Energy Flows for Sensitive Surfaces - Gilgian Gelzer
Gilgian Gelzer combines drawing, painting and photograpy, but without ever mixing his media. Increasingly, drawing is central to his practice, accompanied by rather spare groups of photos in which line predominates over form. Here we survey Gelzer’s intriguingly beautiful work on paper.
Over the last few years the art public has taken an interest in drawing that is still on the rise, even if there is something that could seem anachronistic about the practice in this era of spectacular artworks. Still, the act of drawing remains a way of knowing and exploring the world. If it does not illustrate narratives—and we know how many of today’s artists strive to reinvent narrative forms rather than fit themselves into existing categories, whether macro- or micro—it offers its own narrative in the way that lines and forms are inscribed in a specific space. Perhaps this is exactly what makes drawing necessary: it can render visible the conditions for the appearance of forms and thus present the possibilities of a narrative. Gilgian Gelzer’s drawings are exemplary in this sense. Gelzer uses an extremely restricted vocabulary, limited to nothing but lines and points in recent years. But this is not a matter of ontological reductionism, as it was for the historic avant-gardes. On the contrary, his drawings are produced by accumulation and spatial proliferation. The proliferating lines, often in different colors, twist and coil together until the whole surface is covered with intertangled lines. As the lines expand, the points contract until their spreading fills the whole space with its density. Yet it should be noted that these are not so much points as scribbles, lines mashed into themselves so that the white that surrounds them seems to indicate their potential spread. These pieces, like the drawings where a single line runs through a sheet of paper, are testament to the active role of blank spaces. For Gelzer, paper is not a receptacle for forms; rather, it bears the imprint of the hand that interacted with it just as photographic paper is imprinted by light. Both media are based on sensitive surfaces on which forms and forces are imprinted.
These drawings do not convey motifs or Surrealist projections of the unconscious, nor do they have a calligraphic dimension. Gelzer says what they express is an “energy,” i.e. an act. A drawing is the materialization of an act in a given time and space. Drawing has its own temporality, the instant when the line unfolds. That temporality can be gathered together in small formats or drawings that use a repetition of points. Longer temporalities and the addition of instants occur in larger drawings, marked by the accumulation of lines, often of different colors. Even in his large wall drawings , the timeframe is limited by “the necessity to react to an immediate situation.”(1) The “situation” is the space to which a drawing has to respond. This gives immense importance to the question of format and especially scale, because what matters is not the space in itself but its relationship to the body. The relationship between the hand and the surface it draws on must be felt physically. In Gelzer’s work, two extreme and opposite kinds of drawings manifest this relationship with space. The wall drawings are distinguished by the crisscrossing of planes in which the body is supposed to move, so that the physical movement of the viewer corresponds to the movement of the line. Conversely, in his series of drawings on playing-card format paper, pieces that can be held in one hand just as others are made to fit into architectural structures, there is a confrontation with a scale that calls for an immediate, spontaneous response, thus determining the way that the artist’s body engages with the format, whether in a broad movement or instead a highly concentrated
one. Responding means acting in the given space, producing a graphic transposition of a particular energy, like a discharge (the sexually freighted word is deliberate).
DRAWING AS PLEASURE
This development of drawing in terms of its relationship to space means that it has become a way of measuring and investigating. Gelzer compares it to the exploration of a territory on a map in that the map constructs the territory rather than representing it. It could also be compared to the exploration of a body that is brought into existence and shaped by caresses. Caresses are driven by a repeated and resumed desire to know the body of the other, never accomplished but endlessly rekindled. Similarly, in Gelzer’s work, the appearance of the form is deferred, arriving only through the movement of the line. He wants to avoid “the idea of some organization to the drawing, some composition, and even form.”(2) His use of color accentuates this suspension of form, impedes its organization and instead gives full play to the rhythm of drawing itself. The whole point of these drawings is their rhythm, the rhythm of pleasure driven by the desire to leave the form deferred, unfinished and thus re-enacted again and again.
OPENING THE REAL
Gelzer’s drawings are the product of this contradiction or tension between the construction of a form and its space, on the one hand, and on the other the movement of the form toward dissolving and its exhaustion in the line. In his older work the image sometimes seems to begin to appear, evoking a figure whose completion is nevertheless deferred. Caught in this contradiction, or facing it, as viewers we have to follow the line’s desire, its accelerations and slowdowns, saturations and respiration, like a tale whose telling is deliberately extended. The form’s state of indetermination leaves possibilities actively open, so that each can be returned to or reiterated without coming to a close with a specific image, no matter how abstract. This sense of openness is also present in Gelzer’s photos in which reality seems to tremble and the meaning is indeterminate. They seem to show fragments of landscapes, buildings and urban fixtures, but it would be impossible to draw up a specific list of the contents of these images that seem to have been taken for no other reason than to show whatever the artist happened to stumble on while outside his studio. With their rather neutral framing, these photos have in common both a formal dimension (the interplay of the lines running through composition) and a strangeness that disturbs our relationship to the subjects and makes them deeply unfamiliar. Similarly, his drawings also present a resistance to identification that accentuates the constant movement, the state of disorder and ebullition of the formless forms before they resolve into various distinct entities. Gelzer uses the word “organism” to describe the subject of his drawings because its vitalist connotation reflects their constant state of motion between coming into and going out of being, their perpetual metamorphosis. His “unbalanced” photos and graphic organisms are reports on a multiple, constantly changing and indefinable reality where inchoate matter is caught in an energy flow in constant transformation. These interlaced lines and the photos make manifest an aspiration that underlies all fictional dynamics, to open up reality to the existence of multiple possibilities, blur any identification and produce something that is different and divergent.
Translation, L-S Torgoff (1) Gilgian Gelzer, “D’un médium l’autre, conversation avec Christophe Domino,” Semaine, no. 110, October 2006. (2) Ibid. Romain Mathieu teaches art history at the École Supérieure d'Art et de Design in Saint-Étienne and at the Université d'Aix-Marseille. He is the author of a thesis on Supports/Surfaces.
Walldrawing. Drawing Now, 2012, Paris (Ph. L. Ardhuin)
Sans titre. 2014. Graphite sur papier. 190 x 140 cm. (Ph. L. Ardhuin). Untitled. Graphite on paper