I Wish I Could Climb.
I Wish I Could Climb is an ongoing body of works regarding our desires, self-perception and projections onto the experience of the great outdoors. The sense of adventure and that of conquest are naturally sit side by side to one of the most desired natural, wild landscapes and an old human challenge: The mountain. The myth to climb and the desire to conquer is Lucia Kempkes‘ starting point for this investigation.
As an antipode to every adventure, home is the emotional location and the anchor to every expedition. The ideas of the domestic and the great outdoors are crowded with emotive attachments, based on experience but more often based on our imagination and our projected ideas on those scenarios. Lucia Kempkes‘ research combines outdoor fantasies and domestic reality through materials merging objects like carpets, outdoor equipment, paper, and graphite into an environment in-between the desire for adventure and resting at home.
This body of works pushes the limits of drawing by taking space in the form of installations, in new materials and scale.
Additionally, it integrates digital aesthetics as a possibility of a contemporary depiction of landscape. In this regard, we need to evaluate the crucial necessity of the digital aesthetics entering the classic idea of landscape, precisely because the Cartesian depict of space is today in crisis. The contemporary society requests of us a multi-layered mind, sight, perceptions and actions, the exact way we behave with our technological devices: We live simultaneously in different open windows. Lucia Kempkes, thanks to drawing as a symbol of an analogic approach, is capable to give us back a cross-section of a society still looking for an identity able to balance the desire of conquering with that of resting and rethinking its way of living.
The subjects are depicted in chiaroscuro, free from colors as if they were seen with a sort of detachment. The artist is not emotionally engaged with them and she is not seeking a contemplative or sublimated experience by the observer. On the contrary, we are in front of an analogical display showing a veduta of any mountain. Even during her trip on the Atlas Mountain in Morocco in spring 2019, the artist has not looked at the mountains to copy them. She was rather concentrated on the floor in front of her, which is the perspective we have during our climb, while we desire the panorama at the peak.
This position brought Kempkes to conceive a big installation piece that takes the public right into a steep climb, detailed in rocks and surface. The wool and carpet grid fabric elements are here deconstructed; we have just portions of them serving as grafts. In the past the wool (in form of carpets) was present to itself entirely, representing a domestic habitat and acting as a counterweight to the explorative desire. But now, these elements are like positive, regenerating and restorative bacteria.
Lucia Kempkes‘ uses the mountains as a metaphor to talk about the human being and its outputs. The act of climbing - a word with multiple meanings - is a spontaneous instinct in humans, something that connects us to our ancestors, space, geography, careers, richness, and so on. The process is to contemplate, to explore, to conquer and finally to exploit, the aim is to go forward and repeat. All this is placed in the nation-state context, as an imperative of modern Europe. The artist asks herself what is the shifting meaning between nature and humans, and what are the social and political consequences of these radical changes.
Landscapes have always been a classic element in the history of art and Lucia Kempkes‘ research navigates the possibility of a new depiction of the genre in contemporary art, while investigating which cultural, identity sustaining space nature has in our lives.
Written by Lucia Kempkes and Greta Scarpa, a curator and art consultant specialized in supporting collectors and in developing exhibitions projects from Milan, Italy.
The Landscape That Is Living Together with Us
About the Work of Lucia KEMPKES
published in the Seoul Museum of Art NANJI Residency Catalogue 2016
KIM Ji Hye
The reason we feel secure in an enormous landscape is because we believe that it will always be present firmly. The reason we are in need of this belief is because uncertainty in our lives brings anxiety and fear, even though making our lives colorful. Therefore, we always seek things that are comforting and immutable — a memory of childhood, of home and a mighty scenery are examples. However, because nothing intrinsically exists in perpetuity, we are faced with a deep despair. What I find in Lucia KEMPKES' works are the weaknesses and uncertainties of landscape.
Usually brought up in the philosophical discourses of landscape is Immanuel KANT's ‘theory of the sublime.’ For KANT, the sublime is distinguishable from the “beauty” that is our “disinterested and free satisfaction” on “the form of finality of an object.” The sublime is something that makes us to feel “the unknown pleasure” though it evokes a feeling of “displeasure” by making our existence uncertain. Contemplation is an essential component of the sublime. In the history of western art history, landscape painting idealizes reality as it focuses on mythological and religious scenes. In the 17th century landscapes of the Flemish painters, “sacred scenes” are replaced with “realistic scenes” as the focus of the paintings becomes centered on where the mundane everyday activities of human occur. Consequently, the discourse of the landscape that was once dominated by the sublime becomes one that is concerned with beauty. KEMPKES advances questions regarding the perspectives on landscapes we hold on to. And she expresses these questions through various media: drawing, video, and three-dimensional works using paper.
What she focuses on is 'moving landscape’ in order to introduce the contemporary ideologies into the conception of classical landscape. Moreover, she expresses that the characteristics of drawing are no different from those of video - both interact with motion and viewpoint . What we can pay attention to here is that from the perspective of time and through the movement of our bodies, a landscape often transforms — depending on our emotion, mood, and circumstance. Therefore, what we face in front of KEMPKES' enormous installation is a pliable and uncertain landscape. However, we must not misunderstand that this uncertainty is any different from Vanitas' Nihilism — a concern that occupied 16th-17th century European art. Rather, KEMPKES' work reconsiders the relationship between the subject and object of a viewpoint, relocates a modern epistemology after its decomposition, and evokes the absence of truth as truth's past vibrates through the entire process (she reveals the uncertainty of truth). Her work therefore deviates from the method of gazing at the past, which only traces a fixed perspective.
