GiG air – Paul Valentin

Another from the series of studio visits

Proteus: against caves, beds and boats

To enter Paul Valentin’s installation at the Rosa Stern SpaceA Piano Plays In Another Room And It‘s Raining – is to step into a Plato’s cave of sorts. Awaiting you are two classic Corbusier lounge chairs in a darkened basement room. Feet up and immobile you are meant to look up at the projection on the ceiling. This is, like much of Paul Valentin’s works after Nichts from 2019, digitally animated, and in this sense is a simulation rather than some kind of camera recording. But instead of shadows of people and animals cast by objects, “wall implements wrought in wood and stone,” we see only another space, another darkened room (Plato, The Republic, 747). There is another, deeper cave in which we finds ourselves, “an ampler, stranger and deeper world,” that no longer adheres to familiar Platonic rules (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, § 289).

Paul Valentin, A Piano Plays in the Other Room and It’s Raining, 2022, video installation. Courtesy of the Artist

We enter this world through a room with a lighthouse outside the window. The light from the lighthouse runs across the rain covered window in the dim artificial glow, a phone rings, its green light blinks. The room we see seems very familiar to us and I do not just mean us gamers, who would recognise it from the 1996 classic,  Lighthouse: The Dark Being. There is now a whole category of objects that seem more real when computer generated: raindrops and puddles, shiny little things out of plastic, soda cans, shattered glass, flames, plugs and sockets, fur and dust, and it is these that Paul Valentin collects, like some kind of digital Wall-E. So familiar are these computer generated things that they, and the rooms in which they live, have acquired a sheen of nostalgia, the aesthetic of liminal spaces, with its own wikipedia fandom page. Accompanying us is a suitably melancholy piano sound track and the hum of rain in the distance. 

From this first shadowy room we move on to another and then another, always following the invisible camera, always staying in the rain. One room seems enormous, filled with forgotten film equipment, stage sets and props. In this room we see both the camera, a classic Arri Alexa mounted on wheels, and what it films, a wooden model of a classical building, brightly lit. But we also seem to see what is inside the wooden model, with its cornices, columns and tympana – its tapestries and parquet floor. And here too is a camera, momentarily visible to us when sparks fly from a broken power cable. When the camera follows a single coffee drop down from the machine to the floor, then above and below along the cable leading to the elevator and ventilation shaft, we enter the final space, a modern-looking bedroom upstairs. Zooming onto the vase with flowers next to the bed, we seem to be back again inside the wooden model from the beginning, with its tapestries, petals falling in from a hole in the ceiling.

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Paul Valentin, A Piano Plays in the Other Room and It’s Raining, 2022, video installation. Courtesy of the Artist


Every time there is a film cut and we move from one room to another, our understanding of the spaces shifts. What seemed to us a stage set at the beginning, with false walls and fake rain, is at the end shown to be an actual lighthouse outside. This lighthouse seems to be both within the large space of the warehouse and within the wooden miniature model.  There is a vertiginous circularity at work here that belongs to the gaming world rather than the film, and the first impression of the work is that of a YouTube game walkthrough, the camera movement determined by a click or sequence of clicks on the various objects – an updated and sophisticated version of classic point and click games like Myst. We see the objects from all possible camera angles, all the different aspects: inside, outside, above, below, behind, as a stage set, captured on film, in the dark, in the light etc. The technical wizardry is breathtaking. Paul Valentin is not Plato’s puppeteer, standing behind a wall holding up simple wooden and stone objects infront of a fire so that they might cast some shadows on a wall, but rather Plato’s artist, if such an artist were at all possible: consider how he is described in Book X of the Republic, the maker of all the works of all other workmen. 

For this is he who is able to make not only vessels of every kind, but plants and animals,himself and all other things – the earth and heaven and the things which are in heaven or under the earth, he makes the gods also.

This is the “extraordinary man,” “a wizard no mistake,” who Plato reveals to be nothing other than a painter. 

Of course, the painter is not really such an extraordinary creator, because he is not really the maker of all these things. The painter’s concern is appearance only, and we as the gullible audience are tricked into believing his illusions. Paul Valentin revels in playing this role of the trickster, as is already in apparent in work such as Beyond the See.

Paul Valentin, Beyond the See, 2021, video installation. Courtesy of the artist.

In this work, we are presented with an image of a few sailing boats bobbing gently on a lake. The sky is blue, the water still, and that is enough already to put in mind a scene out of the Truman Show. And sure enough, the image is revealed to be more complicated than at first glance, the sailing boats not boats at all, but a series of complex intertwining computer generated structures that only look like boats when the slight breeze allows them to be viewed together from the one perfect angle.

