Gallery: Pékin Fine Arts
Artist(s): Phénix Varbanov
Opening / Event Date: 28 Jul, 2023
Closing / End Date: 30 Sep, 2023
Perrotin Hong Kong is pleased to present German artist Gregor Hildebrandt’s latest exhibition Behind My Back, In Front of My Eyes, marking his second solo show in the city. Hildebrandt is known for his innovative artworks using repetition for their collage structure and “sound paper” as their medium.
Sound paper, or Tönendes Papier as it was originally coined, was named by the creator of magnetic tape, the German opera lover and inventor Fritz Pfleumer, in 1928. Pfleumer used the term to refer to magnetic tape used to record and play back audio. Over time, sound paper has taken on a variety of functions. In the 1960s, tape was widely applied for military and technological purposes. Cassette tape proved to be fungible, usable well beyond the realm of audio recording. And yet, Hildebrandt employs the material to produce silence. This silence is literal and metaphorical. The artist records the melody, rhythm, and affect of selected songs on empty tapes. This done, he applies the music in its physicalized form, on canvas surfaces, creating what he calls “rip-off paintings.”
As he thus “sticks” music to canvas, Hildebrandt seeks to visualize the music. Tape, of course, is akin to the equally analog vinyl medium. When they were the media of audio recording, these analog media embodied temporality. By recording single songs that he likes over and over again on the tapes, Hildebrandt stimulates a reflective nostalgia for the song stirred to his memory. In the case of the tape, the “temporality” embodied was both the duration of a recorded song and the physical length of the tape itself. Hildebrandt “keeps” the music in a silent but haunted way.
Memories are plural and fleeting. Hildebrandt materializes his fragmented memory and expresses it through his works. In his statement piece, White flower pointing up (Alphaville), the inspiration came to the artist during his trip to Japan. The motif of this work was evoked by a napkin Hildebrandt saw when he was dining in a local restaurant near Mount Fuji. The diptych-structured painting, which playfully develops from a ying and yang composition of the motif, stands in the foyer of the gallery as an introduction to the entrance of each of the two rooms. Stemming from the artist’s distinctive rip-off technique, which generally produces two similar yet opposite black-and-white paintings, White flower pointing up (Alphaville) stands out by combining in one single canvas both the negative and positive parts, both made out of the components of the same tapes. The structure of this painting emphasizes the theme of this exhibition — Behind My Back, In Front of My Eyes — the symmetric situation resonates with parallel universes, just like the painting expresses. The song on the tape, Big in Japan by Alphaville, a German underground synth-pop band active in the 1980s, is chosen as reminiscence of Hildebrandt’s visit to the country.
Music and sound show how the processes of memory operate through tape loops and echoes, intersecting with the material forces and patterns that compose the artist’s own frame of experience. With White flower pointing up (Alphaville)’s symmetrical arrangement as a point of departure, the artist has created a new series of black-and-white rip-off paintings, which develops on each side of the gallery rooms’ common wall. Structuring the show in the manner of a conceptual spine, this series introduces a mirror-like situation for each of the rooms. Virtually connected through the wall by the way they hang back-to-back and in reversed directions, the group of paintings seems to extend further in the exhibition the principles at stake in the introductory painting.
The artist adopts a new technique with acrylic glue, unlike his usual use of adhesive tape, to create color rip-off paintings for the first time. The color version of the rip-off series, positioned on the walls of both rooms symmetrically, is made from the VHS tapes that Hildebrandt dubbed from various original films. The initial inspiration of the colorful series came from his experience of playing a game called “secret paintings” when he was a child. The artist metaphorically improvises his impressions of these films with the manipulation of different colors on each painting.
Standing in the first room is a multi-color vinyl column titled Sur le comédien and its selection of colors is inspired by the composition of Frank Stella’s work Paradoxe sur le comédien. Hildebrandt’s enthusiasm for the analog material of the recent past makes him like to utilize cassette cases as the overlying structure. He uses the inkjet printing technique to render the iconic poster of the film You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger by Woody Allen as the graphic on the cassette shelf. Here, accumulation and repetition appear in the assemblance of a rhetoric of the self. In his works, once again, the artist has repeatedly used the crucial but easy-to-ignore part of analog media — cassette cases — to construct a grid structure of the pop-art style image of the film poster. Silent soundscapes are embedded in the assemblages of ephemera, where material and sound spaces overlap.
In this exhibition, Hildebrandt creates a certain atmosphere, a vibe, a memory space and soundscape embodied by silence of musicality through repetition, material flux, superimposition, recording and symmetric composition. But the soundscape is indeed sounding — only internally. So it is that the silent soundscape is heard, resonating with the artist, and with his viewers, in the depth of sound memory from the past, towards the future.
– Weida Wang