Page Noir

by Lukas Treiber

If we want to find the beginning in Leon Manoloudakis work, we must be prepared to turn around and take the leap into the dark. For his works emerge from a shadow. By always shading the radiant clearing of the "page blanche" with a matte graphite layer, the artist begins his drawings in the making of an end. It is from this end that the search for the beginning starts. With a backward look at an origin that rests in concealment.

sublation of order

by Lukas Treiber

Decisions have to be made. The opposite is also true: decisions have to be reversed.“

No other quotation than the given, would be a better insight in the mind and oevre of the artist, because it shows how much he is shaped by materialistic dialectics. It may therefore hardly surprise, that these so significant words come from the pen of this artist himself. The present consideration pursues the thesis, that the artist, whether unconsciously or consciously, has made a confession.

However, the central element and mediating link between the opposing positions contained in the quotation, which here bear the face of decision A and counter-decision B, is contradiction. So it is contradiction, which motivates and conditions the radical-creative process itself:

Formation versus Deformation = Transformation

Here, the contradiction does not unite two opposites to a transcendental third, but triggers a process of diachronic enforcement of new relations, which act as a driving force of cognition in human practice. The new meaning, which appears hereby, can only be established retrospectively by means of reception and reflection.

In the artistic work, the will to decide shapes reality. Through the subsequent reversal and suspension of process based decisions, the standards for the experience and interpretation of reality are transformed. Accordingly, the work is not only the result but, as it were, the image of a transformation. Thus, on the one hand, this image contains a testimony and a representation of dialectics in itself. On the other hand, it makes a new perspective possible. How and through what does this happen?

Leon Manoloudakis starts his working process on the basis of graphite. By applying the substance opaquely to two-dimensional background surfaces, he takes up a practice that can be traced back to a historical borderline area. Because graphite has the property of leaving dark deposits on rough surfaces through abrasion, it has been used traditionally as a means of figurative representation.

Manoloudakis recurs to this practice by using a specific historical medium and exploiting its properties to color a background. At the same time, he modifies and innovates both - material and practice: Manoloudakis’ working method is characterized by the fact that the surface-covering coloring does not primarily serve the purpose of graphic representation. Rather, the complete blackening of the background is intended to annihilate everything that can be represented. In this way, the artist escapes the impulses and impressions of a high-frequency society, the laws and conditions of a present reality.

Through the uniform blackening he succeeds in distancing himself initially from the immediate. His intention is not so much to transfer his spontaneous impressions onto a background by means of drawing. Rather, he pauses in the blackening and seeks to distance himself from views. After the process of annihilation, space for a radical search movement arises as a result of an emancipation of perspective. Meanwhile, like an archaeologist, the artist digs through the graphite layers to return to the subconcious origins of the work and its influences. In the process, surfaces arise, that seem like excavation sites. This time their edges show tremulously irregular contours, another time they appear almost systematic. Here, areas that have been cleared are covered again; there, they are dug even deeper.

If you come closer to look closely, you can not only perceive a specific vibrancy from the texture of the surface structure, but also, as it were, understand the constant back and forth in a transformative decision-making process. In this respect, Manolodakis’ works resemble a psychogram, that gives those, who are able to decipher it, an intimate insight into the artist's spheres of (un)consciousness.

some thoughts about my work

“Die Arbeit an der Philosophie ist - wie vielfach die Arbeit in der Architektur eigentlich mehr die Arbeit an einem selbst. An der eignen Auffassung. Daran, wie man die Dinge sieht. (Und was man von ihnen verlangt).”*

The reason for my own work resembles a blind spot. Maybe because talking about one's own doing is something completely different than doing it. When I go to the studio, I usually know what to do. Of course, conditions have to be met: For example, I have to go to the studio regularly. My head must also be free of everyday questions. But actually there is always something waiting there that needs to be done: Graphite must be applied, removed again, details must be reworked, others added or erased. Decisions have to be made. The opposite is also true: decisions have to be reversed when a job turns out to be short-lived. Doubt is my constant companion. That much I can say.