Paul Valentin, Beyond the See, 2021, video installation. Courtesy of the artist.

In a scene in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Admiral Croft complains to the heroine Anna,

Here I am, you see, staring at a picture. I can never get by this shop without stopping. But what a thing here is, by way of a boat! Do look at it. Did you ever see the like? What queer fellows your fine painters must be, to think that anybody would venture their lives in such a shapeless old cockleshell as that? (202)

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Persuasion, 1971 Granada television series

No one in their right mind would want to sail on one of Paul Valentin’s boats – the very idea is ludicrous. He doesn’t even try to make his boats seem believable to us. Instead he shows that things which might look like boats do not have to be boats at all. What we see is not what we think we see or know or understand. Plato’s puppeteer from the cave, his painter of beds and tables – but the figure perhaps closest to Paul Valentin, is that of the Sophist, defined by Plato as someone who is an imitator, but not a “sound one,” an imitator with “a crack” in his iron, a queer fellow indeed (Plato, The Sophist). A Sophist imitates the appearance of wisdom in his arguments, but is not actually in possession of wisdom. He spins his arguments until we are left bewildered and confused, rather than any more knowledgeable. In his short essay “Plato and the Simulacrum” Gilles Deleuze compares the Sophist to Proteus, the constantly changing, ever-shifting God of the sea, a T-1000 only possible with developments in CGI.

For Valentin’s project is very much anti-Platonic one, despite the numerous classical references to works and objects that are Platonic in spirit (is that a portrait of Socrates I see in the dark? is that Athena’s owl, the symbol of wisdom?). We tend to think of Plato’s theory of the forms in the most simple manner: there is a thing and the image, an original and a copy, the model and the simulacrum. And when looking at the world around us we believe ourselves to be as dispassionate and objective as an 18th century naturalist that Jane Austen would recognise, distinguishing the differences between things in order to categorising them correctly as a certain species belonging to a certain genus. But as Deleuze argues in “Plato and the Simulacrum” the goal of the Platonic project is not of distinctions between species, but rather distinctions between claimants. The decisions involved are only superficially of the careful naturalist, and rather must be understood as value judgements, with all the problems such value judgements involve. In our encounter with a thing – platonically speaking – we must decide to what extent its claim to authenticity is a real one: to what extent is this thing that we see, not just a copy, but a true copy of a perfect original. In other words, we establish a narrative of foundation, with an original, unchanging foundation that gives our claim its value, the  object of a claim, and a claimant – us. Or, as Deleuze describes the Neoplatonic triad, we establish an unsharable, the shared and the sharer – something almost impossible in the world of digital animation and open source programmes, in which new tools, animated objects and sequences are shared openly. The unshakeable foundation is that according to which claimants are judged and their claim measured. It is also however used to hunt down the false claimant, the bad copy, the simulacrum. 

In Deleuze’s reading the simulacrum is bad, not because it is the lowly copy of the copy, as it would seem from Plato’s metaphor of the bed – there being a perfect bed of the gods, the bed made by craftsmen that follows this perfect model, and the bed of the painter, the imitation, “thrice removed from the king and from the truth” (Book X). Rather, the bed of the painter is a bad copy, because it is a false claimant, refusing the authority of resemblance. When Deleuze defines the simulacrum as the “image without the resemblance” ( this does not mean that resemblance is not at work – indeed as is also apparent in the work of Paul Valentin, it can be argued that the simulacra is nothing but resemblance. The point is however, that it is not the right kind of resemblance, the good resemblance of the object to the idea. Indeed, the problem lies in what we have seen to be the case of Paul Valentin boats: the fact that the painter’s bed has no need of the idea of the bed at all, and makes no recourse to the modality of understanding, whether knowledge or opinion. Admiral Croft dismisses the painting of the sailing boat in the window, because the depicted boat does not match the knowledge and experience of a sea faring vessel that he has acquired over the course of his naval career. He compares the painted boat with the sailing boats he knows and judges accordingly. In contrast, Paul Valentin is only interested in what Deleuze would describe as the “effect of resemblance” (49). He would be the crazed and demonic naturalist, who only looks at the patterns and surfaces and the differences in appearances, completely uninterested in how a species may relate to genus. 

Deleuze describes the simulacrum as something vast – and this is true of both pieces, A Piano Plays In Another Room And It‘s Raining as well as Beyond the See. A world consisting of appearance only is necessarily enormous, encompassing endless multiple and different points of views – for after all, anything and everything can be copied by the painter. It is the animated world of video games and rooms opening onto another; it is also the world in which the resemblance to a boat is only one point of view we have of complex intertwining structures. To see the everything-at-once of all appearance involves not just wizardry, but also a madness. Those boats, are mad, as is the intoxication of flying from one room to the next, of The Piano Plays. 

