Franziska Furter by Felicity Lunn for the catalogue 'stray current' at Towner, Eastbourne 2011
The first impression given by Franziska Furter's exhibitions is their sense of consistency and inner logic. Even if the meaning of individual objects has not yet revealed itself, one understands intuitively that the installation has been created as an integral environment with its own rhythms and dynamics.
This initial reading of Furter's work is, of course, informed partly by the artist's decision to restrict her palette almost exclusively to black and white. Whether in the earlier large-scale pen and ink drawings or the more recent objects made from black painted wood, plastic or crystal, the clean, sharp lines of her work create an immediate graphic quality that, in Furter's view, impacts more forcefully on the space the pieces inhabit than if they were in colour. Clearly delineated from their surroundings, the hard-edged contours of her monochrome forms define the space they occupy, automatically drawing in the negative or invisible spaces around them into the main body of the exhibition. Simultaneously, Furter's installations employ the white walls and pale floors as if these were the paper support for a drawing whilst focusing attention on the characteristics of the gallery itself. There is a constant shift between the two and three dimensional, between the objects that function as abstract drawings in space and the flat images that convey depth as though this had been formed on a computer screen.
This sense created in the viewer of moving through an unreal, invented space, such as a virtual environment or an architectural model, is informed in part by Furter's long-term interest in the aesthetic of comics, particularly mangas. One of her most important sources of found imagery, she combines different manga drawings, enlarging or stretching details to an oversized scale until they take on a life of their own. Just as several years ago manga comics inspired the landscape drawings that were an intriguing hybrid of nature and fantasy, their influence is currently felt in objects such as Chlumpae or Pitch, that are based on cartoon-like scribbles. The
manga backdrops appropriated for the pen and ink drawings were robbed of the protagonists and their speech bubbles. The objects in the current exhibition appear similarly as stranded remnants of an apocalyptic fantasy but in 3D form. In this exhibition Furter has largely abandoned the flat, static surface of walls for the more fluid space of the room, playing with the relationship between object and ground, light and shadow, and integrating the viewer more consciously into the environment of the installation.
Furter has also moved away from the clearly recognisble forests and ponds of the landscape drawings to more abstract forms, as though the vertical lines rising like electrical current from the landscape One More Breath, 2007 had peeled off the paper to take on a third dimension in nylon thread or black plastic. In this way, through hybrid forms, Furter extends the possibilities of drawing as a multi-layered translation from one medium or scale, into another. The installation at the Towner Gallery entitled Rift, for example, is both a replica of the pennants strung between houses during Ramadan that Furter experienced during her residency in Cairo in 2010 and also a line drawing in which the metamorphosis into severe black triangles abstracts the familiar form from its original source. Rift makes an important contribution to the experience of the exhibition as ambulatory rather than static; equally, through its associations with streets and crowds, the work brings the external, public sphere into the more intimate, interior space. Whereas Furter's pen and ink drawings on paper have a unique vantage point, there are many possible perspectives in this exhibition as the viewer is required to move around the various elements, looking up at and through Rift and down to the objects placed directly on the gallery floor. Curiously, this motion and physical interaction of the viewer is at odds with the still, silent quality of the exhibition, enhanced by the windowless architecture of the gallery space that excludes all external sound.
The even, overhead light of the Towner Gallery, filling the space, also intensifies the artificiality of Furter's installation, the sense of a constructed visual environment that inspired the artist to think of the exhibition as being similar to a Japanese garden, traditionally built for a variety of purposes, inviting quiet contemplation but also intended for recreation and the display of rare plants or unusual rocks. Just as the Japanese “Strolling Gardens” require the observer to walk through the garden to fully appreciate it, with a planned network of paths and strategically placed ornamentation, Furter's exhibition leads the viewer through a number of changing but subtlely linked experiences.
Franziska Furter is aware of the need in any constructed visual environment to seduce rather than coerce the participant into engaging with it. The apparently unambiguous monochrome forms of her work appeal immediately to the viewer's natural desire to make an initial assessment of the space they occupy; having won us over, the artist can risk playing with our perception of scale and relationship by shifting from macrocosm to microcosm, from entire galaxies to minute details, within the same pieces. Equally importantly in the new work, Furter employs materials in ways that make them appear, at least at first sight, as completely different substances. From the corner of your eye looks hard and spiky but is constructed from soft, black plastic; Kamikaze recalls all the connotations of wire mesh but is created from fine silver wire; and Pitch and Chlumpae appear to have the texture of wool but are made of thousands of knots of hard nylon thread. The black, white-veined pebbles, strewn amongst the Kamikaze, are exact pvc imitations of their natural source material. In comparison, the variously sized Rings, 2011, the only coloured objects in the exhibition, appear like comic-book versions of soap bubbles or reflections in puddles. The indeterminacy of the colours in Rings also draws attention to the ambivalent character of black, which is not only pure black but sometimes shiny silver, depending on its interaction with light. In this way the viewer is required to reassess anew the nature of each part of the exhibition whilst becoming accustomed to Furter's adeptness as a mistress of illusion and disguise. Apparently fragile materials are resilient and dense, and the reverse is also the case. Equally deceptive is the nature of the artist's working process. Kamikaze, Pitch and Chlumpae may look like the 3D materialisation of spontaneously scribbled doodles, but they are painstakingly produced through hours of intricate workmanship.
Kamikaze can be understood as a metaphor for the exhibition. An ancient Japanese word for “divine wind”, it essentialises the theme of movement that is momentary and fleeting, but also gives density and shape to the things it comes into contact with. As an object, Kamikaze is almost invisible from certain angles and like a shiny landscape or a snakeskin from another perspective. Like all Furter's work, it refuses to be pinned down by verbal description or contextualised in terms of reality. The apparently insubstantial and ephemeral turns out to have precision and resilience, like a breeze become form, a parallel universe glimpsed from the corner of the eye.