identification results from hasty judgement based on technology alone, specifically the technological translation of a thought. However, closer study of Hervé Graumann’s work to date reveals many different forms of material and virtual articulation of a complex mental universe. The present publication offers an exciting opportunity to explore the artist’s work in a larger context. The following essay will attempt to analyse his practice with a view to the diversified means with which he transforms deep structures into surface structures.

The distinction between deep and surface structure goes back to the theory of transformational-generative grammar, advanced by Noam Chomsky in the late fifties of the last century. His grammar describes idealised speech situations, possible surface structures, which have been generated from a deep structure by means of transformation. The four essential transformative operations consist of substitution (replacing one or more elements by others), permutation (changing the sequence of elements), deletion (eliminating one or more elements) and addition (adding one or more elements). These four modes of transformation aptly describe Graumann’s work in structuralist terms, i.e. apart from any discussion of specific media, materials or the limitations of a defined approach. The only thing that the rules do not govern is the sequence in which they are applied.

Échanges de surfaces, 1992 – papiers de couleur, découpage, collage / coloured paper, cut up and collaged – (2 x) 50 x 70 cm.

Things / Pictures / Names with Rules and Controls

To save memory, not every picture in a sequence of pictures is stored in its entirety; an initial form is defined and the computer calculates only what deviates from this form in each subsequent picture. All the intersecting sets of pixels that describe the reproduction of an object in various positions become a picture in themselves. Graumann conducts a surprising investigation: he takes a picture of a rubber boot, duplicates it, overlaps the two pictures as if the one were the shadow of the other and by blacking out where they coincide, comes up with the contours of a third rubber boot. This shape is related to the object not directly but only indirectly through the computer. Digital economy leads to a model of second-order reality: to the original digital boot. As an intermediate image derived from pictures, this form is not pure simulation; it is in fact an auxiliary construction that contributes to making the digital re-production look even more like a precise illusionist rendition of surface structures. Yet it still remains a “landlocked” form, which is only twice conveyed and almost accidentally shows a similarity to the familiar shape of things. The processor follows its own logic in generating its own pictures out of the data of the visible world.

Cross objects, 1992 – photographies, découpage, collage, peinture noire / photographs, cut out and collaged, black paint – (3 x) 40 x 30 cm.

Cross objects, 1992 – photographies, découpage, collage, peinture noire / photographs, cut out and collaged, black paint – (3 x) 40 x 30 cm.

Are we here confronted with the age-old distinction between immovable substance and accident? Hervé Graumann is not looking for constants. Instead, in one example after the other, he examines the changes in the relational rules that govern the deep structures of the fleeting moments of visible reality. He brings the co-ordinates that determine our constructions of reality into play, and thereby puts aesthetic perception itself on the line. He does not select his rules of play arbitrarily; he educes them from the logic of the machine, from language, from the structure of a natural landscape, or from the statics of everyday things. However, by exposing the very rules that govern the construction of realities, he is also putting himself on the line. In the domain of art, the logical processes of the machine or the conventions of language are confronted with the potential of their incessant change.

A chair, a painted seascape: an object of everyday use and an object of non-teleological contemplation are sawed into numbered squares of equal surface and subjected to the same process of analytical dissection. Upon reassembling the squares in numerical order, the resamples once again form a chair and a picture of surf – but their inner cohesion has lost stability. Both their physical and their semantic engineering have become shaky. The sequence of volumetric elements can be altered according to a variety of regulatory systems. Cubes of the most varied orders can easily be interchanged. Substitution would break up the rough unity of matter; the only thing that remains constant is the immovable datum: the bit, as a pixel or “plastel”. The notion of a basic element of representation whose content and position can be changed at will is intimately associated with the long-cherished dream of the atom, as if the existing or any other conceivable world could be generated out of ineluctable, indivisible building blocks. Thinking in terms of data packages necessitates rules that regulate their relations and potential means of intervening in the program. Behind that assumption lies the lasting idea that one or countless worlds can be arbitrarily manipulated and controlled to the point of achieving the best of all possible worlds. 

In his well-known representation of the semantic triangle of the chair as object, photographic reproduction and the copy of an encyclopaedia entry (One and Three Chairs, 1965), Joseph Kosuth restricted himself to illustrating the connection in a theoretical drawing. Hervé Graumann offsets Kosuth’s concept with direct intervention in the object. His thinking is inseparable from the specific act. The chair and picture were, after all, visibly cut into pieces: Graumann’s redesign is an act of brute force. His handcrafted gesture returns the concept to the world of tangible objects and, with a gently ironic undertone, indicates that it is possible to effect visible change in surface structures through intervention in the program. But he also demonstrates the static limits of pure manipulability and thinking based on the fantasy of wide-ranging control. In a landscape of flowing borders, the self-contained form is tantamount to scandal. “…the continent of Atlantis was an island which lay, before the great flood, within an area we now call the Atlantic Ocean…”

Slight changes in rules therefore chart not only an open field of possibilities. Hervé Graumann discovers degrees of freedom in fixed controls as well. Every additional interrupter that is built in between a coloured light bulb and an outlet increases the potential of different possibilities – and decreases the probability that the current will actually flow. Greater complexity turns the simplest switch, with its binary choice of electricity or no electricity, into a random generator for the viewer – or user – of a work of art. The power of Graumann’s simple images illuminates the complexity of a reality under the thrall of high technology, although always with a comic touch that exposes the absurdity of seeking complete domination of circumstances. 

