“ We must try to discover the specific, absolutely contemporary form of such nondialectical thinking.” Michel Foucault
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Measuring the Moment
The following will hardly involve a classification of the works along art historical parameters. Our point of departure is also not really the impressed viewer, although Heiko Börner’s perspective of (im)possibilities carved into the wood unquestionably challenge seeing and comprehending. Once the moment of surprise has subsided and we look, time and again, into the continual artistic production since 2000, the question arises: What do the works think?
On Non-Dialectical Structure
Börners installations and sculptures seem to think a non-dialectical thinking. Regarding the term, we should cross-reference Michel Foucault, who invoked “nondialectical thinking” – without a hyphen – as a new mode of thought since the 1960s. He saw the old dialectics as a philosophy of false “reconciliation.” It promised “man, in a way, to become an authentic, true man” and could not be “separated from humanist morality.” ¹ Dialectics is, in general, thinking in terms of thesis vs. antithesis toward synthesis. An old hat, which, in the 19th and 20th century Kant, Hegel, Marx or Adorno elevated not only to the fundamental structure of argumentation, but of thought itself – to summarize it very briefly. Take two contradictions and resolve them into a third. This third, as the Foucault quote implies, is usually associated with improvement (moral, economic, technical, aesthetic, etc.).
Börner’s works are almost exclusively developed between two poles. These can be reminiscent of the amorphous, but usually belong to a geometrical visual language. For example, a cube and a sphere stand opposite each other, connected by a wooden bar. Or two irregular cubes, parallelograms or cylindrical forms seem mirrored, corresponding with one another with a sense of tension. The connection between them is marked by tapering, slender elegance and dynamically striated fragility. The manner of juxtaposition is “bipolar.” The tension and dynamism within the works flow from one pole to the other and (!) vice versa. There is basically no beginning and no end.
Let’s take a look at the addressed polarities together: Heiko Börner’s sculptures juxtapose two focal points. Between them an intrinsic, mutual current of forces flows, which seems to suspend the general laws of gravitation, instead following its own. At first glance, the sculptor’s works may seem dialectical in their basic polar structure. However, not in Börner’s renunciation of the struggle between the poles, nor in his renunciation of the “better” third. They are juxtaposed, but not opposed. Equivalence guarantees the bipolar, non-dialectical flow of energy.
Another decisive detail: Börner makes his sculptures from a single tree trunk. The trunk is the unity in which it is to be found. Nothing is added to it, the trunk is the limit. By working out the poles of mass in his sculptures from unity as unity, Börner steps out of a dialectic that thinks in terms of contradiction and promises a resolving third.
Each of Börner’s sculptures is its own space of forces and energy, in which what is, is. The work’s commitment to openness and unity refutes the promise of a yet to be discovered “better.” Modernity, in its self-conception, repeatedly charged itself with this, this laying the groundwork for a crumbling present with reactionary fantasies of omnipotence, resource struggles and famine catastrophes. Thinking in unity is different from thinking in units.
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On Form, Smooth – Striated
This publication combines two very different groups of works. The descriptors “smooth” and “striated” could be quickly assigned to each: “smooth” would then refer to the installations with barrier tape, “striated” to the sculptures of wood. However: the striated is also smooth and the smooth is also striated. First of all, nevertheless, it should be noted that it is surprising when an artist who is so well versed in woodworking simultaneously makes use of barrier tape as an artistic material. Instead of looking for a contrast here, which would have to be resolved dialectically, let us view the artistic approaches side by side. Both groups of works are about forces, energy flows, distances and tension. The inorganic barrier tape also stretches between two poles, which are its points of gravity or support. The fundamental structure of the installations is just as non-dialectical as of the sculptures. If one were to remove one of the installation frames that the tape stretches around, the tape would sag and the bipolar energy would immediately exhale its spirit.
The adjectives “smooth” and “striated” should not be reduced to addressing the material used, but rather to further define the ways in which the work has been shaped. Smoothly soft, scratched and rhythmic, pastosely notched surfaces characterize the wooden sculptures. The various patterns trigger retinal haptics, accelerateor delay the scanning speed of our vision. The same strategies, borrowed from painting or drawing, are not applicable to the barrier tape. Here the artist achieves moments of visual stasis by twisting the tape, providing zones of density and superimposition. In sculptures and installations as well, however, it would be oversimplified to apply “smooth” and “striated” merely to elements of texture at the surface level. Börner uses them for spatial design.
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari translated “the smooth and the striated” ² into a theory of space. According to Deleuze and Guattari, “smooth space” is assigned to the nomad and “striated space” to the sedentary. The desert, the sea, or the sky, spaces not striated and measured by humans, are prime examples of “smooth spaces.” Agriculture, the city, even longitude and latitude divide expanse into distances, space into spaces, unity into units. Structuring, measure, rhythm oppose the smooth, make it predictable.