Deleuze associates this madness with modernity (51). Modernist work like that of Joyce, offers not different points of view of the one story, but rather a series of different and divergent narratives, as if to each point of view corresponded a new and different landscape. The video game seems to me the natural successor of this kind of modernist aesthetic: it is not, as with film, that the various story lines combine to form the one narrative, but rather, it always the simultaneous affirmation of multiple and often contrasting perspectives. It is a world in which a lighthouse can be both real and part of a stage set, inside and outside, miniature and vast. Whether modernist or not, all the works that in this way affirm heterogenous series as divergent, present a world view that is not the Platonic one based on sameness, likeness and identity. In the Platonic world view, any difference between individuals is a matter of first establishing identity. Things have to be the same, before we can detect differences. Identity for Plato would be something pre-established. But in Paul Valentin’s divergent world of the simulacrum, identity is presented as the product of disparity. It is not pre-given; it is made. 

When all narratives, all heterogenous series are affirmed as equally valid there can be no distinction between the original and copy. It is the false claimant that triumphs, no longer false because in no need of a foundation to confer validity. But as Deleuze argues, the simulacrum not only overthrows Platonism (53). The false is also the power through which Platonism, as in the world of representation and identity consisting of the same and the like, is constituted. According to Deleuze’s logic, it is because of the simulacrum’s play with effect, that we can think in terms of a resemblance in the first place, and thereby establish  a relation between the original and the copy.  Or rather resemblance is the word we use when we think of the world platonically, rather than in terms of the simulacrum. For Deleuze, the simulacrum is Nietzsche’s concept of the Eternal Return, in which orderly representation is overthrown and chaos reigns unimpeded. There is the still “deeper cave” behind Plato’s cave is foundation-less, with no light and with no thread we can use to find our way outside (53). What returns is the divergence of all series as divergent.

With this Deleuzian twist, we can say that it is the painter of the “shapeless old cockleshell” that holds this vast false power. It is because of his skill, his play with resemblance and appearance that Admiral Croft can use his acquired knowledge to make his comparisons – it is because of what the painter does that a carpenter can make his bed or table. The same force is at work, and more so continues to be at work. In the deeper cave of Paul Valentin’s work, we are accompanied by a piano soundtrack. This is not part of the animation itself, but is played separately according to an algorithm. The same few piano notes and short sequences of notes are repeated randomly, always in different combinations, meaning that each time we view the work, the diegetic sound accompanying the projection will be changed. At one point, the room with the lighthouse might seem mysterious, at another, melancholy, yet again, tense. Or in the silence we might not notice this particular room at all and move our attention to the next. This is Paul Valentin’s final Nietzschean gesture, his way of affirming the power of the different.

Magdalena Wisniowska 2022

GiG air – Hannes Heinrich

This is the first of a series of ‘air’ exhibitions, based on a visit to the artist studio.

Hannes Heinrich, Untitled (Rockaway), 2022, charcoal & oil on canvas, 45 x 35 cm

When attempting to describe the paintings of Hannes Heinrich, it seems useful to think in terms of Peirce’s typology of the sign. For there are three ways in which a sign might denote the object, all at work in his painting. The first way is iconic, where the sign in some way resembles or imitates its object; the second is indexical, where the sign and the object have a direct connection, and finally, the third is symbolic, where the sign denotes the object by means of a convention or rule that allows for interpretation. Now by large, Hannes Heinrich paints objects he finds in his studio. Nothing uncommon and everything ordinary: there is a chair, a plant by the window, trainers with shoelaces undone. There is his body, his head, face, hands and feet. Especially in the past we could clearly distinguish these objects in his paintings as he traced their shadows directly onto canvas. His work was thus primarily iconic, although the actual shadows cast by the objects would be described as indexical. In the last couple of years a shift occurred in his work, where instead of using charcoal to trace an object’s shadow he began to wrap the canvas around an object and trace it directly, in a kind of vaguely erotic, masturbatory surrealist act. In this new work, the technique of frottage was no longer limited to a textured surface but now included the object in its three dimensional entirety. These charcoal tracings would then become the basis for his paintings as elements were further rubbed away or painted over.  The indexical aspect of his work therefore gained importance. 