It is easier for me to talk about what I don't want: Starting from a content, from a prefabricated concept. My radical self-limitation to paper and graphite as a medium of expression can perhaps be seen as an answer to this empty space in content. The material asks, I try to answer. I snuggle up to the material, try to let it speak in its diversity. This may sound a little like the discourse of painting in the fifties and sixties. But I actually believe that there are timeless values in art. And the realization that a work of art consists of material and that the artist makes this material speak in a peculiar way is such a timeless value. Of course, one could also turn the tables and claim that the material makes the artist speak. Then he would perhaps speak of the impossibility of creating new images. As justified as this question is, it shall be left aside here for the time being.

Accompanying my work in the studio, I read and write as I do now (although I am also good at doing nothing). I do this to get clarity or to get clarity about my ambiguity. Because actually artistic work is also a work on oneself and a confrontation with the present in which one lives. I would describe myself as a political person, although I do not see my work as a political contribution to the present. Or maybe it is, but then in a subtle way (just as Bartleby made a critical contribution to life on Wall Street).  

There is a kind of background noise that accompanies my work. This background noise is the present, the hectic life of everyday life and events in the world. This also applies to the events that have already taken place and those that we can imagine might take place at some point. But I don't want to use my work to comment on these events. Rather, my work gives me the opportunity to take a step back. Perhaps this work is also a form of meditation, but a meditation without escapism. An attempt not to lose myself and a strategy to evade the common postulates of utility. But perhaps my work can also be seen precisely as an attempt to lose myself, to make myself completely free of my own self, my own needs and compulsions?

For me, it makes no sense to compete with reality. Art confronts reality. It does not reproduce, but builds a distance. For me, that is the value of my artistic practice. That it confronts real events. I favor a silent and speechless art. I feel comfortable when I get the feeling that the horizon is widening and time is infinite. At the same time, I see my work as a juxtaposition to the deluge of images of the present, which tends to distract us from the fundamental questions about the meaning of life.

My work is a good interlocutor, a patient listener, but also an instance that holds up a mirror to me. It shows me when something is wrong, it makes me restless and dissatisfied. It teaches me that only in transformation there is clarity. My work is first a thinking in dialogue with paper, with graphite, with my hands and tools. Secondly, a reflection in space and a confrontation with the other.

It is difficult for me to speak directly about my work. Art speaks to us in a secret language. There is the experience of a childhood by the sea that resonates in my work, the experience of isolated moments of happiness. There is an aspiration to look inward and get beyond. There is the longing to be completely free, completely in the moment, completely with oneself and in the world. How could one talk about these things?

*quoted after Ludwig Wittgenstein. Mixed remarks. A selection from the estate. Edited by Georg Henrik von Wright with collaboration by Heikki Nyman. New edition of the text by Alois Pichler. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1994, p. 52.

the world in which we live. A short essay about the possibilities of the sublime

Kant pointed out that we make up the world according to our own ideas. Our view of the world is subjectively clouded. Our imagination and our intellect are not sufficient to open up the world objectively, because this is beyond any measure. This something which exceeds all measures, is the sublime par excellence. In the contemplatio of the sublime, man is thrown back on his own limitations. For Kant, the sublime is that which transcends our worldview, imagination, and understanding. For Kant, an object is sublime if it evokes sublime ideas in the perceiving subject. Decisive for Kant is the mental condition of the observer (the subject), for nature is is not sublime without the subject's ideas of reason:

"Thus the vast ocean outraged by storms cannot be called sublime. Its sight is ghastly; and one must already have filled the mind with many ideas if it is to be tuned by such a sight to a feeling which is itself sublime."*

According to Kant, man recognizes his powerlessness in the face of the infinite sea. However, he can counter the supremacy of nature with the realization that "although man would have to be subject to that violence," his "humanity," the consciousness of "his own sublimity of destiny," remains unaffected by it. His inferiority as a sensual being is transformed into the consciousness of his superiority as a moral-spiritual being endowed with reason. Exactly this transcendence of man's sensual nature characterizes the approach to the sublime according to Kant. The achievements of modern science testify to this realization.