In Börner’s installations, the barrier tape forms a “skin” or boundary that is striated as a rhythm is created from lengths of tape. The slightly twisted frames disrupt the regularity, compressing the striation, making it closemeshed and then widening it again. Thus, Börner carves out a new installation interior space within the existing architecture, demarcated by barrier tape. But what this encloses is itself empty or smooth and unstriated. It gives nothing to our haptic sense of vision, we cannot even see it. The tape behind it and the surrounding space push themselves into its smoothness. They striate and rhythmize the smoothness of the inner volume of space, although we know that it is empty. Börner’s clearly defined installations, which hide nothing, span visual gullies in spatial volumes that are elusive despite their overt clarity. “Value judgments aside, this demonstrates above all that there exist two nonsymmetrical movements, one of which striates the smooth, and one of which reimparts smooth space on the basis of the striated.” ³ A thinking in non-dialectical space?
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For Guattari and Deleuze, smooth and striated are also terms of movement: We move differently in a smooth (e. g. steppe) or striated (e. g. city) time-space. Similarly, Börner molds the dimension of time in his works by means of smooth and striated moments. His installations respect the existing, architectural time-space in which they are situated. Time is different in a vaulted cellar than in front of the high altar. What movement do I insert here? In the wooden sculptures, Börner also pays attention to the pre-existing time-space: “The wood bears time within itself. The annual rings point to the temporal dimension. In a sense, I work my way into a period of time and move through the annual rings toward the sculpture” ⁴, Börner noted in 2019.
The space-time motion of artworks, developing in real space, go with the light. Unlike painting, which painted its own light until .douard Manet, letting it fall through windows, keyholes, or shadowy pines. The smooth and striated characteristics of a sculpture, on the other hand, must work with the real incidence of light. Thus, the textured surfaces can also be read as sculptural leads for light to follow. Börner’s combination of painterly and sculptural thought in the installations is remarkable: Between two frame constructions he stretches the artificial barrier tape in respective colors.
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From Non-Dialectical Knowledge to Nondialectical Not Knowing *
In 2020, Heiko Börner exhibited his perhaps most spatially/temporally expansive installation to date at the Altes Schlachthaus Mosbach (fig. p. 44, 45). In the center, on the floor and ceiling, are two wooden frames. Here, however, he extended the non-dialectical bipolarity and attached four additional wooden beams to the wall of the exhibition space at regular intervals. These served as additional fixtures to add tension. He then stretched translucent cling film through the space, from beam to beam, aligned spotlights and created a concertante visual experience; a constant movement without beginning or end, whose most dynamic energies could be experienced when one stood offcenter or moved around the space. “The non-dialectical culture in the making […] has emerged spontaneously in very different areas. It has no privileged place” and offers “a scattered image.” ⁵ The methodology in Heiko Börner’s work seems to draw lines from the non-dialectical to the nondialectical, through the smooth and the striated, between absolute mastery and the not knowing.
Foucault did not clearly define the nondialectical in his work. He did, however, express the notion that nondialectical thought inquires into the “possible relationship between the different spheres of knowledge, but also between knowledge and the not knowing.” ⁶ For Foucault, Paul Klee’s painting was a radiant example of nondialectical painting, because the painter made use of broad knowledge – from that of the child to that of the master – and displayed it clearly, openly and analytically.
In Klee’s expansion of and perambulation through the fundamental elements of painting, knowledge and the not knowing come to view anew. The same could be said of Heiko B.rner’s works. His art transports knowledge from his studies at the University of Architecture and Civil Engineering Weimar, the Vocational School for Wood Sculpture Empfertshausen, the Master School for Wood Sculpture Munich and the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. However, Börner seems to be driven not by acquired knowledge, but by his knowledge of the not knowing. The acquired knowledge is striated, the not knowing smooth space. The installations, sculptures, and drawings dissect the knowledge within his art “into their elements and reassemble them” ⁷ so that movements are created between the basic coordinates of time-space. Clearly defined, hiding nothing, without secrets. Heiko Börner’s work will open up the supposed knowledge of this text to the not knowing. That’s a good thing, because “[w]e […] must understand the ongoing relationship between the not knowing and knowing as something positive, for they do not suppress one another; rather, they are in constant interdependence, leaning against each other, and each can only be understood through the other.” ⁸
- Michel Foucault, “Ist der Mensch tot?”, 1966, in: id., Schriften zur Medientheorie, Berlin 2013, p. 216. Own translation.
- Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, “1440: The Smooth and the Striated,” in: id., A Thousand Plateaus, Minneapolis 1987, p. 658–694.
- Ibid., p. 480.
- Caroline Kull, “Zwischen Momentaufnahme und Bewegung“, March 15th 2019, blog.klassik-stiftung.de.
- Michel Foucault, “Ist der Mensch tot?”, 1966, in: id., Schriften zur Medientheorie, Berlin 2013, p. 217. Own translation.
- Ibid., p. 218.
- Ibid., p. 220.
- Ibid., p. 218.
* In the following, the term “Not Knowing” is used when referring to the German word “Nichtwissen”.
Translated by Zoe Claire Miller