Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Between Chaos and Order: Marcus Neustetter at AOP

Marcus Neustetter is an explorer. Not quite in the old-fashioned maritime sense, which saw men setting sail to discover and map unknown lands, but in the sense that he is fixated with mapping territory and the chasm between experience and objective reality. This obsession has seen him attempt to map the familiar (Joburg), the foreign (Banff, Canada), the historical (Vela Spila, Croatia), and the intangible (the Northern Lights).

Unlike the explorers of yesteryear, Neustetter isn’t interested in trying to accurately chart the places he visits.
When he began this artistic adventure over four years ago, he looked to technology, specifically Google earth maps, in an attempt to identify an objective rendering of space. When he juxtaposed these digital readings with photographs of places, it was clear the maps were out of sync with the realities on the ground. This led him to develop a novel form of map-making that could be best described as detached abstraction. Here is how it works; Neustetter makes marks on paper that relate to a space, without describing its physical characteristics. In fact he pays no attention to the drawing he makes – hence they are cluttered with random forms, mostly lines.

They are drawings but also maps – more like deconstructed maps where the lines have been pulled apart, atomised and randomly placed on the page in a chaotic manner. These map-drawings follow no logic and are meaningless as they are meaningful, for they do chart something significant: Neustetter’s experience of being in a space. He never views his drawings until they are complete. He does this by drawing in a book with the cover closed. In this way he maintains the supposed objectivity that is meant to define map making. It also ensures that he is not distracted from the experience of travelling through a particular space. Consequently Neustetter is an explorer interested in the sensory act of exploring.

In this exhibition, this approach and his mark making has developed considerably. The pages are larger and the marks more confident and varied. He now also allows the motion of travelling through various destinations – Banff, Bergen, New York and Dakar – to determine the mark making. In this way the delicate and fragile lines are a direct result of movement, of the friction between Neustetter moving through the space. This slant to his project seems logical given that we never remain stationary in a space even if we inhabit it, consequently our experience of it is constantly being renegotiated. The style of the mark making – for there is a style even though it is random – is such that the short lines overlap each other, creating a sense that movement is never linear and that in attempting to reconcile ourselves with a space or place involves retracing or circling the space.

Because the lines tend to converge in a central space – the limited dimensions of the paper contribute to this – there is also a sense that the experience of a journey, a space is like a tangled web that can never be fully understood. Neustetter submits himself to this notion quite fully. For him the process isn’t engineered to understand the nature of a place but to somehow tune into the essence that lies beneath physical appearances. For this reason the places that he maps are unrecognisable. The architectural characteristics that define New York and distinguish it from Dakar have been obviated because Neustetter’s exploration delves beneath this superficial layer.

His drawings/maps parade an organic sensibility; thus there is almost a sense that there is a logic to the randomness of the drawings. Some appear like dark crevices, others like soft short grasses or intricate spiders webs. There is a kind of poetry to them and to Neustetter’s mode of working, where he is both removed from the expression and wholeheartedly present.

Though the digital light drawings don’t possess these qualities, they echo the low-tech drawing mode in the sense that Neustetter accedes control to a software programme, which plots out digital maps that chart the placement of live subjects. Because this measurement tool is light sensitive, its path is determined by light.Neustetter moves torches around his subject’s bodies, forcing the programme to plot the spaces between them.The results are semi-figurative drawings that exude a cold, detached hand at work.

His reliance on the sensory experience of reality makes him the ultimate empiricist. However, the manner in which he surrenders to the irrational, the unseen, the chaotic and the unknowable defies this. That his practice moves between these two approaches is what makes it so interesting. - published in The Sunday Independent, November 21, 2010

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