Hannes Heinrich, ‘o.T.’, 2021, oil on canvas, 210 x 160 cm

Yet whether more iconic or more indexical, this did not alter the work’s symbolic character. As much as his, or indeed any other painting, looks like or is a trace of an object, it must also be understood as a convention or a sign – a fact of which Heinrich is well aware. Already Braque and Picasso’s art dealer understood this explicitly, associating cubism’s new found freedom from illusionistic practice with the recognition of painting as ‘script’ ( as quoted by Yve-Alain Bois in ‘Kahnweiler’s Lesson‘). But structuralist and poststructuralist readings of western art history especially common in the 80s and 90s, showed that all painting, no matter how abstract or realistic, also functioned within this symbolic system. When introducing cubism as an art movement, Francis Frascina shows that the use of the symbol was already at work in the most illusionistic of Chardin’s still lifes, arguing that a painting like ‘The Ray’ was not only about the painter’s ability to depict the light glistening on the ray’s wet and slimy surface, but also about his ability to play with symbolic meaning. There is sexual significance to be found in the exposed gonads of the ray fish – not to mention its sexually suggestive shape – as well as in a particular kind of jug, that Chardin’s contemporaries would well understand. 

Jean Simeon Chardin, ‘The Ray’, 1728, oil on canvas, 114 cm × 146 cm, Louvre Museum, Paris

If Frascina could still be confident that in the 1700s a jug could stand for a uterus and then show how the later, more contradictory and playful Picasso collage questions the conditions of representability, in our post-internet age signs have shown themselves to be inherently far more slippery. We may think of signs consisting of a signifier and signified, a particular expression linked to a certain content, but within the social context of the sign (a sign always needs to be interpreted by someone) a sign refers to as much another sign as it does a signified. This is why Deleuze and Guattari in the chapter ‘587 BC–AD 70: On Several Regimes of Signs’ of  A Thousand Plateaus do not think of the sign as a Saussurian closed language system, terms defined by a set of relations, but instead as a deceptive signifying regime of endless, circular debt. A sign always refers to another sign and in doing so marks itself as deceptive. We see or hear something, but we also know that meaning is not found in the shapes that we see or the sounds that we hear – that meaning is found elsewhere. What we hear and see is meant to deceive us. There is paranoia associated with the sign, we, forever suspicious as to what a thing might or might not signify. 

What is it then, that we see or hear in this paranoid way, if the signifier always deceives us, hiding its meaning somewhere else for us to find? Deleuze and Guattari would argue that what we encounter in the signifying regime is a mask or a face. Or rather, the face is always already a mask. We do not see the order behind the visible, but the structure of the visible, and that takes empty, hollow shape of the mask. That we are able to negotiate this world of signs and not fall into a constant state of paranoia, is because of the meaning we find in the face itself and which we then project onto the world. According to Deleuze and Guattari, the face is the means by which the signifying regime controls and organises the world, the semiotic configuration of political power. As such it is despotic, in that someone – the despot – has to tell us in a manner that brooks no argument: see this, in that. The despot needs the face in order to wield his power over us.  

(And it has to be said, there is something despotic about the way semiotic interpretations have been used in art history and it is indeed unsurprising that someone like Frascina mentions masks in his discussion of cubism. The distorted faces of Picasso’s ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ are presented as references to the ‘primitive’ African mask, signifier of the then contemporary obsession with ‘primitive cultures’ and marked by the fear of the other.)

But despite including his face as one of the objects in his studio that he wraps in canvas and traces in charcoal, in a gesture that echoes St. Veronica’s veil – and let us remember, for Deleuze and Guattari, faciality is something they specifically associate with the rise of Christianity in western culture – there are no faces in Hannes Heinrich’s paintings. There isn’t even a faciality at work. As signs, his canvases with their traces of charcoal and paint do not deceive us, instead I would argue, they betray. Rather than confronting us with an empty frontal stare, they turn their face away, and we are forever looking around the edge of the canvas, with its marker line, to guess at the pattern of the folds, the movement of charcoal, and the object that the canvas once held. How is it that Heinrich repeatedly confronts the objects in his studio? He wraps them in canvas to hide them, so that they cannot be seen, so that their gaze is averted, veiled. If in Hebrew the word for face is ‘presence,’ then the veiled face, the face hidden in the hands of Moses, would be understood as absence.  

For Deleuze and Guattari, betrayal is central to the new post signifying or passional regime, to which it bears witness. They argue that we do not live in the one signifying regime – neither do we only live in the other, the post signifying one – but always in a mix of both. In the signifying regime we are always faced with a multitude of signs, one forever leading to another; in the passional regime, there is a plurality of the subject, a ‘redoubling of the subject with a point of subjectification.’ In their reading of Althusser, when someone or something calls to us, we, as social individuals become constituted as interpellated subjects. You call and ‘I’ answer, your call determining in part that ‘I’ I become and which I in answering accept. On the other hand, the point of subjectification is the object that Heinrich so obsesses over – the chair, shoes, plant, whatever the case may be – that he cannot let go, that he repeatedly covers and rubs all over. The object of subjectification also calls out, yes, but not to me, because it is standing in profile and looking somewhere else. Heinrich obsesses about his object because as much as he wants to see it, the object doesn’t want to see him. The love here is unrequited. 

