Ludwig Museum Symposium; Johannes Girardoni

Symposium – Ludwig Museum 2005

In sharing some thoughts about my work today, I’ll preface these comments with the idea, that the practice of speaking about the work, is somewhat problematic, as it is inherently incongruent with the intention of my work. One of the problems, of course, is that language is a linear form of communication, which can get in the way of experiential phenomena and our ability to perceive more directly, more completely, and more powerfully through our senses. The following articulation about my work is comprised of thoughts that exist parallel to it, but should in no way serve to abbreviate, limit, or be in place of the experience of the work – so I’m translating certain aspects of the work in words, but this shouldn’t be confused with the work itself. The work itself is the articulation.

What specifically is incongruent? A primary intention of my work is to allow for an open interpretation, an individual perception. As a result, the use of language about the work poses the danger of “short-circuiting” that experience and reducing it to a limited, rational understanding.

Our time is characterized by a near addiction to communication, in which our attention span is constantly being eroded by easily consumable forms of communication, both verbally and visually – everything we encounter in our culture is designed for instant understanding, for easy up- or intake (absorption/upload) – we are becoming increasingly alienated and uncomfortable with the moment of unknowing (with unguided self-experience). So as soon as we lock in on an understanding of the work through the process of language, we deprive the work of its potential to be experienced through means other than that of linear language. As a result, the “living” experience of the work may be significantly shortened, and the process of individual discovery (self-discovery) – that potential of the work is diminished, possibly even eliminated.

For me, the most intense self-experience comes in the formation of new experience, before conclusions have been made, in the state where rational thought patterns are still on the fringe. I think it’s important or useful, to suspend the work outside the realm of understanding for as long as possible so that the work itself becomes the occasion of discovery (and self-discovery). The search becomes a “live” process and makes the work “alive” – where the potential for new discovery (exploration) is the greatest, the experience of the work becomes the most engaging.

(The work serves as an occasion to self-experience)

My work is an externalization of my self – and my life experience – but the process of working (the creative process) simultaneously also serves as new self-formation. The absence of “representation” is a starting point (origin), so that the creative experience may draw on, or refer to the work – and for me, that’s where I look for the unfolding of a new discovery. So my interest lies less with the recapitulation, or interpretation (in whatever form) of what has been experienced, but in the creation of a new, “live” experience within the context of the work itself. At the core of that experience is self-experience, – so my concern is not for communication which goes beyond the work, but rather for the formation of communion or community between the work and myself, or the work and the viewer, in a physical, emotional, but also cerebral realm.

In this regard (that of communion/community/inclusion), entry of the work into the body (for example, physically through color or scent) or vice versa, entry of the body into the work (as in the Monopods – the two inverted wax vessels on wooden stands – where you physically enter the stands and your head and upper body become engulfed by the hollow wax structures) – this physical (body) dialogue between work and viewer becomes a central component of that “union” – there’s a disintegration of a barrier – an opening of the separation between object and viewer, allowing you to sense your self through the work.

The energy of boundaries has always intrigued me. I grew up in Austria, out in the country – just a few hundred yards from the Hungarian border, right on what then was the Iron Curtain. The feeling there, of this complete barrier, where this absolute divide presented itself in the middle of nature, was quite powerful. I mention this, because at boundaries – and I mean that in any form now – these “interfaces” have an inherent energy – there’s potential, and also tension.

In my work, a central aspect is to let boundaries evolve, to create various areas that become interfaces. By bringing together materials – such as wax and wood for example, – there isn’t just a physical interaction at the interface of wax/wood, but also a juxtaposition of two very different elements of time — weathered wood, which refers to time gone past, next to wax, which refers to a sort of permanence, to preservation, or time boundlessness. So there are aspects of an implicit past/future dialogue inherent in the materials themselves. In my Light Objects – those are the large wax forms without wood, a completely different boundary or interface is what interests me – that of matter and light. The top layers of these works allow light to pass into the wax – these layers are permeable by light since there’s less pigment suspended in them – as a result, the works emit a subtle glow, which results from the breakdown of that boundary, the fusion of matter and light. These and other interfaces/boundaries are one of the basic structures of my work.

In the absence of language and representation, beyond an act of communication, simple form, color and the basic materials of wood and wax form a vocabulary of stillness free of distraction. This manifests itself in a slowed-down experience of time where a sensory tuning-in can occur. For many who encounter my work, and maybe because of what I just described, it evokes sacral associations. For me, the work exists as an occasion to self-express (self-create) and self-explore – free of any specific ties to religious dogma, but these associations are also not something that I want to (or even can) prevent. I am frequently approached about that aspect of my work, whether it be by people from China, Africa, Japan, or Europe. And interestingly, they usually relate it to elements of the sacred in their respective cultures – so for viewers who are open to sacral associations, the works speak to that part of their person (or mind) where those associations or feelings are even possible.

And that brings me back to the thought, that my works are the occasion to experience oneself through the work – that’s true for the viewer, but of course, also for myself.