CONCEPTUAL FINE ARTS

Swallow The Spirit: Michaela Eichwald at dépendance

Kevin Gallagher

We delve into recurring themes in Michaela Eichwald’s painting through another artist’s reading of her recent exhibition at dépendance in Brussels.

Michaela Eichwald
Michaela Eichwald, Bitte, installed at dépendance Brussels for the exhibition bitte abholen und wegbringen, Fall 2019. Courtesy the artist and dépendance, Brussels. Photo credit © Kristien Daem

In Michaela Eichwald’s approach, paint is applied in a way to occupy pictorial space rather than render it. With bitte abholen und wegbringen (“please collect and take away”), the artist’s recent exhibition at dépendance in Brussels, Eichwald continues her use of non-traditional painting grounds, utilizing stretched ready-made textiles as supports for the paintings. These synthetic surfaces such as pleather or polyurethane fabric expose themselves and take part: colored fields for the artist’s energetic paintwork. All paintings in the exhibition are long, or in one case tall, too tall – wedged at a diagonal between the floor and ceiling of the gallery. The paintings are hung low, levelling themselves with the middle of a standing body rather than at eye level.

Spilled Allegory

Perhaps more often than in Michaela Eichwald’s earlier works symbols appear and repeat, iconography even. In more successful cases this iconography aligns itself with her painting methods. In Gebet, so wird Euch genommen  (“Give, and it will be taken from you”) a seafoam pleather ground makes way for yellow radial drips that move out from the center of the painting. The middle of the work is bisected by a red line that drips left (or west?). This slash splits the painting into two realms: night and day, heaven and hell? Her intestinal paint strokes surround the scene with dark inky blue. Something is spilling out, contracting. A single sheep has been blasted through the oily stratosphere into the outer reaches of pictorial space. A cosmic landscape is formed: a map. Painted territories are outlined and swallowed up.

Michaela Eichwald
Michaela Eichwald, Gebet, so wird Euch genommen, installed at dépendance Brussels for the exhibition bitte abholen und wegbringen, Fall 2019. Courtesy the artist and dépendance, Brussels. Photo credit © Kristien Daem

Several titles and works in the show at dépendance allude to spiritual-transactional arrangements. Gebet, so wird Euch genommen spins the Biblical phrase “Give, and it shall be given unto you.” The title of the exhibition itself bitte abholen und wegbringen could mean simply: come buy one of my paintings and take it home with you. Or alternatively, give yourself over to another body or force (spiritual or otherwise). What are these paintings: offerings or products? Towards whom, and for whom? Michaela Eichwald gives herself over to the work, dwells with it and lives with it (the publicity image for the exhibition shows one painting hanging from the balcony of her home studio). And then? The work of an artist is a messy composition of emotional material. Eichwald’s paintings don’t easily resolve themselves.

Piles of Nerves

The notational aspect of several works in the show bring to mind autobiographical timelines marking periods of growth, disintegration and re-emergence. The works map pictorial space in a bodily way like attempts to read the spleen. Raus aus dem Nervensystem (“Out of the nervous system”) is a command and a mantra. The nervous system is a dispersed and all-encompassing network of signal transmission; nervousness is also a pattern of behaviour that sometimes must be exited. In “Raus aus dem Nervensystem” sooty outlines of several crouched bodily forms sit within a squiggly magenta bean. On the left half of the painting horizontal lines of gold spray paint chop one figure into segments. Set behind the washes of magenta, thickly applied baby blue recalls the sky of a distant horizon. One is reminded of a traditional Chinese medicinal image depicting a tongue with all of the human organs mapped onto its rough surface: occupying a tiny space at the tip of the tongue is the neck and brain, the middle two thirds is dedicated to the digestive system, and at the back of the tongue, at the entrance to the throat is the rectum.

Painted on milky pink pleather, On the general nature of aesthetic experience has a surface almost completely consumed by wandering brown blobby shapes. Whilst another painting stands too tall for the allotted space in the second gallery, this work is precisely set between two walls just to the left of the entrance. Within the painting several objects seem to sit within, or in one instance on top of the spindly umber form. Enveloped in the color one can detect a chalice and a stomach like shape. On the bottom left side of the canvas a figurative form composed of pink and red hues stands foreground of the dark piles. The figure feels somewhere between a grafitti’d H and a chubby headless body with hands raised: I give… up!

Michaela Eichwald
Michaela Eichwald, On the general nature of aesthetic experience. Courtesy the artist and dépendance, Brussels. Photo credit © Kristien Daem

Insides and Outside

Michaela Eichwald is not a serial painter, but walking through the exhibition at dépendance a serial approach becomes apparent in the repetition of the paintings’ format. That’s to say most paintings in the exhibition inhabit a large elongated rectangle of more or less 50×120 inches. What does this dimensional consistency provide? The large, long format is one that works well for her ­– the space allows gestures to gather and release across the surface like topographical maps. However, within the exhibition the recurring dimension creates an equivalence that seems slightly at odds with Eichwald’s unbounded painting approach. The major success within the installation of the paintings is in their hanging (the height at which we approach them) which aligns more with our guts than our brains. At such a height the paintings begin to feel like churning stomachs, digestive processes that blend matter and content into lived experience. Pictures that can be both shared and withheld.

Michaela Eichwald
Publicity image for the exhibition of Michaela Eichwald bitte abholen und wegbringen at dépendace Brussels.

To return to the exhibition’s publicity image: when a painting is hanging from a balcony, who’s it for? A balcony is not a public space exactly, but like a shop window it is both a display and barrier. It is a middle ground between public and private space: a space of exhibition. Within the life of a work of art there are many moments of display, some more or less on view. There’s the artist’s home or studio, the gallery, the private collection, the public collection, the art center, the storage facility, the art fair, the framer’s shop, the transport van, the garbage bin. Not to mention immaterial displays such as pictures, catalogues, jpegs, magazines, or blogs. Michaela Eichwald’s paintings at dépendance seem to enact these moments of visibility and concealment on a material and conceptual level: painting over, outlining, wiping away, occupying visual space like a roadblock.  The titles direct you with an implicit imperative (you give, you take away) whilst calling forth a distant allegory.  The paintings give a lot but also push you out – like showing a friend photographs of your parents’ wedding. It’s a sort of ‘privacy on display’ we are invited to witness, but must also negotiate our own terms with. These paintings maybe weren’t meant for us, but they are also not without us.

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Kevin Gallagher is an artist working between Brussels and Amsterdam. He also writes about art and curates exhibitions. Together with Perri MacKenzie he runs Kantine, an exhibition space in central Brussels. 

December 13, 2019