Can’t Take My Eyes Off You

by Irene Müller

Why is it that things or shapes, generally taken to be inanimate visual counterparts, can sometimes evoke haptic experiences by way of displacement activity? How do we encounter such (physical) feelings as observers of art? And what do these reactions trigger beyond the sensory phenomenon? Such are the questions evoked by Tina Isabella Hild’s objects, paintings, drawings and installations. Seductive and austere, opulent and controlled, they oscillate between (seemingly) diametrically opposed opposites, explore thematic and formally ambivalent concepts and ideas. They question trusted manners of seeing and perceptual patterns, search at the divide between the safe ground of detached observation and the impenetrable realms of emotional involvement.

The starting point for this fascinating, complex work is our everyday routines, their physical and emotional “organizing”, but also interpersonal forms of interaction and cultural, societal characters. Out of this structure, Hild peels images that capture existential questions about identity, explore the interplay of inside and outside world, manners of behavior and rituals, and transports them into new connections. Characteristic for her approach is the development of larger installation projects or suites of works in which she traces the ideas developed by societies when dealing with emotions and communication, with social relationships and norms. In each case the design of an overall conceptual shape forms the framework, which the artist pursues in the guise of a work in progress, from which she repeatedly removes fragments in the course of the working process. Each of these elements differing in media and form embodies partial aspects of the “big picture”. Simultaneously, the artist wants each element to function as an autonomous work with its own emphasis or focus.

In her first large-scale installation safe, cosy & violent, Hild formulated fundamental parameters of this approach, which rests on the spatial-thematic linking of objects and images. Owing to their loose assemblage, they recall traces of human “occupation” of public spaces, the fittings of urban landscapes or organizational and communicative forms within an urban system. Alongside Public Space Decor, Bahn (train) and Little Poplar & Butterflies, a Luxuriöse Laterne (luxurious lantern) and Hund und Fähnchen (dog and little flag), amongst others, populate the area of the installation, which consequently is positioned in the room not only spatially, but also conceptually. Plant trellises soar up out of cable drums decked out with clumps of fairy lights, which lend the slight, almost fragile seeming structure a floral appearance: a symbol with a remarkable presence and force, fluctuating between functionality and the wish to be decorative. The stainless steel structure, suspended from whose upper crossbar are skin-colored latex loops, appears industrial and practical, yet strangely unstable and empty of meaning. The view of a Platz für Reiter and Pferde (a place for riders and horses) is folded into the two-dimensional space, transposed into an ornamental-looking composition in which the line drawing seems to press the gray and white paint fillings of the surfaces upwards. Simplifying striking object and visual forms diverts the gaze to their “making”, to the re-deployed everyday objects that crop up in unexpected settings, and to the precise, partly irritating choice of material. In combination with a visual language that constantly oscillates between sensual seduction and objective reduction Hild is able to increase the recognition factor of the elements. Consequently, like prototypical visual formula, they can evoke a wide range of associations, making us feel that we can recall objects and their handling, or actions, habits and the physical and emotional and sensations triggered as a result.

For example, safe, cosy & violent not only revolves around human efforts to coexist on different levels within public spaces determined in a complex manner, but also around the potential and voids of established structures and their impact on the individual. The single objects represent certain aspects of interaction or the colliding of reglementation and individual liberty, sanctioned representational forms and subjectively experienced personality. They belong to both spheres, equally manifest normative order and rampant eccentricity, and ultimately – especially in an installation-based arrangement – trace the image within which the artist can locate herself and explore this all the more precisely.

Tina Isabella Hild has been working on the large-scale installation project Inexhaustible Presence for several years. The walk-through structure of the installation is based on a shelving system, which in a meandering design turns in on itself. The artist subjects her manner of working here to a self-imposed “limiting” canon that regulates the overall spatial-sculptural form, the innate thematic connections and formal references. The individual shelves are clad on the outside with monochrome panels whose color and surface texture are based on the content of the section invisible from the outside. Moreover, the regular sequence and identical dimensions of the storage units reflect the idea of an organizing system whose components are ultimately (treated as being) of equal value.

The objects and picture panels exert a strange fascination. It is the “imitation” of aesthetic (surface) characteristics, such as the metallic glimmer of the porous meteorite stones, the shimmering patina of the statue’s fragments or the brittle fiber structure of the root-like structure that exhausts the desire for tactility. Simultaneously, the extremely reduced forms expressed in bulging body fragments, amorphous masses of clouds or fan-shaped tree silhouettes evoke a fundamental familiarity. Similarly, in the painted picture panels the stylized abstraction of the subject underscores their superficially general appearance; both the likenesses of men in Advertisement for Men, but also the seductively posing women featured in Advertisement with Women are exaggerated, appear plasticized or welded into the shiny background, which is overlayered with artificial signs of use. The skin, the structure of the items and images, is given a layer of meaning; the materials’ semantic spectrum interferes with contours and lines, with formal characteristics and thematic aspects. The outer appearance reveals signs of the original context of employment and the origin of the objects and images; it provides evidence of a social behavior, a repertoire of sorts of identity-giving instructions and patterns of behavior. How is desire or fear, pain or joy articulated? How are our concepts of sexuality, love, power or alienation visually coded? With her strategy, Tina Isabella Hild encourages a reception that expands into affective dimensions. The complex, thematically motivated references triggered by forms and images verging on the stereotypical, and the sensual qualities that address us on a “universal wavelength&lrdquo; act like a catalyst: Physical perceptions are short-circuited with impressions that are based on collective experiences. Visual stimuli leap over to other senses, trigger sensations of temperature and pain, senses of taste and smell.

If you consider the seventy compartments and their installation framework as a whole, then what emerges is the image of an archive, which assembles common concepts of emotions and manners of behavior, social relationships and societal dispositives. With Inexhaustible Presence, Hild not only addresses the inexhaustible presence of direct experience, which in the moment it is described, felt or experienced already belongs to the past. She also allows us to experience mechanisms and structures of collective recollection processes. The knowledge store “archive”, which functions as a transshipment place for future memories, is constituted from factors such as selection and evaluation, depositing and eliminating, opening and closing. As an instrument for regulating thoughts and expressions, for distinguishing “old” and “new” it plays a fundamental part in the formulating of cultural identities. From the broad store of public media, traditional portrayals and everyday experiences the artist extracts precisely defined elements that act as concentrations, as encapsulated recollections. Particularly owing to the precise (re)structuring of material and media, the variously shaped objects and images do not remain in the state of “touch relics” of individual sensitivities; they do not form fragments of a memory, but rather trace the processes that lead to its formation. They may stem from varying contexts, and as such address different aspects of the world, yet they grow together in the installation. In the structuring grid of the archive their seemingly irreconcilable nature is thus cancelled. The central question behind the works by Tina Isabella Hild is not what recollection is, but how memories are constructed and what images and moments find their way into them today. They demonstrate through materiality and aesthetics, through subjects and content a clear reference to the present, an artistic standpoint, which does not shy away from the major topics of human existence, but rather encounters them analytically, critically, sensitively, and with relish.

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© 2005–2015 Tina Isabella Hild