Exhibition | Benjamin Houlihan | Victor Stuhl | at Thomas Rehbein Galerie | Cologne | Art Week

Benjamin Houlihan | Victor Stuhl

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Saturday, 7 September 2019 to Saturday, 5 October 2019
Friday, 6 September 2019 - 6:00pm

Occasionally in the history of art, the idealistic coherence of form was brutally broken up. Avant-garde movements such as Cubism, Dadaism, and Surrealism promoted a break with the prevailing canon and the aesthetic conventions paving the way to a liberated, yet fragmented form.


Benjamin Houlihan's most recent works are based on design principles and formal possibilities rather than on an emancipatory, provocative act. The playful confrontation with the former ideals of unity and perfection, symmetry and beauty serve to exploit the fragility of the form or figure in their versatility.(...)

For the sculptures and drawings shown in the exhibition, the artist uses the principle of a folding picture book, whose pages - with illustrations of animals or people in typical posture and costumes - are divided into individual sections. By turning over the page the respective body parts of the figures, and thus their distinctive features, are being mixed and recombined. Odd forms and hybrids emerge, that are no longer clearly identifiable.

Accordingly, Houlihan folds a sheet of paper into sections of equal size, which he folds over and fills with drawings. These inconsistent settings are being held together by a superordinate idea of ​​form. In these cases, the artist follows the mental image of a chair, a banana, a radiator, a face or a vase, but the outline of the drawing is detached from a logical structure of the respective shape. Instead, the composition is determined by the folding technique and thus the division into individual fields.

This segmentation causes the detachment of the individual subordinate units from the closed overall context, especially since the drawing process also takes place in individual, sometimes staggered, steps: The pen is newly positioned in each section, the line is stopped at the edge, the line comes to a sudden end. Breaks arise, interrupting the homogeneous image, breaking it down into formal fragments.

The individual parts are further alienated and fragmented by the stylistic means. A face is subdivided into four graphic segments, all of which show completely different artistic notions. While the hair is drawn in pencil with sparingly and carefully juxtaposed strokes, the eye caves underneath are executed in deep black ink. A further section shows the highly abstracted chin area as a network of bright curves, surrounded by dense graphite hatching. The contour of the neck and the neckline of a round necked shirt reveal themselves as delicate traces of graphite.

In the abrupt change between two-dimensional and three-dimensional representation, divergent conceptions of form coexist on one sheet: purely graphic parts merge seamlessly with plastically modeled or extensively compressed zones.

Chair, banana, radiator, face and vase are fundamentally inconsistent due to this playful combination of incompatible designs, which oscillate between abstraction and figuration.

Although the sculpture of a banana is made of one piece, the tin casting was made from four pieces of different bananas, however maintaining the natural order of the sections. These four mutually shifted, slipped sections are united in a precarious balancing act, slapstick-like battle for balance. With a mischievous wink, Houlihan seems to parody sculptural reflections on statics and stability, as well as symmetrical balancing.

Although disparate elements are being combined in a drawing or sculpture, the obvious unsoundness of the figure remains. It is not the sum of its components that gives identity to the new creation, which by no means can be identical to itself, since it consists of a heterogeneous collection of set pieces.

As with the hybrid figures of the folding picture books, the pictorial products of Houlihan also have a discrepant nature. This grotesque multiplicity - reminiscent of Frankenstein - cannot be overcome by the forced uniformity of the figure.

Accordingly,this is not about disassembling an object and putting the pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle to restore lost unity. Nothing is being repaired here, no soft transitions are being created, no cracks concealed. The deconstruction remains visible, as Houlihan’s practice is rather a matter of moving the object in order to get a better look at it. The incompatibility of the individual sections evokes the change of view - the observation of the object, section by section. During viewing, the subject tilts and different views and facets emerge. Whether frontal, sideways, in supervision, in sub-view: Houlihan plays with the dimensions, jumping back and forth between the angles and perspectives. Ultimately, the shifting of perception reveals the transformation of the depicted subject in the eye of the artist - and the viewer.

(Bettina Haiss, 2019)

Venue ( Address ): 

Aachener Str. 5

50674 Köln

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