“You can’t kiss solo; it takes two to kiss. I’m ready and willing.” We have to wholeheartedly agree with this insight. But there’s more to it than that. In the brief periods in which we can distinguish between kissing and being kissed, the startling beginning of a kiss for example: we have to, in order to continue, find a balance between those who are kissing and establish another reciprocal activity. This equivalence is not just the relationship between action and reaction, it is also what constitutes the two parties. “In kissing you see anouther mouth that is like yours but is not yours,” because a “kiss is the meeting of two similar but not identical surfaces whose geometry softens on contact and turn, maybe to deformation.” In kissing, two bodies change to fit each other, change their form depending on the opposite. Contrary to what you’re thinking, this is not about two people. It is rather the architectural theorist Sylvia Lanvin speaking about built space as an organism, about space as body. The lips which kiss this body are the lips of of art.
It would seem that Rebecca Raue, in her work The body became space, is diametrically opposed to Lanvin’s idea of the embodiment of space.
Rebecca Raue is a painter; her way of creating art is that it is dedicated to the medium that Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, defined as spatial art, i.e. as as a form of artistic expression that unfolds primarily in space and only secondarily in time. Speaking thus, sculpture is similar, music and literature are different. The distinction proposed by Lessing is that between a primarily material and a primarily immaterial art. Painting and sculpture have a physical presence and arise from the formation of matter. To unfold, however, music and literature need a physical presence, but the work of art is not materially tangible. In contrast to the direct presence of spatial sculptures, compositions and narratives have no immediate presence, they unfold over time. From this comparison of instantaneity and duration Lessing developed the genre-based different demands on the artist. While composers and writers can develop a dramaturgy over a period and their media are suitable for corresponding courses of action and development lines, visual artists must concentrate or focus on the representation of states of things and people. The ‘before-and-after’ of the picture or sculpture, broadly speaking, are shown by the visual artist by the most striking moments in which immediately preceeded them is still visible and what follows them is anticipated. In this way, duration is compressed into a visual moment.
Lessing could not have anticipated the development of moving images, in which the visual representation of people and things are combined with the presentation of a course of action. Six years after his death, however, and some twenty years after the considerations presented here from his Laocoon, a patent for a new art form was submitted and accepted in Scotland for the first time: it was the panorama. It was registered with a French name, nature à coup d’oeil before it received its now familiar name of Panorama. The term comes from the Greek. The word is a compound of the words meaning ‘all’ (or ‘whole’) and ‘see’. In German, it has established itself as a synonym for ‘a complete view’, an all-round view, for a clear view of 360° or a full circle. This view is different from the view from above, the ‘bird’s eye’ view, and corresponding to its original name – nature at a glance – not only misleading but downright wrong,
In order for the panorama to be viewed, the spectator has to turn him- or herself completely, that is in a circle, 360°. The spectator is now in a process – he/she is in a combination of movement and time/duration. The spectator needs not only time, but body motion. The panorama extends the two-dimensional image into the third dimension; it is approaching the medium of sculpture and demands that spectator’s body takes on a more clearly significant role in the process of reception.
Lessing’s focus is on the immediate physical presence of both media. The question of whether this is two-or three-dimensional is secondary to his train of thought. It is, however, relevant for an idea of Jean-Paul Sartre. For in his text On the Search for the Absolute, written/published in 1948, Sartre is occupied by the role of space in our dealings with paintings and sculpture. Here is where Sartre explores the relationship between our own physical presence and that of the work of art.
Because, according to Sartre, the spatial nature of painting and sculpture conceals a danger; there is a risk of confusing real with imaginary space. It is particularly great where the three-dimensional body of the perceived confronts such a three-dimensional representation of it. Because at this moment the distance between the body and the artwork should not be confused with that in the art. The spectator can approach stone, clay or bronze, but not the form which they take.
“Sculptors have not recognized these elementary truths because they worked in a three-dimensional space on a real block of marble; although the product of their art was an imaginary person, they believe to have created one in its real dimensions”. That is they showed the model the way they assumed it looked and not as they saw it, at three or five or even ten feet distance. This mistake in conception, so Sartre, transfers itself to the spectator. He too confuses the distance between himself and the work of art as the distance between himself and the person represented by the work of art. This confusion is less easily obtained in painting, due to the reduction given there from three to two dimensions. That makes it clear that one can only approach a canvas, but never the person portrayed.
It seems to me, however, that the three-dimensionality of sculpture and with that the concordance with our own human or physical existence are not the only triggers for the confusion of which Sartre speaks. It is also moved by the fact that the sculpture is not, as a rule, embedded in a spatial context.
A marble figure is isolated and stands without corresponding to the space in which it is located. Figures in a painting, however, are integrated into a space which belongs to them, in which other figures or objects are also located, giving them the feeling of creating an illusion. We can only enter it with our imagination, but not with our body. With the panorama, a kind of painting developed that makes us forget this categorial difference and seduces us with full force into that misconception against which Sartre warned.
With its physical presence, painting is entering a third dimension, one which was hitherto reserved for sculpture and which correlates with our own physicality. But not only that, it also connects with the evocation of a coherent pictorial space, which we no longer face partially, but which completely surrounds us. Our body becomes the center of this imaginary pictorial space; it becomes the pivotal point of the painted scenery.
In her above-mentioned interpretation of space as a body, Sylvia Lanvin uses the image of the kiss to describe the interaction between architecture and art, more precisely between space and image. Significantly, her thought process was triggered by the dispute over a panorama. It is not, however, from the late 18th, but from the early 21st century and stems from Pipilotti Rist.
