Lotta Hammer, LondonFrieze, Issue 40, May-Jun 1998
Mariele Neudecker's work has been seen in many a group show, and she has become known for one particular style of work. Her first solo show, this exhibition gives her a chance to prove that her work isn't just about tanks of salt water containing miniature landscapes. Not that such pieces have been excluded from the show: down in the gallery's darkened basement Morning Fog in the Mountains (all works 1997) is as good an example as any. A spot-lit tank is filled with foggy water through which an achingly romantic mountain can be seen. This dramatic peak, all 50cms of it, is topped by a tiny crucifix. So near and yet so far: the illusions caused by the murkiness of the liquid, the sharp spotlight and the thick glass, give a frustratingly realistic effect: the more difficult it becomes to see, the more you try to get a better view. It's an ideal romanticism decisively out of reach: a spiritual tease. This is perhaps Neudecker's lesson - that the spiritual aspect of landscape is merely an illusion or, rather, a delusion. She seems to suggest that, even though certain weather conditions coupled with particularly craggy bits of the Earth's surface may arouse metaphysical passions, this is about as much proof of the existence of a spiritual dimension as the fact that light becomes refracted through glass. The magical quality of Neudecker's romantic scenes simply dampens our spiritual excesses, since we know that it is merely derived through the interaction of liquid and light. But so too, of course, is the sublime effect of real landscapes.
Interested in stereoscopy, Neudecker employs a constant twinning in her work. This is seen most explicitly in Pendulum. Here, we have two C-Type prints mounted next to each other. Both depict the same image, presenting a stereoscopic scene. The image itself also reminds us of the act of looking: it is an icy, Arctic scene, as viewed from the mouth of a cave, the shape of which strongly resembles the ellipse of an eye. Double this image and you get... well, a pair of eyes. But there is something else here too, something that also focuses our thoughts on how we see. Apparently, a figure featured prominently in the original image, and yet in both examples it has been carefully painted out. But perhaps this new 'ghost' of a figure has simply been added, which leaves us with the dilemma of whether the figure was originally there or not. Is this an addition to, or subtraction from, our field of vision? Can we say that a visual disturbance is proof of anything?
Two window pieces with the peculiarly precise titles of Pressure Exerted by Atmosphere on Earth's Surface, Taken as Units of Pressure, About 1 Kg Weight per sq. cm (window no. 1) and ...(window no. 2) continue the doubling theme. These consist of double-glazed window frames sandwiching a liquid dye, which produces a gradually deepening blue tint, darkest at the top. It's like a classy version of those sun-screen stickers found on car windshields. It's also a bit like looking towards a horizon where the sun is not quite visible, which again suggests a cheap romanticism. But if it's drama you want, then look no further than the video works.
Characteristically there are two of these and they are the most intriguing pieces on display, marking something of a departure for Neudecker. The first, Heliotropion (no. 1) [ref George Philip Reinagle (1802-1835) - A First Rate Man-of-War Driving on a Reef of Rocks and Foundering in a Gale - Oil on Canvas], takes a digital image of the eponymous painting and wraps it onto a sphere. This revolving globe moves slowly around an otherwise black monitor screen, to the sound of storms. The second video work, Heliotropion (no. 2) [ref Philip-James de Loutherborough - Avalanche in the Alps, 1803 - Oil on Canvas], is much the same. These works fall somewhere between screen-savers, which often employ revolving spheres bouncing around the screen, and the spherical maps of the virtual reality games that place the viewer's perspective in the centre of an environment.
So what are these works about? Are they romance machines, generating nostalgia for us? Perhaps. Certainly as a pair they are mesmerising, the sound affecting us with a surprising vividness. Neudecker takes our physical act of seeing, and then artificially tints it with the same colours as those generated by our internal emotional responses. Rather than allowing all this romanticising to go on behind closed doors, Neudecker exposes it by reproducing it mechanically. Which may seem cynical, but who's to say that we cannot enjoy those things that we know to be false? And that is the edge upon which Neudecker knows she balances: the fact that our powers of belief ultimately outweigh our powers of rationalisation.
text copyright david barrett
images copyright the artists