This process is the focus of Adorno and Horkheimer's research in cultural studies. In their groundbreaking book "Dialectic of Enlightenment", they show how Kant's ideal of reason is increasingly degenerating into an instrument of domination over man and society. In this context, Adorno and Horkheimer speak of a purely pragmatically oriented "instrumental reason". Although Adorno criticizes the relationship of domination latently expressed by Kant, he emphasizes that Kant would at least have made clear that man is a part of nature and thus also carries nature within himself. In this context, he speaks of the "naturalness" (gr.: Naturhaftigkeit) of man.** Adorno is concerned with thinking the concept of the sublime detached from the subject's claim to dominion. For Adorno, the experience of the sublime brings about a salutary catharsis in which man recognizes, on the one hand, that he himself is only a part of nature and, on the other hand, is liberated from his self-centeredness and his claim to dominance. The sublime is the decisive category underlying his Aesthetic Theory, namely the question of how man can be liberated from his block-like self and open himself to an unknown Other through an aesthetic experience.

The French philosopher Lyotard also understands the sublime as a central category of contemporary art. For him, this tendency is especially evident in the art of abstraction. Based on Adorno's reflections, he defines the sublime as a sphere in which the unrepresentable, the incommunicable, that which defies logical rationality, would find a place. It should be emphasized that his concept of the sublime is not about the representation of the unrepresentable, but about the experience that no representation is sufficient, final, definitive. One can only allude to the unrepresentable and make one feel the impossibility of its representation. Works of art of this kind would thus show something by not showing it. The work of art would therefore complete itself, if at all, in the mind of the viewer. Thus, the reference to the sublime loses the false pathos that was still attached to the sublime until modernism.***  For it would not only be about the representation of the absolute, the true, the beautiful, the great par excellence, but of the outlawed, the degenerate, the irrational, of everything that the process of rationalization has repressed into the unconscious.  

It is of course questionable whether this is actually the case. The language of abstraction has become an arbitrary stylistic device today, largely freed from its avant-garde potentials and origins, as well as from its claim to be a means of visual emancipation. If abstraction still makes a general statement today, it is that of a void and superficiality. What was once intended as a radical refusal of images to point to the invisible or transcendent has today become a pleasing stylistic device of the mainstream. The idea of the tabula rasa has once again become an old shoe that pinches.

If abstraction is to play any significant role at all beyond its exchange value in the art market, then the tendency of a history-forgetting appropriation of abstract visual languages would have to be radically countered. The challenge for artists would be to breathe life back into it without pathos and historical slander. Instead of a nostalgic reference back to the avant-gardes of modernism, abstraction would have to be oriented towards contemporary themes and experiences. Its potential lies in the fact that it builds a bridge between what is and what is not yet or no longer. It brings light into the darkness.

We need an image production that again defines a place of resistance and that honestly deals with itself. We need images that act as correctors of our selective perception. We don't need more images, but fewer and better ones. Images that oppose the tendency to forget and appease and are characterized by a refusal of the existing. Works of art should question and challenge the present. We seem to have completely forgotten what horror an empty canvas caused a hundred years ago. Obviously, we have come to terms with this vacancy in the meantime. Arbitrariness has taken the place of content. What does that say about us and our society?

Artists don't live in ivory towers.  Since the Enlightenment, this world has been in a constantly worsening crisis, which has reached its climax with man-made climate change. The background of this process is what Adorno and Horkheimer described as the dialectic of enlightenment. Late capitalism has taken the whole planet hostage.

For me as a visual artist, consciously turning to the category of the sublime is a way of putting these processes into the picture. But not as a nostalgic review of what has already been formulated, or as a content-aesthetic illustration, but as a conscious breaking through the standstill of our social condition, in that the majority of our political representatives repeatedly use the mantra "there is no alternative" in order not to have to change anything. The unfinishable potentials of the sublime could be the realm in which resistance to the existing could be generated and alternatives could be formulated.

