by Shailaja TripathiNov 05, 2020
A delicately twisted three mm strip of steel, hanging in the gallery space with an apparently visible nylon thread, is the work of the minimalistic artist, Otto Boll. The German artist is showcasing the exhibition Widening the Language at the Patio Gallery at Axel Vervoordt’s Gallery, which happens to be his third solo exhibition with the gallery. The sculptures, akin to the “lines drawn in the air”, appear to have a floating effect in the space. The minimalism of the works straddles between “presence and absence”, “seen and unseen” to recreate the idea of materiality and void.
Interestingly, for Boll, the void is not an end itself, but opens a plethora of new awakening: a moment of epiphany. At the time of the artist’s first exhibition with Axel Vervoordt, he gave an explicit account of void and what meaning does it hold for him. “A void for me is a beginning. There is nothing and from this point, you have to start anew. And to have the feeling of the void in the back of your mind, it’s just like looking for another country. It has something to do with possibility. A sense of the known possibility is necessary for combination with the void. On the one hand, there is nothing, but from this point onwards I start to build something, and it has to fill the nothing with something I do by myself,” he says.
The 17 sculptures at the display draw meaning from the close interactions shared between viewers and creation to disturb the former’s conventional understanding of what constitutes permanency of a solid material. The artist likes to formally name the shared exchanges between visitors and installation as the ‘sculptural event’. In an interview with STIR, Boll explains its implications, “A ‘sculptural event’ means a meeting with a sculpture - direct in front of you. You are facing the sculpture. It is real. You can go around, feeling what is happening to you. You are alive. I like to repeat a statement of mine: sculpture demands presence — a necessary desire in an age when indirectness comes increasingly to the fore, behaving as though it were direct. The consequence is an increasing loss of closeness”.
Since the exhibition is entitled Widening the Language, the ‘sculptural event’ is a way to enhance the meaning of language, which is a “constant companion” in his works. During this journey of the ‘sculptural event’, a string of words is formed and articulated, if not literally, verbally, but communicate an emotional feeling between the human minds and brain. Interestingly, the words here might not attempt to interpret the works of creation but encapsulate a sense of reflection on the works. So, the works for Boll are not limited to a single interpretation, as defined by the artist, but open an invitation to multiple reflections.
To visually translate these ideas into tangible forms, Boll offers a creative touch to the material, as firm as aluminium, steel or wood. To offer an insight into his inclination to use steel as a key material of his art practice, Boll explains, “‘Form follows function' is a word for designing tools, for instance. Find the best way to handle that, to grip it and at least to like the form. In my work, steel follows form. Aside from steel, I use different other materials. So, steel doesn’t dominate the first step. The origin of a work lies in thinking or feeling the form with the desire, to have the work in front of me; body to body. The challenge of steel, especially for my suspended sculptures, requires calmness and serenity”.
So, when the art world is laden with the works crying for attention, Boll prefers to let his work have a private or a single conversation with the viewers or a collector. For the artist, this engagement is similar to the “instrumental music or lyrics – I like to compare with my works. In such an environment, there is a danger of being perceived as ‘muzak’.” It could not be denied that the works emphasise the art of introspection led by the viewers when they see the works carved in the hues of black, white and greys. The physical proximity shared between minimalistic art practice by Boll and the viewers from all walks of life, is, in the terms of the artist, a rendezvous of a “counterpart”. Lastly, the works at the display, for Boll must-have, “moved you twice – in a physical and intellectual way. Leaving questions virulent open”.
The exhibition Widening the Language runs at Patio Gallery, Axel Vervoordt Gallery, until June 6, 2021.