Josef Bauer

Josef Bauer has called his current exhibition in the gallery unttld contemporary “Zwischenräume”, literally “in-between spaces”. A space that lies in between can be understood both spatially and temporally. Both semantic levels are crucially important for Bauer’s work. In terms of the spatial understanding, the in-between space characterises an empty space between two bodies or between two parts of a body. As for the temporal level, we have a gap between two occurrences, an interval between two moments.

The space in between as a blank space, but also as a transitory position in between, as a demarcation for drawing distinctions, which only first become manifest through the resulting connections, ushers the viewer into an exhibition that tells us about conceptions of space, constructions of reality and contexts between objects. Bauer has repeatedly pointed out that he is exploring the relationships between objects, images and language in his works, and in particular examines how they interact with space. It is these in-between spaces, both within the objects and between the objects, in the specific arrangements and constellations, which essentially determine the purport of the works.

The starting point of the works in the exhibition are billboards and poster panels, over which new images and texts were plastered over in layers. Bauer’s objects are created by translating the torn strips of the poster from the two-dimensional surface into the three-dimensionality of the space. He covers the torn-away cardboard with polyester and so solidifies a temporary state, which he has half found and half created, before painting over the piece. This is a transformation of the temporary, the accidental, the seemingly incidental, into the semantics of eternity. In their creation the works pass through three decisive phases: the genesis of the form in a malleable material, the abstraction of the found material through the overpainting of large sections, and the transformation of this flexible interim outcome into a permanent and stable medium. Paper turns into sculpture, paint into an object, a panel carrying images and text into an autonomous work of art.

Bauer’s pictures and objects respond to our gaze silently, staring back over an abyss that cannot be bridged by language (John Berger). They are symbolic products, his way of gaining access to things, whatever these may be. Bauer reflects on the order of things, an order established and codified by language, and how this semantic structure can be ruptured, changed and extended. “Beyond language there exist vast spaces of meaning, unimagined spaces of visuality, of sound, of gesture, of mimic and of movement. They do not need any amendment or retrospective justification through the word.”[1] “Language”, wrote Bauer in an early text on his work, “distances us from things initially.” Bauer’s work is shaped by the aspiration and the effort to explore and survey this space beyond language.

And en passant: at the very latest since Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, space is no longer conceived of as a Cartesian box, but as a spatiotemporal continuum. Space is no longer seen as absolute, as once in Euclid’s time, but as dependent upon the respective observer’s standpoint. Thanks to the Kaluza-Klein and the string theories, further dimensions are added to space-time, here of no great importance for us. What is decisive and needs to be emphasised however is that ever since space is grasped as curved, folded and periodically “coiled”, and it is these different conceptions of space we encounter exemplarily in the works of Josef Bauer.

Bauer folds the strips of torn posters in space before he permanently hardens them. The imagery of the fold is very apt for expressing the structure and diversity – or manifoldness – of the works.[2] The fold (French: pli) is generally not only a technical aid for revealing and concealing, but indeed represents a key idea in the works of Bauer. His concern is the function and the meaning of the associated artistic expression, or in other words the acts of implicating, understood as enfold, envelop, enclose, or explicating, in the sense of unfold, extend, show and decipher, and complicating, when a new parameter or a new perspective is added to an interim outcome, so that the explicated once more becomes complicated, is enfolded again, pleated.

Through the specific materiality and processuality inscribed in the works, countless implications are enfolded into each individual work. To unfurl and explicate these individually is barely possible, for what becomes important in this manifoldness are not just the single components or conditions, but also the relationships between them and as such also their disparities. A “manifold” work is thus created, one that can never be completely unfolded or definitively explicated, because unfolding or explicating would in turn entail another folding or complicating. The works by Bauer are in this sense not explicable, are thus never to be explained completely or verbalised. This is the source of both their allure and their quality.



Roman Grabner, 2016



[1] Gottfried Boehm, Jenseits der Sprache? Anmerkungen zur Logik der Bilder. In: Christa Maar/Herbert Burda (eds.), Iconic Turn. Die neue Macht der Bilder. Cologne 2004, 28-43, 43.

[2] For more on the fold, see: Gilles Deleuze, The Fold. Leibniz and the Baroque. 1993.