On the occasion of the solo exhibition PASSAGE at Grzegorzki Shows, Berlin, 2019
Those who see order only in the object on the wall will not get very far with Sascha Pohle. The artist sees the knitted pictures of his series Passage (2016-ongoing) not just as horizontal pictures. Rather, he defines the photo-textile pieces as performative objects that can become animated gesticular pieces through the movements of repeated folding, unfolding, displaying and hanging. Every series consists of a series of textiles based on photographs of the ground, without dissolving into recognisable representations or pictures; they use patterns and mimicry as material and visual surface modulations that define the image itself as a place. With their irregular networks of ruptures and cracks, they allude to several different possible foldings. Their character oscillates between an interpretation of what actually exists and an abstract map that does not describe a specific area, even though it contains memories of a concrete place. So now Berlin. Berlin is less autobiographical than Dusseldorf (his place of birth) or Amsterdam and Seoul (places of residence). But for the first time, the city where the exhibition takes place is considered an important criterion for the selection of the motifs. And the formats unfold: they are much larger now, knitted in the wonderful textile lab of the textile museum in Tilburg.
‘In 1839, it was considered elegant to take a tortoise out walking.’1 This image from The Arcades Projevt, the legendary book by Walter Benjamin which remained a fragment, gives us an idea of the speed of flânerie in Paris in the middle of the 19th century. The title refers to the shopping arcades and roofed shopping streets that have today become fashionable again, but in fact the Arcades Project contains thoughts on popular and everyday culture, political analyses, Marxist theorems, and surreal montages that go far beyond this subject. The disparate and inconsistent quality of this text, which presents itself as a broad field of idiosyncratic insights which would be difficult to sum up in a consistent train of thought, is exactly what one gets when thinking about Sascha Pohle’s new knitted Berlin pictures. That does not mean that Benjamin could be read as a commentary on Pohle – or vice versa. However, there are some parallels. First of all, the repeated folding of the original image speaks of an obvious reluctance to fix a perspective. In the crisis of our current epoch, which in many respects is perceived as fragmented, something like that passes as a quite appropriate metaphor. Finally, there is also the tortoise which we can easily imagine on the tiles of the gateway of Grzegorzki Shows on Prinzenallee. The motif of this new Passage literally lies in this Berlin passageway, which replaces the asphalt of the earlier work groups Düsseldorf, Amsterdam, Seoul, and Anseong with an extreme close-up of the craquelure of the broken tiles before the door of the exhibition space. This is what the perspective of a tortoise must be like.
Perspective, however – that much we know –, is far more than an art historical detail of representation. It is a question of worldview. In his novel My Name is Red, Orhan Pamuk writes about a bloody argument between traditionalists and innovators in 16th century Islamic painting. The traditionalists demanded that the world be seen from above, from Allah’s perspective. They accuse the innovators, who had learnt about the art of mathematical perspective, of viewing the world from the perspective of a dirty stray dog – from a Muslim perspective not exactly a flattering allegory. On the other hand: what would be lower than the ground? The ground is outside of our visual field and outside the cultural surface of writing, and on a level that obviously is below both; below the body.2 Beyond the question of the divine gaze, dozens of other notions on perspective have emerged. For most of them; however, the wall guarantees, the pictorial character and the flat thing in front of the beholder – regardless of whether it is figurative or not – in reality always signifies space; a potentially infinite space.
What does Sascha Pohle do in this situation? Like the pink panther in the animated films, who picks up the black holes into which he had fallen just a moment before, folds them and unfolds them elsewhere, the artist takes his street space and folds it up meticulously. From time to time this space is unwrapped, meticulously given another form and then laid aside for the time being.
In this attitude, we recognize the nonchalance which of all people Jackson Pollock, the James Dean among artists, domesticated for the free gaze on the picture. Pollock had to salvage himself from the floor to the wall so that the critics would no longer call his paintings splashes, slobber, or felted hair. As a reward, Clement Greenberg recognized in Pollock’s tilting of the painting from the horizontal to the vertical the resurrection of modern art.3
Back to the floor. ‘The carpet’, John Ruskin confesses about the games of his eccentric youth, ‘and what patterns I could find in bed-covers, dresses, or wallpapers to be examined, were my chief resources.’4 The author of the later Modern Painters – an early work on the history of painting that is truly hard to read – is of course anything but a precursor of artistic avant-gardes, but the image of the small John counting the carpet knots while James Northcote painted his portrait in 1822 links up in a strange way to the soft stitch pictures of the Passage by Sascha Pohle.
These form a strange interpretation of the oriental rug, which according to Michel Foucault belongs to the category of heterotopias, those multi-layered spaces that exist simultaneously inside and outside of cultures and their norms and function according to their own rules. They can be small, but they must be real. Passagen defines precisely the contours of a surface which could possibly be a floor or could possibly represent an area seen from above, similar to a satellite view of an uninhabited terrain.5 Beyond the subjunctive, they are undoubtedly flat objects that can be experienced by touch, covering a concrete surface, made of various fibres with their own specific weights.
There is much to suggest that Sascha Pohle still reckons with remnants of mythical thought in his urban audience. Otherwise the Passagen with their hardly decipherable excerpts and traces of the history of a place could not be read at all. The objects stand prototypically for an idea based on the Aristotelian theory that memory can reconstruct the whole by means of a fragment. The use of the smallest quotations from the purlieus of a city would be pointless without this widespread ability to deduce something greater and more general from the detail.
For quite a while, memory has become a general subject, almost an obsession. The impulse for this seems to be a fear of its absence or inadequacy. The boom of the subject of memory presumably has to do with the outsourcing of everything worthy of being remembered to electronic media. In this context, does it mean something that in Passagen, Sascha Pohle avails himself precisely of a technique – Jacquard knitting – that is very closely linked to the history of the computer?6 There is probably no metaphorical claim being made here. Rather, it is one of those paradoxical coincidences that have to be endured. Such paradoxes are more than intellectual games in the field of possible impossibilities. They activate abilities to experience that confront real functions with metaphorical dimensions. Thus they change our perception and stimulate knowledge. In this way, art may not be able to produce solutions, but it can question traditional ways of seeing our world.
1 Walter Benjamin, Passagen-Werk, Frankfurt a.M.1998, S.532
2 Vgl. Rosalind Krauss, The Optical Unconscious, MIT 1994, S. 246ff
4 John Ruskin, Praeteriter, Oxford 1978, S. 33
5 vgl. Alena Alexandrova, On Surface Structures: Memory, Mimikry and the Non-Archive, unpubl., S.2
6 Diese Technik beruht auf dem Webstuhl des Franzosen Joseph Marie Jacquard, der sein Gewebe (und damit das Muster auf dem Stoff) auf ein Schema stützte, das automatisch aus gestanzten Holzkarten abgelesen wurde, die mit einem Seil in einer langen Reihe zusammengehalten wurden. Nachkommen dieser Lochkarten sind bis heute in Gebrauch (z.B. bei amerikanischen Wahlen). Bei Strickmaschinen wird die Musterung allerdings heute am Computer übersetzt und direkt an die Maschine übertragen.
Translation: Wilhelm Werthern, www.zweisprachkunst.de