Art, by its very nature, is an instrument of enlightenment. It is not there to please, but to awaken, to make thoughtful, to motivate to actions that are oriented to the requirements of the time. The sublime draws its relevance precisely from this fact: by freeing us from the selectivity of our perception and our destructive self-centeredness, and by giving us a sense that the real has already begun to break through the fractures of our media reality.

* Immanuel Kant: Kritik der Urteilskraft - Kapitel 32, Zweites Buch:Analytik des Erhabenen:  “ So kann der weite, durch Stürme empörte Ozean nicht erhaben genannt werden. Sein Anblick ist gräßlich; und man muss das Gemüt schon mit mancherlei Ideen angefüllt haben, wenn es durch eine solche Anschauung zu einem Gefühl gestimmt werden soll, welches selbst erhaben ist.”

** „Weniger wird der Geist, wie Kant es möchte, vor der Natur seiner eigenen Superiorität gewahr als seiner Naturhaftigkeit. Dieser Augenblick bewegt das Subjekt vorm Erhabenen zum Weinen. Eingedenken der Natur löst den Trotz seiner Selbstsetzung: »Die Träne quillt, die Erde hat mich wieder!« Darin tritt das Ich, geistig, aus der Gefangenschaft in sich selbst heraus.“ Theodor W. Adorno:Ästhetische Theorie.Gesammelte Schriften, Band 7, Frankfurt am Main 1970, S. 410.

*** Wolfgang Welsch, Ästhetisches Denken, Die Geburt der postmodernen Philosophie, d) Experiment, Reclam 1990 , Seite 90-91


horizontal and vertical

In his essay "Malerei, Graphik, Zeichen, Mal " from 1917*, Walter Benjamin distinguishes drawing from painting by defining the essence of drawing in terms of the line in front of a background. Thus the surface would become a map, which is why a drawing is to be read horizontally. Painting, on the other hand, is to be characterized by the surface, which opens up a space of depth through its layering and must therefore be viewed like a window, or vertically.

If one follows this reading, then my work is laid out in a gray-zone between drawing and painting. Although I work with the light baggage of drawing, with pencil, graphite, eraser, and paper, one will often miss an essential feature of drawing: namely, the line. My work lies in-between, which has the advantage that it activates themes of both media without being identical with one or the other. According to Benjamin it can be read horizontally as well as vertically.

The graphite is used by me not only as a writing and drawing material, but also substantially as a finely ground pigment. My working method is process-based: I apply graphite dust to the paper in several layers by hand and broom. This creates different gray values from light to black. Not infrequently, a monochrome black graphite surface becomes the starting point for all further work steps. Using an eraser, areas are removed, or revealed again. This process of application and removal can be repeated several times from work to work. Similar to a photographic long-term exposure, traces of the work process are created. The impression of these surfaces changes depending on the incidence of light and the viewer's point of view. This has to do with the reflective quality of graphite, which makes black areas appear both light and dark depending on the incidence of light.

So why the reference to drawing, when my work can just as well be defined as painting, or is neither?

Drawing is my artistic starting point: I am fascinated by its provisional character: It is in essence a layout, idea, proposal, sketch, draft: It mediates between our imagination and reality, between past, present and future. For Walter Benjamin, the contrast between graphic line and background  has not only a visual but also a metaphysical meaning. The art historian Norman Bryson describes the background in drawing as "Perceptually present conceptually absent. "* For John Lock, the white paper stands for the possibility of consciousness par excellence: "Let us then suppose the Mind to be, as we say, white Paper, void of all Characters, without any Ideas; How comes it to be furnished?"***

Hardly any other medium provokes such a direct short circuit between thinking and doing, virtuality and materiality. The surface of the paper opens up an inexhaustible space of possibilities. It is becoming in pure-form.

