Lecture by Magdalena Wisniowska
The landscape Stefan Lenhart constructed for GiG Munich could be described as a landscape of the mind. There is a path winding down the middle of the room, lit up on either side by brightly coloured lamps. The path leads up to a large mirror, which is framed by white acrylic columns. We see that the lights are also made of a similar acrylic material, painter’s palettes, that the artist cut up and then reassembled into a jagged spiral shape. The wall to the right is papered over, covered by large printouts of the same painter’s palettes in close-up. Dotted around are small, abstract paintings.
To go down the path marked out for us is to follow a narrative. We are asked to wonder down the length of the room, to pause at the points of interest, and then to stop when confronted with our own reflection and the room behind us. The random patterns on the lamps, the paintings and the posters are designed to capture our attention and allow our mind to drift.
The work has surrealist qualities, in that it shares surrealism’s interest in psychoanalytic concepts – like the unconscious or the expressive power of dreams. It lends itself to André Breton’s definition of surrealism as psychic automatism, as it incorporates into its structure the two means for capturing psychic processes: automatic writing and the irrational narrative of the dream. The uncontrolled production of Stefan Lenhart palette paintings is comparable to the meandering lines of Masson’s automatic drawings; the physical landscape Lenhart constructs, dreamlike, full of symbolism waiting to be uncovered.
But “fruits of the dawn” should not be seen as a historical anachronism. As much as the work shares surrealism’s interest in psychoanalytic concepts, it is very much post-Freudian, anti-oedipal in the sense of Giles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Stefan Lenhart sets up a surrealist narrative in order to disrupt it. He shows its version of the unconscious is as tightly constructed as the controlled, conscious domain of reason. So the path we are meant to follow, is broken up; the lamps, instead of guiding us, distract and frustrate, providing insufficient light to see the paintings; and the destination too, the large mirror in which we see our reflections, is a kind of dead end. All we can do is turn around and walk back.
As the random configurations of paint on the wall and on the lights signal, to step onto the path Stefan Lenhart sets out for us is to enter a very different kind of unconscious space, one that Deleuze would compare to Murphy’s mind, Murphy being the central protagonist of Beckett’s same-titled 1936 novel. When the preconceptions constraining our understanding of the unconscious, are done away, nothing other than the “darkness of absolute freedom” remains. Here forms are in continual flux – commotion – with no principle to guide their actions. Through this ever-changing darkness, we can only travel, mere motes or points on the “ceaseless unconditioned generation and passing away of line.”
Magdalena Wisniowska 2016