Abstract Renaissance

Within just a few hours, peonies can transform into an exploding landscape of blooms, a process that is fascinating to observe. Saskia Wendland documented this process on Polaroid over years using bouquets of tulips, which, like peonies, undergo metamorphoses—from standing upright to hanging listlessly, from colorful to wan— within just a short period of time.
Such progressions of time, which were captured in individual images and ultimately cannot be separated anymore, becoming a single picture, are a recurrent characteristic of Saskia Wendland’s works. It is like a continuous return, the famous “once again,” which can also be seen as a metaphor for learning. And therefore it is not surprising that one of the central groups of works, the red circles, reminds me of the Vitruvian Man, depicted perfectly for the first time in 1490 by Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man became a symbol for the Renaissance, when humanism in the arts became strong and artists began engaging with the philosophical study of aesthetics, which meant associating beauty with values, with the search for truth and morality. Art was considered a visible expression of an intellectual order, and analogies between the art of language and the fine arts were sought.


Saskia Wendland traveled to Taos, New Mexico to visit the painter Agnes Martin, who, like many Renaissance artists, was not just a painter, but also a writer, and towards this end withdrew to a place that can be described as a historic landscape: a desert-like, ragged, and monochromatic area, consisting mainly of reservations with sacred sites and pueblos of various indigenous peoples. About 100 years ago, the Renaissance scholar and art historian Aby Warburg went to this area in the hope to find what he called “ur-art” among the native Hopi. Warburg worked with the concept of the engram—a term coined by the evolutionary biologist Richard Semon who used it to describe a permanently inscribed physiological trace as part of our memory. Using the concept of the engram, Warburg regarded a work of art as a bio-psychological act that emerges without the participation of consciousness, a vibration of the soul that can express itself universally beyond historic epochs and cultures through electrical energies. For Warburg, art was a product of repeated physical attempts. The use of the body and universal forms in Wendland’s works reminds me strongly of this Warburgian approach.

Coming to stand

Wendland describes it thus: the body needs to be upright, she steps once very close to the paper on the wall, extends her arms, finds the center, takes a step back, and there she begins to stabilize herself into a secure footing—three central points in her feet provide grounding. It is a kind of physical yin-yang. The secure footing transfers itself to the shoulder joint and enables the arm to swing as freely as possible, but the consciousness also needs to let the arm go, and then there is this one free moment when the arm with the red crayon swings once across the paper and stops after a circle, or keeps swinging. This circle drawing shows a state of active unconsciousness, an exercise of pure action. The circle is a performance and thus a time-based medium. It is manifest time inscribed into paper, a line of existence. During a cycle of circles that takes several months, two circles are made each day, one in the morning and one in the evening.

Other works by Wendland are also such descriptions of state, for which she even had a tool built—in this respect very much the Renaissance woman—the sinus ruler with which she made a series of drawings, a bundle of sinus lines turned at a central point, hundredfold lines that express the time-based nature of the work especially clearly. For me, Saskia Wendland is a performance artist whose performances are not captured on video or photographs, but rather by these lines, dots, circles, and folds on and with paper. Wendland is interested in an intellectual stance in her art, a continuous exercise of this stance, a return to this stance by means of performative repetitions.
The lines and dots are repeated until they have gathered enough strength and form a macrocosm in which infinity is not directed to the outside, but to the inside, like an energy container—a drawn genius loci.

Nine Budde