Geometry, Ornament, and Industry: The Beautiful Forms of Janine Eggert by Valeska Hageney

Something splits into two and four, rotates, splits up yet again and faces its own reflection: these are the visual effects of the kaleidoscope, a toy most of us are familiar with from childhood days. We would play with it, spellbound, for hours. The word kaleidoscope is Greek in origin and means seeing beautiful forms. These beautiful forms appear also in Janine Eggert’s work: the artist uses geometric forms and compositions as a vehicle of communication in order to examine our visual habits and call them in question. The tools serving this communication are technical implements, often found objects, that may appear in oversized magnification, as in Dynamic Component (2012). Then again, the original object is often reflected as in a mirror, giving rise to a new form: bit model (2008), modular dissection (2011), and The Alpha and Omega Project: Model (2011) are only some examples. Both in Janine Eggert’s own work and in her longstanding artistic collaboration with Philipp Ricklefs, the concrete form gradually gains precision in a process leading from the found idea to the finished work of art, a process that begins with an exchange of ideas giving rise to initial sketches and continues with the construction of models and a 3-D draft. Detailed design drawings then prepare for the realization of the actual work. Geometric forms and ornaments composed of such forms are the central elements of Eggert’s works. We know this formal language from the animal and plant kingdoms as well; think, for instance, of honeycombs, spider webs, or the pattern on a pineapple’s skin. What the beholder sees as ornament is in reality strictly and purely functional; these are statically perfect constructions. Industrial manufacturing has likewise employed such repetitive forms for its own purposes. Machine components, for example, are first and foremost functional objects, having been manufactured to serve a specific purpose. Considered in isolation, however, many such components are also ornaments that produce an—often symmetrical—pattern. The form of Dynamic Component, for example, derives from a mounting for a planetary gear; in modular dissection, it is a component of a bicycle frame—more precisely, a mounting prepared for a rear wheel hub—that Eggert has “monumentalized” and that now faintly recalls Claes Oldenburg’s Giant Objects. Like the sculptures and objects of the Minimal art of the past, Eggert’s works are distinguished by the reduction to simple and easily comprehensible geometric basic structures, which sometimes appear in serial repetition. The billboard for You ruined my holidays (2012), for example, is designed to be extendable ad libitum, not unlike Sol LeWitt’s modular Cubes. Both artists examine architectonic grid-based constructions reduced to a minimum. Eggert also alludes to the gigantic advertising billboards familiar from America’s strips or from Robert Venturi’s book about these phenomena, Learning from Las Vegas (1972). Highly reduced forms are one characteristic feature of Minimal art; surfaces in monochrome colors are another. That idea is crucial in Eggert’s work as well; she deliberately chose, for example, to leave the face of the sculpture Dynamic Component unfinished. Thanks to the black MDF, the work retains the connection to the domain of industrial manufacturing, but that does not mean it is no more than a striking decorative object. But then the neon paint used on the obverse side restores a measure of color to the object: when the sculpture is suspended from the wall, the lacquered surface reflects light onto the wall behind it, whence it radiates back into the room. Eggert’s works evince a considerable affinity to neon paints, which appear in her objects and works on paper with some regularity. More generally, colors—though they are sometimes hidden—are essential to Eggert’s as well as Eggert/Ricklefs’s works. Quite in keeping with the tenets of Concrete art, XEROX petit (2011) and Broken Figure of Thought (2012) focus on the interplay between form and monochrome color. Yet it would be too easy to categorize Eggert’s and Eggert/Ricklefs’s art as Concrete art pure and simple; it also contains many references to Abstract art. Most works derive from a given original, being abstractions of real objects (thus The Alpha and Omega Project and bit model) or of geometric figures (thus XEROX petit and Diner Studies, 2011) that have undergone defamiliarization. Unlike in Concrete art, these works refer to something that exists in reality; they are not mere geometric constructions. That, too, is something Janine Eggert’s works play with. The artist wants the spectator to be able to draw logical inferences concerning the works and to try and identify their origin. Looking at Eggert/Ricklefs’s collaborative works, we are struck most importantly by their references to the sciences. The dialogue with the spectator plays a considerable role in this art, sometimes in an ironic manner, as in the interactive piece The Human Kind (2011): using a crank, the spectator can move a carpet knife mounted to a set of cogwheels toward a balloon until it finally pricks the rubber surface. We know exactly what will happen if we keep turning the crank long enough—and yet we do it. Once the balloon pops, the work of art is finished, but only then is its meaning—its being a collective act—consummated. Voices from the Universe (2011) likewise does not become a complete work until the spectator interacts with it. The two sculptures facing each other do not just look like parabolic mirrors, they also take on their function. The installation arrangement becomes complete when the spectator tries it out. In works like this one, Eggert as well as Eggert/Ricklefs play a very deliberate game with the spectator’s senses. It is probably human nature that we always want to draw logical inferences and detect the origin of what we see. What might The Dynamic Sublime Device (2012) represent? Do Untitled (2011) and The Alpha and Omega Project: Model have anything in common? We would like to reassemble the dismantled individual parts of XEROX petit into what they originally were, a stellated octahedron, just as the mind’s eye almost automatically folds the “expanded” Broken Figure of Thought back into its original shape; precisely what a kaleidoscope does, from origin to “new” form—only in the opposite direction.
Valeska Hageney