According to Genevieve Lipinsky DE ORLOV who has previously written about KEMPKES' work, it coexists within analog and digital mechanisms, where physical intervention plays an important role. When KEMPKES talks about the combination of the analog and the digital, it includes the coexistences between drawing and video. At the same time there may also be an aspect of the digital device's excessive participation in constructing the analog image. As it was outlined earlier in this essay, her methods allow us to reflect on certain ideologies constructed from idealized western landscape. When unrealistically sacred landscapes engage with mundane daily life, we need to remember that we draw the attention and hearts of the majority of the audience, not only the few who are in power. The landscapes came to express a humanist ideology, rather than that of God. Humans and landscapes in KEMPKES' work possess a non-dualistic character — neither subject nor object —, as they coexist and enjoy a time in which they move together. We will not be able to hope for the day that we will meet our lover in an idealized warm autumn day – because in a sense we are already there, in the moment. In her work and exhibitions we encounter the new and ever-changing. Her three-dimensional works constructed from paper, and the analog images mediated by digital technology create new ways to move and transform with your sensibility and circumstance, within the various conditions. This is a virtue of the landscape that weaves with our reality — this place where we live.
KIM Jihye is an independent curator and adjunct professor of Jeju National University. She completed the doctor's course at the Department of Aesthetics (Art theory) from Hongik University. She worked as a chief curator at Alternative Space LOOP and as Researcher at KustDoc.
Landscape in a Digital World: Lucia Kempkes' Ethereal Spaces
by Genevieve Lipinsky de Orlov
In our current Post-Internet cultural moment, Lucia Kempkes’ largely analog practice offers an unusual approach to the digital and its visual language, specifically through her focus on the natural world. Though her extensive networks of careful, detailed lines and immersive organic forms grow out of the long history of draughtsmanship and possess an undeniable physical presence of the artist’s painstaking hand, Kempkes imitates the digital in form: images overlaid, floating, their flatness receding into intangible space, blurred as though a paused .MP4 file.
Like a cluttered desktop or a carefully orchestrated computer video work (think Sondra Perry, Miao Ying, Nicole Miller) Kempkes situates us in a familiar digital language, but challenges that language. The “data” we expect from such language is replaced with muted landscape and undulating patterns rendered tediously in graphite. The work is, thereby, distanced from an explicitly recognizable digital aesthetic, yet its relationship to the digital, undeniable, albeit nuanced, is precisely what encourages us to reflect on and rethink space -- both real and digital -- and landscape as Kempkes imagines.
Kempkes’ approach results in a masterful environment of opposition and tension -- between analog and digital, natural and computer-generated -- in which we become enveloped. The unrelenting repetition in her Parallax stereograms is cinematic, like a series of frames on a reel of film, but relates directly to her digital video work as well, mimicking landscape interrupted through the window of a moving car. While the stereograms are very much drawings in the traditional sense, they prompt us to question how we conceive of digital imagery and how it is, and can be, created.
Like Kempkes’ drawings, her videos abstract and digitally-alter the natural world, rendering it almost indistinguishable and guiding the eye, instead, on a rhythmic meditation. Our experience of landscape is transformed; it becomes new, foreign, stripped of its extensive historical and familiar associations. And both components of Kempkes’ practice, drawing and video, are responsible for this, they inform and require one another to transport us into these imagined environments and immerse us in inquiries into the relationship between the digital and natural worlds.
The o.T. Landschaft series, too, plays with our perception of landscape and the medium of drawing. These works, however, possess very few formal qualities of landscape, or drawing, for that matter. Initially, we rely largely on the series’ title to understand its subject. We encounter flat, monochromatic surfaces that have been manipulated into textured topographies: the paper is folded, crinkled and bent to create lines and forms, highlights and shadows, peaks and valleys. They are “drawings” insofar as they hang on the wall, but relate more closely to sculpture, a challenge of traditional formats in the vein of Eva Hesse’s Hang Up, Jay DeFeo’s The Rose or Rauschenberg’s Combines.
Kempkes’ freestanding drawing and “paper objects” are perhaps the most radical of this type. They alter real space and, when installed, they physically consume the gallery, successfully creating an immersive imagined environment. The work requires our participation and encourages us to examine our relationship to both the natural world and to artwork. Kempkes’ untraditional installations also pose questions about the limitations of the gallery space, how art is displayed and how we interact with it in a gallery context.
Most striking about Kempkes’ body of work, though, is her loyalty to her medium, and her interpretation and manipulation of that medium. When so much of our daily lives are saturated with computer-generated, digitally-altered and mechanically produced imagery, visual work that requires the physical labor of the human hand so explicitly -- while maintaining a relationship to digital aesthetics and practices -- offers a refreshing lens through which we can think differently about and experience anew our surroundings, our digital lives and, in Kempkes’ work, the natural world. Kempkes’ distinct presence further invites us to interrogate our own understanding of our bodies in space: when confronted with Kempkes’ environments, we return to the world around us with a heightened sense of its potential and our existence within it.
Genevieve Lipinsky de Orlov is an art historian and curator living and working between New York and Berlin.