The Voids that Images Leave Behind
Martin Bilinovac and Ekaterina Shapiro-Obermair in the MAERZ Gallery Linz
by Sarah Kolb

A frog and I,
eyeball to eyeball.
My empty face,
betrayed by lightening.
Kobayashi Issa

The fact that Martin Bilinovac and Ekaterina Shapiro-Obermair initially considered a haiku by Issa as a possible title for their joint exhibition at the MAERZ Gallery opens up an exciting perspective on the exhibited works. The hallmarks of a haiku are the greatest possible concreteness and a direct reference to the present. At the same time haiku is an unfinished, open text form, which only becomes complete through reader’s experience and in each reader’s own particular way. The haiku is thus essentially based on a moment of abstraction: something experienced in all its intensity in the concrete here-and-now is translated into an abstract image. The image is then experienced in yet another here-and-now in the context of its reception and in turn can bring about a profound moment for the reader.

What the works of Martin Bilinovac and Ekaterina Shapiro-Obermair have in common is that they both deal with processes of abstraction, and yet at the same time are both strongly oriented towards the concrete, towards everyday situations and historical contexts, towards their source material in the real physical world into which they creatively intervene. Thus, both deal with the question of what images are and what images can do. As the title of the exhibition suggests, they connect the medium of the image with a potential of a void that only reveals itself in retrospect and thus turns the conventional linear understanding of time and causality on its head. Where one expects that looking at an artwork would open up a wealth of insights, the opposite is true: in the space where images unfold their power of impact, in the end there are more questions than answers.

The works in this exhibition open up a space of possibility. The tension and intensity of the dialogue between the pieces arise from the fact that both artists’ approach to the media allows them to move, so to speak, between dimensions. Shapiro-Obermair often starts from the two-dimensional medium of drawing to develop her space-filling works, while Bilinovac begins with spatial situations and stagings, which he transfers into two-dimensional images through the photographic medium.

With their underlying graphic structures, Shapiro-Obermair’s sculptural works literally stand in the room like tilting figures, balancing between painting and sculpture. For the strictly composed three-dimensional objects, with reliefs in place of a drawing, have also undergone a painterly process, and show not just the deliberate dabs of colour but also clear traces of the spontaneous gesture of painting. Here a fraying, bright orange frame, there a few subtle scratches or a mottled background; the intuitively placed brushstrokes in combination with the strict formal language of the drawings create a tension that underlines the open character of the works.

Bilinovac, in turn, takes the multi-dimensional translation in the opposite direction. He often begins his work process by manipulating and staging real situations, only to transfer them in a second step into the two-dimensional medium of photography. Sometimes his manipulations are so subtle that they are below the threshold of perception and cause only a slight irritation in the viewer, a kind of inkling that cannot be clearly labelled. This is the case of the watering cans, hanging against a white background as if they were installed in the white cube of a museum. What actually lies behind is the Vienna Central Cemetery, where the cans allow for wild growth, budding and bloom, while the white canvas is planted into the situation like a metaphorical image plane between the viewers and reality.

The common ground between the works of Bilinovac and Shapiro-Obermair in this exhibition is most evident in the many tilted and leaning objects, the many windows and doors that, acting as figures of transition, not only stand in the space, but also connect different spaces and dimensions with one another. Like the "open window" with which the art and architecture theorist Leon Battista Alberti coined a metaphor for the medium of painting in 1435 that is still frequently cited today – the only difference being that the tilting figures in this exhibition do not aim at an objective reality and something absolute, but rather focus on the realities of being constructed and involved.
Translated by Nika Kupyrova