* Painting, or Signs and Marks , Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, 1: 1913–1926, Walter Benjamin, Edited by Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings,  Belknap Press, 2004, „Die graphische Linie ist durch den Gegensatz zur Fläche bestimmt; dieser Gegensatz hat bei ihr nicht etwa nur visuelle sondern metaphysische Bedeutung. ... Die graphische Linie bezeichnet die Fläche und bestimmt damit diese, indem sie sich als ihren Untergrund zuordnet. Umgekehrt gibt es auch eine graphische Linie nur auf diesem Untergrunde, so dass beispielsweise eine Zeichnung, die ihren Untergrund restlos bedecken würde, aufhören würde, eine solche zu sein...“

***A Walk for a Walk´s Sake, Norman Bryson, in “The Stage of Drawing: Gestures and Act”, (London and New York: Tate Publishing and The Drawing Center, 2003), 151

*** An Essay concerning Human Understanding, John Locke. Hg. Peter H. Nidditch. Clarendon, Oxford 1975

Diese Ordnung ist nicht so fest, wie sie sich gibt; kein Ding, kein Ich, keine Form, kein Grundsatz sind sicher, alles ist in einer unsichtbaren, aber niemals ruhenden Wandlung begriffen, im Unfesten liegt mehr von der Zukunft, als im Festen, und die Gegenwart ist nichts als eine Hypothese, über die man noch nicht hinausgekommen ist.“*

* Robert Musil's "The Man Without Qualities".

konstruktion und mimesis*

Ein Kennzeichen der zeitgenössischen Kunst ist ihr Hang, aus dem Umgang mit einem besonderen Material, eigene Regeln abzuleiten und aus der daraus resultierenden Logik eigene Maßstäbe zu etablieren. Adorno spricht in diesem Zusammenhang von der Konstruktion, also davon, wie das Kunstwerk gemacht ist.

Dem Material, und wie damit gearbeitet wird, kommt bei der Genese des Kunstwerks eine besondere Bedeutung zu. Es ist nicht nur bloßes Material, sondern auch definiert durch die Art und Weise, wie es bisher in der Kunst oder Kulturgeschichte im allgemeinen verwendet worden ist. Denn darin drückt sich eine historische Relation oder ein weltanschauliches, herrschaftliches Konzept aus. Beispielsweise unterliegt der Tonstoff der Musik einer historischen Entwicklung, die grob in verschiedene Epochen unterteilt werden kann, die wiederum von unterschiedlichen weltanschaulichen Momenten gekennzeichnet sind. Renaissance, Barock, Aufklärung benutzen das gleiche Tonmaterial auf je andere Art und Weise. Auch in der Moderne ändert sich dieses Verhältnis des Künstlers zum Tonstoff oder künstlerischem Material.

Der Begriff der Konstruktion trägt diesem Sachverhalt Rechnung. Entscheidend für Adorno ist, dass die Konstruktion nur gelingen kann, wenn sie sich den zugrundeliegenden sinnlichen Impulsen sowohl des Subjekts wie auch des Materials mimetisch anschmiegt. Dieser Prozess des Anschmiegens ist definiert durch eine „Verabschiedung des herrschaftlichen Gestus gegenüber dem Material“*, wie es in früheren Epochen vorherrschend gewesen ist, und eine „konsequente Hinwendung zu dessen Eigentendenzen“*.

Die Suspension des herrschaftlichen Gestus wird nach Adorno zu einem der Markenzeichen der Moderne. Anstelle von Beherrschung tritt Mimesis. Kunst bringt damit die Hoffnung einer von instrumenteller Logik befreiten Gesellschaft und Natur zum Ausdruck.

* Wolfgang Welsch, Adornos Ästhetik: eine implizite Ästhetik des Erhabenen, III Adorno, Lyotard und Ästhetik heute, 2. Ästhetik heute, Seite 208. “ Das Erhabene : zwischen Grenzerfahrung und Grössenwahn”, hrsg. von Christine Pries,  Weinheim: VCH, Acta Humanoiora, 1989.

It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. Much later, when he was able to think about the things that happened to him, he would conclude that nothing was real except chance. But that was much later. In the beginning, there was simply the event and its consequences. Whether it might have turned out differently, or whether it was all predetermined with the first word that came from the stranger´s mouth, is not the question. The question is the story itself, and whether or not it means something is not for the story to tell.”*

*”City of Glass”, Paul Auster: Sun & Moon Press, Los Angeles, 1985.