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Franz Ehmann requested that we do not disturb the spheres in his title for a series of works consisting of tiny coloured dots and metallic spheres, most probably made of scrunched up chocolate wrappers glued to a black paper background. But as soon as my eyes fell upon these humble galaxies hovering behind framed glass I realised that I had definitely caused a disturbance. I saw the paint, foil, and the paper, and then I saw myself in the glass, blinking amongst the spheres. I was part of this galaxy, as I was also a part of this exhibition, and contrary to his title, I think this was exactly what the artist had desired.
From the moment I trod upon the large multi-coloured dots on the floor, it was apparent that Franz Ehmann had invited me into the art of his latest exhibition, ‘Maximum Acceleration’. He elicited a performance within this unlikely installation made up of predominantly wall-mounted works. In this instance, Ehmann had quietly invoked the multifarious nature of his practice; one that speaks through sculpture, text, installation, photography, video and performance. The artist once again pulled the viewer in through his sensitive assemblage of materials and motifs, which were arranged to amplify their symbolic potential.1 He had carefully constructed a language of dots, grids and black expanses for his guests to enter.
The little dots and spheres that freckled my face in the reflection of the glass recalled the expanses of polka dots designed by Yayoi Kusama to achieve self-obliteration. My face seemed absorbed by the black as the dots and spheres pushed forward and I floated in the infinite depth of the darkness; the unknown. Was this darkness the same one behind the intricate white and grey grids that appeared to invisibly stretch beyond the edges of the paper in the series, If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is? Did it stretch around the room to also surround the three photographed figures on the opposite wall?
A multitude of tiny white dots flattened and obscured the photographed faces of two women who stared out from the endless black that engulfed them. Ehmann left their lips and eyes conspicuously unmarked. This omission of the dots combined with the direct gaze of the women vividly highlighted these openings as portals of expression, of language—a longstanding preoccupation of the artist.2 His choice not to encumber the lips and eyes suggested a freedom to connect or speak to a something or someone else estranged in the same abyss.
The portrait titled Wishlist, colour life merciless,… eerily resembled the iconic painting, The Girl with a Pearl Earring (c.1665-1666) by Dutch master Johannes Vermeer. This verisimilitude was achieved through the contrast of a dark background against the illuminated female figure, the yellow dotted veil that rested upon her blue dotted hair, and her serene yet intent gaze at the viewer. Ehmann had manipulated the photograph with his language of dots and black space in order to identify and underscore the language of art history and how one’s interpretations may be affected by its codes. Furthermore, the woman in this portrait still remained mysterious, like the historical model, as the mask of dots protected her anonymity and the omnipresence of the black denied any substantial context.
The second female portrait, I wish I was beauty, gracefully reflected in your eyes, I wish I was…, further displaced its subject as even her hair was swallowed by the black; her face was transformed into a mask suspended in the void. The white dots outlined and starkly illuminated her skin causing her face to shimmer like the moon against the night. But this time it was the woman in the moon staring right at you with lips parted, waiting for her words to escape. It was as though the running list of wishes scrawled upon the adjacent work, Wishlist, handful of hours,… disclosed the silent thoughts and hopes of these characters.
The dots that marked these women also embellished the hands of a man in the third portrait, a handful of hours. This man’s hands seemed pinned in place against his black body by the white, blue and yellow dots, like a mime who is unable to gesture. Rather than floating, these three figures looked static and trapped by Ehmann’s dots and black expanses. The contradictions of his visual repertoire in this exhibition revealed how the use of language can liberate or inhibit expression, and change meaning. His concentrations of tiny dots on the skin resembled the proliferation of bindis used by the artist Bharti Kher to comment upon the changed meaning of this spiritually symbolic mark resulting from its mass-production as a fashion accessory. Similarly, Ehmann demonstrated (as reoccurs in his practice) not only how the material and visual also constitute languages we interact with everyday, but also the instability of meaning.
‘Maximum Acceleration’ invited the viewer into a small man-made universe of endless black, starry dots and infinite grids. These motifs constituted a complex vocabulary that illustrated the malleability of language and how it may be manifested in form. Franz Ehmann attempted to push these motifs to their limits and in doing so underlined the arbitrary nature of language and the need to reinvent the codes we accept so that we may maximise their significance.
1. Holubizky, Ihor, ‘Encounters with a realistic Existentialism’, in Open Panorama, eds. Michael Snelling and David Broker, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, 2000, pp.8-10.
2. Exhibition statement Ryan Renshaw Gallery, Brisbane, 2007.
3. Majumdar, Minhazz, ‘Bharti Kher: Transformative Vision’, Art Asia Pacific, Nov/Dec, 2007, No.56, pp.134-139.