Proper names in various languages refer to colours or elements in nature. Hervé Graumann meets Ms. Snow, Ms. Mountain or Mr. Brook. He places Mr. Damien Blanc (white) on the shoulders of Mr. Alberto Blanc, and, by placing white on white, gently undermines the pathos of Kasimir Malevich’s spiritual approach. He accumulates names to form landscape tableaux. He also orders them according to their scripted image, alphabetically, by permutating abstract colour fields on the basis of their first letters in various languages. The order of things does not follow a unified system. Graumann interrelates different linguistic, visual and spatial principles of order. Visual and linguistic orders come in to play reciprocally as the point of departure for changing surface phenomena. By using signatures, Graumann injects handwriting into the picture and, therefore, the inimitable individual difference from a strictly conventional linguistic sign. Writing something down defines the moment of never-ending distinction from the word. A landscape of signatures on a canvas testifies to the unique presence of a subject in the work of art – “Mme Rossignol was here”, as if written on the wall of a house or scratched into the bark of a tree – while the genre of landscape painting simultaneously extinguishes this subjectivity – who is Mme Rossignol? 

The specific logic of one medium – word, writing, picture, space – opens new perspectives in another medium. Hervé Graumann does not aspire to synaesthesia – not even in the presumably historically unique encounter between transdisciplinary thinking and the technical potential of the computer as a universal medium for calculation, text, picture, moving image, sound and control instrument for their interaction. He inserts specific modes of thinking, as transformers, into other modes. After 20th-century art pioneered the great move towards breaking down boundaries, he now occupies an open medial field. The relationship of this artistic practice to the history of art lies in the very fact that it embraces several media and does not take place within or along the boundaries of the old disciplines. Changes are events. Today they spring from a specifically rooted thinking in a context subject to sudden, abrupt change – and not from thinking that is fixated on change and that follows the market’s permanent demand for innovation. 

Ornaments and Patterns of Meaning as Places of Action

A convoluted line drawing in colour is based on the principle that the colour changes every time one line intersects with another. This clear-cut self-imposed rule yields linear patterns that could never be invented in such fashion in a freehand drawing. The intersections are signs of the process of composition; they enable us to reconstruct the history of the drawing.
Hervé Graumann introduces the artist as author, not with the gesture of inspiration but rather as a discoverer and developer of principles that lead to further discoveries. In that respect he resembles a scientist doing research to define the parameters for his experiments. His self-imposed rules are not a concept of the kind advanced by Lawrence Weiner, according to whom the work need not necessarily be executed and, if executed, anybody can do it. Graumann’s rules are intersubjectively comprehensible, but they are also exhausted through unique or repeated application by the artist himself. He decides on the technique and the degree of execution. Precisely because the practical realisation of a transformer is necessary and not merely one potential mode of being for the work of art, it no longer needs to be repeated after it has once been formulated in the visible world. It makes no sense to know about countless variations of a single set. Curiosity regarding other transformers motivates Hervé Graumann to continue developing his work.

This would seem to be contradicted by Raoul Pictor’s interactive site on the Internet and by the Web-based interactive project for commissioned art for the Neuchâtel Bureau of Statistics. Here, steadily ongoing pictorial production is intrinsic to the work. Every additional picture by Raoul Pictor is like his first one since the random logic of the machine embeds it in the same aura of anonymous production, that curious form of non-reproducibility that springs from a printer kept running without interruption. In his contribution to the Internet project Shrink to Fit (2001/ 02), Hervé Graumann adopted the blackmail strategy of the anonymous letter. Web-site visitors can type a message whose letters look as if they had been cut out of a newspaper. The perpetrator’s traditional strategy of anonymity coincides with the anonymity of pressing the keyboard, thus digitally escaping the telltale fingerprint. However, the message cannot be mailed via the net; it has to be printed out and sent through real space via snail mail. As a result, the printed copy of the blackmail reassumes the status of an original. Once again, Hervé Graumann has established an unexpected, surprising link between two ordinarily separate systems in everyday life. The user can not tap into the programming of the deep structure in this work, which makes it as non-interactive as Raoul Pictor’s. Nonetheless, action must be taken in order to understand the meaning of the work. Many of Graumann’s works link this relationship to an act that viewers can carry out – at least mentally – without belabouring the interactivity much vaunted in art in the wake of new information and communication technologies. 

