Bats Falling, Hands Catching
Christoph Hefti’s work is full of movement and dynamism: bats fall, lemons are thrown and caught by outstretched hands, jaguars leap through imaginary doors, and colourful strands slide and swirl as if pulsed by electricity. At the centre of MANIERA’s latest exhibition of Hefti’s new and recent carpet designs is the wildest work of the ensemble; a dramatic and confrontational Animal Mask, bursting with an energy rendered through Hefti’s graphic expression and emphasised by the frenzy of differently textured collaged fragments that give the mask its form. Unique to this installation, Hefti has collaborated with the sound artist and percussionist Julian Sartorius to bring Animal Mask to life. Like Hefti, Sartorius creates complex landscapes from found material (instruments, field recordings, sounds) merged with his own original compositions. Together, their assemblage of sound, image and textured object creates a striking form of living, breathing anima.
The trio Bats Falling, Hands Catching and The Visitors are viewed by Hefti as a ‘Latino’ group, and were shaped by an extensive research trip to Columbia, particularly the motifs and imagery seen in The Visitors. The dense colony of red bats depicted in Bats Falling possess the small mammals’ distinctive and recognisable characteristics but under Hefti’s hand they are decidedly pre-hispanic in formal expression and immediately call to mind the ‘small-great objects’ of this period collected by artists Anni and Josef Albers on their travels through the Americas. Details from Pre-Columbian figures meld with ancient Mexican heads or Andean textile motifs and draw the viewer deep into mythic past times. Things get stranger and more magical in The Visitors. The shaman at the centre of the carpet stands in a room of sorts, flanked by two large windows through which those leaping jaguars chase and surrounded by the flowers typically used as a hallucinatory drug in shamanic ritual; overlooking the scene is the ghostly trace of a Mexican skull, seemingly hidden at first but strongly suggestive of the emotional complexity at the heart of the work. The shaman is woven in natural wool and, on initial glance, recedes against the vivid blues and reds of the architectural setting. His (or ‘her’ perhaps?) boots, however, leap forward in the pictorial plane and give the composition a kitsch twist that plants the shaman firmly in the urban present. The design of the patterned rug on which the shaman stands – a carpet within the carpet – derives from Hefti’s discovery of much sought-after antique Tibetan ‘Tiger’ rugs, long associated with ancient ritual practices of tantric meditation and typically featuring tiger skin motifs of either full flayed pelt or abstracted and stylised stripes. Hefti’s confluence of references and deft play with cultural symbolism, aesthetics and time yields a rich and highly textured visual landscape that is as sensuous as it is intellectually stimulating.
The carpets, with the exception of Animal Mask, are consciously suspended within the gallery space to create a labyrinthine route through and between each piece. The movement and figurative gesture in Hands Catching takes on a powerful surreal quality when viewed hanging freely, away from the wall and disassociated from the conventional picture plane. Similarly,Tibetan Multicolour, an abstracted assemblage of the rush of colours, people and images Hefti viewed from the back of a motorcycle on trips around Kathmandu, becomes an experience in space and time when displayed this way. The arrangement encourages the viewer to see the works as three-dimensional textiles and not – in Hefti’s words – as a ‘picture put on to a carpet’; it also affords one the opportunity to view the backs of the carpets where much is revealed about methods and techniques of their construction. Privileging this information (the dna of the carpet) and foregrounding the structure, form, textures and smells of the carpets is where one can truly delight in Hefti’s experimentation and unusual approach to the medium. His magical and imaginative image-making is matched in equal measure by lyrical material expression. Welcome to his unique creative universe.
The beat has always been the defining element in the life of Julian Sartorius. Born in Thun (Switzerland), he began his first drum lessons at the age of five. With his rhythms pushing the boundaries of new music, hip-hop and a unique form of abstract electronica, Sartorius reveals the endless possibilities and range of his instruments. He often prepares his drums, works with unusual, unprocessed acoustic sounds and develops, beat by beat, an unheard environment of sound.
With his solo show he has toured widely throughout Europe, playing on bills with the likes of Deerhoof, Faust, Marc Ribot, Jaki Liebezeit, Arto Lindsay, and has released several solo albums. His video installation Schläft ein Lied in allen Dingen was shown in several art galleries. The web-project Morph, is another audiovisual work: Sartorius, on a daily basis, adds an element to his collage and modifies an 8-second-audioloop. He has won several prestigious awards and in 2014 was nominated for the inaugural Swiss Music Prize along with a selection of the most influential Swiss musicians.
Catherine Ince is a Senior Curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum where she is developing the curatorial program of V&A East, a new institution planned for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London. Until November 2015 she was a Curator at the Barbican Centre and produced major survey exhibitions and publications including The World of Charles and Ray Eames (2015), Bauhaus: Art as Life (2012), and Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion (2011). Prior to joining the Barbican, Catherine was Co-Director of the British Council’s Architecture, Design and Fashion department where she organized international touring exhibitions and collaborative projects about contemporary design and architecture, and commissioned the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture. Catherine is a regular contributor to a range of print and online publications, and has lectured widely in the UK and internationally.