As the French novelist Michel Tournier critically notes, we always seek out – apparently of necessity – a meaning behind the surface. Paradoxically this also applies to pictures, although they are defined by unmistakable superficiality. Since ancient times the surface – in the sense of its appearance, of a covering or a vessel – has mainly been considered an indication of an invisible inner meaning. Interpretation is founded on an understanding of space that is lexically determined. The very words “founded on” reveal the paradigm of language and moreover that it is not easy to escape from this linguistic bias. We tend to literally read pictures.
In medieval paintings, for example, the gold background functioned to sensually impress the viewer with its fine texture and the warm shimmer of its colour, although its actual meaning lay in ennobling the saint painted before it. Behind the grace of the surface the saint’s promise of salvation stood beyond the painted area. In order to understand this imagery, however, one required specific iconographic knowledge. The invention of central perspective in the Renaissance with the aim of overcoming the two-dimensionality of the image through an illusion that portrayed the objects and figures realistically can furthermore be considered a climax of this development – an overcoming of the surface. Not until the modern age was attention finally drawn to an autonomous occurrence of meaning on the surface, as we experience for instance even in Caravaggio’s “Doubting Thomas” – manifested where immeasurable surface tensions discharge in the folds and tears.
Annette Riemann’s works deal with surfaces and their effect. Her large-sized pictures rob the viewers of the necessary distance for differentiation; throwing them back, so to say, onto the surface. There is no difference of meaning between the outside and inside, appearance and being, shape and content. Riemann makes the surface, or better the visual experience on the surface, the subject of her art. Depending on our attentiveness, the fall of the light and brightness, we may see a muted shimmer of the colours, multiple refracted light reflections or blurred reflections of the surrounding room. And more: her surfaces sound, flow, whisper and shriek.
The surface properties are conditioned by the artistic approach used. Riemann applies watercolours with a brush to exposed photographic paper. Because the highly concentrated pigments penetrate the upper layer of the paper, a very colour intense, highly glossy emulsion forms of remarkable colour volume. It is almost as if the fixed light of the exposed photographic papers makes the applied paints glow.
Riemann’s pictures take less the symbolic as the affective quality of the colours as their subject. Emphasis is not on the composition of the colours, but on their intensity, which is experienced in various nuances, colour gradients and light reflections. Individual elements do not determine the rhythm; they take part in it. We perceive that surface expressions are not only symbols that make something legible, but have always been part of an appearance, an expression.
Due to the homogeneous bond with the exposed paper and the blurred transitions, there is furthermore no hierarchy between each of the coloured surfaces. Everything is essential. In this sense, the difference of shape and colour dissolves, whereby a fundamental movement of these ornamentations has an effect that could be described as a contraction of the surface. Everything floats on the surface outward towards the viewer. Some of her pictures are additionally covered with plant ornaments. Although as a whole they form one pattern, due to the fact that none of these ornaments are the same, often are cut off at the edge and also show at the surface in differing degrees of focus they still heighten the decorative effect. The pattern suggests permanent expansion; never-endingness. Our eyes inevitably glide across the edges of the picture, so that the picture opens with a situational reference to the external space, which, of course, changes depending on where the picture happens to be at the time. This reference – or inclusion – is intensified even more by the reflections generated by the high gloss surface.
Depending on our awareness and angle of sight we see new pictures appear and disappear again. Surfaces are also boundary surfaces in the sense that they belong more to the realm of the reflection than that of the objects. The smoother a surface is, i.e. the more undifferentiated, the more it reflects its surroundings and becomes the place of virtual images.
The decorative composition and the reflections release expansive forces that influence a real or even imaginary context. Riemann’s pictures enliven and change their surroundings. Their surfaces can be understood therefore less significative as an expression of space and time but rather more evocative as a condition of expansion and lastingness. The changing colours and ornamental patterns lure us in, often evoking the impression that we are gazing at a shallow, shifting water surface. They invite us to let ourselves be drawn in and drift.
Annette Riemann’s pictures do not need us to decode something hidden, but to venture into the experience of the different yet mutually corresponding effects of the surface – light, colour, reflections. These experiences vary with every place and every time of day. Nonetheless, the perceptions and ideas of the viewer decide the passages to each of these places; wonderful places to linger in.Holger Otten