The blackmail office, 2001 – projet Internet / Internet project

The blackmail office, 2001 – projet Internet / Internet project

The impression of digital pictorial production is inevitably evoked in the large patterns installed on the floor. In this case, the transformative principle of addition, the efficient repetitive gesture of copy and paste, would be within grasp were it not for the hands-off effect of the fragile engineering of the artist’s complex installations. The three-dimensional ornament, although spread out at our feet, cannot be seen all at once. In contrast to a pattern on a surface, the spatial structure changes with every change in vantage point. Every view of the installation, every static perception reveals new contiguities and therefore new semantic relations and insights. The pattern can be animated with a single gaze although it does not move. The act of seeing is in itself indeed an act. Skull, needle, egg and nail, cookie and CD-ROM accumulate on cardboard plates, in plastic cups and on placemats in extensive repetition of the same things, becoming not a surreal but rather a trans-real scenario. Looking, we traverse mental landscapes revealed in constantly changing panoramas. 

Thought-Rooms: Lost in Space

Human thought is increasingly interpreted in terms of mechanistic logic and as a metaphor of operating systems and program applications – at least in popular science. In 2002, Hervé Graumann spent several months as
artist-in-residence at the “Département des Neurosciences Cliniques et Dermatologie (Neuclid)“ of the medical faculty at the “Hôpitaux universitaires de Genève”. Inviting an artist to join a medical research facility contradicts the stereotype. Studying the physiological foundations of thought and daily life in a clinic, even watching brain surgery, was a logical consequence of Graumann’s analytic approach to his own thinking, the ceaseless experimentation that determines his artistic practice. Neuclid Team Spirit, the work he created for the hospital, consists of a mobile of Rubin Vases cut out of chrome-plated sheet metal. The perception of figure and ground in this object is reversible, alternating between the vase and two identical profiles as frontally opposed negative mirror images of each other, which demonstrate that the seeing of seeing is a productive process. By using the facial features of the senior physicians for his rendition of this familiar optical illusion, the artist has produced a volatile group portrait and broken up the anonymity of the clinic. In studying thought processes, even scientifically objective researchers cannot escape the reality that they themselves are also both object and subject of their research. Team spirit and social competence are decisive in a team of “spirits”, who keep finding themselves sitting at the table with themselves in the course of their scientific investigations. Only by looking at the mirror can they manage to arrest the phenomenon for a second or two. 

Through the invention of rules and experimental specifications for the discovery of pictures, Graumann’s work resembles that of a scientist. He remains detached; his own presence does not figure in his work; he concentrates on the choice of basic structures and methods of transformation. In that respect, his work shows an affinity with that of Keith Tyson, who also resorts to the natural sciences in boldly addressing the question of a worldview. Tyson, like Graumann, is certain of only one premise: there is no such thing as a coherent, self-contained world view; there are only many simultaneous worlds and insight will always only be partially revealed through methodical interventions. Tyson develops “Artmachine iterations” (a means of approaching different worlds through the construction of machines for art production) and “Teleological Accelerators”. Graumann exploits the logic of machines and language, and allows us a brief moment of consciousness by abruptly pulling us out of the acceleration of our daily lives. His worldviews do not provide us with legible tableaux but rather elicit unexpected flashes of astonishment that come with studying his work. The views of the world unearthed by Hervé Graumann no longer rest on fixed constants but rather on insight into rules that invest existing connections with an unexpected degree of freedom. The “resampling” of a chest of drawers contains no fixed drawers. The place to store things no longer has a fixed place of its own even though a self-contained corpus still stands before us. We could so easily see it differently.

Hervé Graumann moves unimpeded through virtual spaces and Euclidean space. The conditions of specific dimensions are not givens but rather the subject matter of his art. This inevitably leads to contradictory movement between unlimited extension and contraction, addition and deletion. The principle upon which an object by Graumann is constructed dissolves in the space in which it is articulated: the pixel grid that covers his resampled things is a principle of both integration and disintegration. 

The work L.O.S.T. for documenta X in 1997 presents this contradiction in the form of a small narrative. In the Web’s unlimited, immoderate extension in countless dimensions, in the “dark” space of the World Wide Web, the circular beam of a torch reveals the traces of someone lost – someone who recedes, who becomes increasingly lost, pulling us into the darkness as well, the harder we look and seek. Graumann’s worldview unites the unchartability of spaces in the worldwide computer network with the real experience of uncanny, sinister spaces familiar to us from childhood. We can chart only the tiniest pieces of the infinitely vast world of the Web, like illuminating outerspace with the light of a torch. Nothing more is revealed, no matter how much effort the explorer makes. On the contrary, in a process of constant deletion, we are progressively deprived of space until all that is left, as we grope in the net space of L.O.S.T., is a cryptic e-mail address. In the lightest spot of this sinister space lurks a menacing black hole from which no message can escape to the world outside. 

Hervé Graumann does not develop an overview with his art; he does not consolidate a terrain; he does not conserve language. None of his works are a continuation or a repudiation of a preceding one. He is always on the road, charting impenetrable, dark and fleeting territory, always looking for new methods that will yield snapshots of new worldviews. “Dark spaces cannot be possessed; they can only be used.”

Hans Rudolf Reust in Monography HG