For Deleuze and Guattari this moment of unrequited love turning away is an act of betrayal, and it is worth mentioning that in Meyer Schapiro’s account of symbolic form, within our system of visual representation – the account that Frascina draws on so heavily – Judas, the ultimate betrayer, is presented in profile. When it stands in profile, the object as a sign betrays you, because it does not do what it was supposed to do, face you, so that you can find meaning within its mask-like structure. Before, in the paranoid system, everything was about me – me finding significance in everything. Now, I nothing is about me, and I seem irrelevant. By facing somewhere else, the point of subjectification indicates meaning is to be found elsewhere, by a different subject within a different social context and a different organisation of power. The task is now up to me, to assume authority and lend interpretation. But I also betray the object of subjectification, as cannot absorb the this object, I cannot fully mirror the speaking subject that interpellates me. And this double betrayal creates a powerful bond between us. 

Hannes Heinrich institutes his painting within a regime of signs, a mixed regime, as much signifying as passional. Or rather the hold of the object over him, and his paintings over us, is of passion, lending this configuration of power its semiotic structure. His objects are in profile, as are we, when we encounter them in his paintings. I keep returning to his work, not because I find the objects interesting or because they have some hidden meaning but because I am forced by them to look somewhere else, and in doing so, to be someone other than me. 

GiG air – more

This year is the year GiG Munich becomes nomadic as GiG air. 

When I say ‘circumstances force GiG to become nomadic’, I mean it in a very specific way. The last series of exhibitions at GiG Munich in its former location, ‘Thinking Nature’ were in large part a response to Deleuze and Guattari’s chapter ‘1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming- Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible’ in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, which I was reading at the time. I was interested in how, in this chapter, they introduced the idea of becoming through the discussion of the naturalist and his approach to classifying nature, either through the establishment of series when comparing outward resemblances, or when comparing interior workings of living organisms, the establishment of inner structures. Deleuze and Guattari oppose to this naturalist approach not only to the kind of symbiotic relation, such as between the wasp and the orchid, that is without offspring and therefore also outside the filial relations of evolution, but also to the becoming-animal of creatures like vampires or werewolves, seemingly fictional yet having nothing to do with an imaginary required of comparing and assessing visual similarities between species. There is a suggestion here that becoming-animal constitutes an alternative relation to nature, or rather a bond that isn’t a relation, a relation without relation, because without a recognisable subject and a distinct object. Instead of a molar organisation, Deleuze and Guattari offer the intensities and speeds of the molecular. The exhibition series ‘Thinking Nature’ aimed to explore the impact of man’s relation to nature has on thought. What kind of thought would there be, if this relation between man and nature would be different?

The project however neglected one crucial aspect of this approach to nature, and that is politics. About two months ago a video work by Franz Wanner alerted me to the politics involved in discussions of the molecular. His work was about Germany’s Erinnerungskultur and the problems associated with it. The way in which specifically businesses acknowledge their Nazi past, results in a production of memory that could be understood in Deleuze and Guattari’s molar terms. For Deleuze and Guattari memory, and not just because of its relation to the imaginary, is inherently molar, because of it follows a point-based arborescent system. We think of memory like history generally: as a string of points, going from past to present, each point some event that we can connect to another. Indeed, we organise history in a way not dissimilar to how the naturalist does his charts, in timelines, with branches breaking off in different directions at significant points. But to truly make history involves anti-memory, a break from arborescence in the production of a molecular lineal system. It involves creation, the making of a new reality that then history can only re-contain. This is GiG’s new project: our cultural organisation of memory and how this relates to our organisation of nature. 

From the filial relationships of evolution timelines and the punctual system of memory it is but a step to the establishment of the state. The state of things, the status quo, is based on man. It is molar – molecular is the nomadic.  Deleuze and Guattaru frame their chapter on becoming on either end with the discussion of the war machine of nomadic origin and of different assemblage to the state apparatus. The war machine is what institutes change and this is why the state cannot appropriate it except as war. The war machine is the mutation the naturalist cannot contain. 

Every creation is brought about by the war machine. GiG air is GiG molecular, a mutant, a war machine. Watch this space.