For a multi-storied hall in Yoshio Taniguchi’s new building for the New York Museum of Modern Art, the Swiss artist created a noise image covering the entire space from ceiling to floor. She not only chose the the genus panorama, but took it a step further, one Lessing did not anticipate: it created an all-encompassing, enveloping moving picture.
Speaking in mathematical terms, she took the temptation to a higher power or degree, the temptation to comprehend the visual space as our own, to obfuscate physical and spatial boundaries and to merge real and pictorial space. This obfuscation of space and boundaries in Rist’s work was even made the title: Pour your body out (7354 Cubic Meters). With the title, the artist describes her almost eight meter high and sixty meter (8 x 60 m) long field very definitely not as a surface, but as a volume. The 7354 cubic meters describe the image space not beyond the pictorial surface, but on this side of the divide, where we are physically located. Into it, our body is to pour. Within the space are chairs arranged in circles on a slightly larger circular rug around a dark core. Rist wants to remind us of an eye. I say ‘remind’ reservedly, because ocular centrism is now a thing of the past. The reference to the eye as the primary organ of perception and the corresponding vis-à-vis between the image and viewer are here a throwback to a bygone type of reception, and it is only a limited tool with which to deal with Rist’s work. But the reception Pour out your body requires, or inavoidably causes, is not only one which stimulates multiple senses and pushes listening and body movement to the side of seeing. Instead, it raises the question of separability.
The named and recognizable boundaries are mollified. Forms are flexible, deformed and temporarily merged. This resolution process does not stop at our own physical presence, because the dichotomy between inside and outside, between body and space, as well as real and imaginary, is unstable in this hybrid space: Pour your body out.
The result of this distribution we again find in Rebecca Raue’s succinct statement The body became space. Far from the opulent violence of Rist’s work and the overwhelming suggestive power of her atmospheric background of images, sound and music, Rebecca Raue, with her silent panoramist painting, makes the spatialization of the body felt. Here, the extension of the body not only results from the combination of spatial sculpture and pictorial space that characterizes the panorama; it is this which makes Sartre’s separation of spatial presence of the observer from that of the image content so difficult. Sartre’s request not to fall into the trap of a spatial commonality with that which is portrayed went hand in hand with the assumption that the imaginary space of the work of art refers to something outside us.
His reasoning is based on the illusionistic space evoked by a sculpture or a painting, a fiction of real space is conceived as the fiction of a space which is at once known to us and on the other hand alien. This outside view, which is based on the interpretation of the painting as a window into the world, was brought to the boiling point in our use of the panorama. Here, the viewer was located, viewed from the construction of the image, at the fictional center of the scene. It is exactly this core idea that is not valid for the work by Rebecca Raue. Here, the external display is replaced by introspection and – if we are looking for an analogy – the viewpoint by a hall of mirrors. The view outside becomes introspection, and the view toward the outside falls on the space which the body has become.
Sartre’s warning has therefore not only become obsolete; we no longer have to deal with the fiction of a real space, but also the space that we could confuse with our senses as our own is no longer superficial to us. Rather, we are surrounded by a space that Rebecca Raue suggests to us as the space of our body. She assumes for this look inside the pictorial idea of a view to the outside and surrounds us with a landscape. We have, however, less to do with solid ground than with a wild moving scene that evokes the association of a stormy sea. We are not in a stable spatial structure, but in the midst of turbulence.
But this is not the only uncertainty that is taking place. A panorama, as I wrote above, denotes a circular view in contrast to the overview. Accordingly, the panorama-like view can be set against a cartographic view. Both share the aim of both a seamless and comprehensive picture, as well as that of a clear positioning of the viewer. But they pursue both goals in different ways. While the viewer in the panorama is the notional center of the scene, in a map he/she moves from a decidedly outside or dominant site, what is generally called a bird’s eye.
Rebecca Raue places us in the spirit of the panorama very much in the center. But she mixes the association of a view to the landscape, whether static or moving, whether from within or from without with that view of a topography laid out before us, of a topographic plan. The representational objects which we encounter in her painting – houses, trees, animals, figures – are by the reduced sketchiness more symbols than reprensentation. They are stand-ins and nodes for basic issues, for needs and the conditions of human existence. In this they are not unlike the words that appear in Raue’s panoramic field names here and there. These words bundle a certain energy and human condition: pain, idea, chaos, pleasure. Or they are the names of places, places less physical than spiritual. Do they refer, for instance, to a direction of movement, upwards, forward, waiting, feeling roots, roots to the past? The mental map, which surrounds Raue’s panorama, is, however, quite remote from a revelatory self-view of the artist. It stems, rather, from the desire to “provide a glimpse into the human, something to hold, in a few words, something which stands in the midst of life but is nevertheless outside it.”
It is thus true that Raue’s look at the inner human condition springs from an individual, and therefore from the constitution of an individual. In its symbolic condensation, however, it is an offer to the spectator to recognize, to embed him- or herself, to see the general in the specific. However, it is not the localization at a unique point, but in a room, in braided strands of life. “The body can move here in the image. I want to extend the communication capabilities of the image, to greatly irritate them, to allow the perception of the image through the body and thereby open up to new thoughts.”
By entering Raue’s panoramic work, we begin a reception that does not exceed the visual perception only because the image is no longer equal to the capacity of our vision. This is just one of the reasons why the process of perception beyond the visual experience becomes a bodily experience. In addition, we can not deduce a fixed location for us from the image that surrounds us. In this situation, our body will be neither placed in the sense of a panorama nor held at a distance in the sense of a map. The fusion of real space with image space and the disappearance of the spectator’s standpoint, which is derived from the image but is isolated from it, leads to a resolution of the noticeable gap between image and body and to a simultaneity of embeddedment and search.