Essay by
Raphy Sarkissian, NY

Installation Views  

Exhibition Catalogue  


Different: The Double-sided Life  


Everywhere here the seeing eye seeks and finds time
development, emergence, and history.[1]
—M.M. Bakhtin  


Now it is Persian blue with shades of old gold, smooth and sinuous, a hyperorganic lattice emerging from the illuminated, lower-left corner, ramifying diagonally upon a vast, dim crescent . . .

. . . Now it is Persian blue with shades of old gold, smooth and sinuous, a hyperorganic lattice emerging from the dim, lower-left corner, ramifying diagonally upon a vast, illuminated crescent.


Both canvases of Tag-Nacht/Nacht-Tag of Martina Fischer convey a phantasmagoric mirage of tubular veins of the truncated forewing of a butterfly. As we scan these arresting, see-through forewings that recur similarly, their surrounding spaces metamorphose from light to darkness, then darkness to light, declassifying the binarity of matter and space. These uncanny capillaries, delineated with supreme sharpness, demarcate day from night—spatiotemporal fields dwelled by grains of color that animate ethereal clouds and water, luminosity and opacity. Here the polarity of day and night is extended by the dichotomy of disegno and colorito, attaching the paintings at once to the stony design of Michelangelo and the layered, blended coloring of late Titian. Thus Fischer’s binary framework of design and color embodies both the Apollonian and Dionysian. The linear device of Fischer deftly pairs itself to the Apollonian position—that of illumination, restraint, rationality and objectivity. By contrast, the autonomy of color corresponds to the spheres of Dionysus, the patron of dithyrambic music, wine, sexual fantasy and frenzy. The Dionysian state embodies emotion, subjectivity and spontaneity as manifested in the orgiastic, most savage natural instincts present in the Greek choric hymns honoring Dionysus. It is this duality of hand control and impulsiveness of Fischer’s creative process that gives her pictures a mythopoeic weight.

Having assimilated the Apollonian and Dionysian as a double-sided act of giving rise to the painted image, along with the verbal denotation of Day-Night/Night-Day, the duo lends itself as an allegory of “objective time” and “subjective time,” recalling Henri Bergson’s historic categories of l’entendu and la durée, the former an objective, cultural definition of clock time, while the latter a subjective, lived experience of time: a double-sided life. [2] In this sense, the appearance and disappearance of Fischer’s C-shaped forms set themselves as visual shorthands of Jacques Derrida’s investigation of Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology of time: “Time with itself in the infinite multiplicity and infinite implication of its absolute origins entitles every other intersubjectivity in general to exist and makes the polemical unity of appearing and disappearing irreducible.”[3]

As the double-schema of Tag-Nacht/Nacht-Tag intimates both aesthetic and phenomenological readings, it also operates on the register of Wilhelm Worringer’s concept of “Lebendige Geometrie” (“vitalized geometry”) that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari state as:

According to Worringer, the abstract line of force is rich in animal motifs. Animal, plant, and molecular becomings correspond to cosmic or cosmogenetic forces: to the point that the body disappears into the plain color or becomes part of the wall or, conversely, the plain color buckles and whirls around in the body’s zone of indiscernibility.[4]


While the mechano-organic mesh of Grey Tree spans obliquely across the painting’s surface, it simultaneously subdivides the picture space into two vertical, oppositive zones (left, dark; right, bright), inscribing the picture as an abstracted rhetoric of Western painting’s formal narratives. If the blurred, slate grey and silver modeling of the pebble-like forms here distantly echoes the Quattrocento by evoking the snowy mountains of Masaccio’s Tribute Money (1420s) of the Brancacci Chapel in Florence, then the sculptural contours and stylized modeling of the rigid, irregular lattice conjure up the stilted, Mannerist dictum of Pontormo’s Deposition (c. 1535) of Santa Felicità in Florence. Conversely, the dark grey, recessive left hand sector connects itself to the obscure, leftmost zone of Caravaggio’s Calling of Saint Matthew (1599-1600) of the Contarelli Chapel in Rome, turning Grey Tree into a further abstracted, tenebristic translation of Piet Mondrian’s Grey Tree (1911) at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, although now the outcome is an abstraction not of form but of referent. As the butterfly’s forewing has become reified as a tree, and in turn the tree has become reified as a ghostly entity, Grey Tree of Fischer reveals fragmentary elements that compel the viewer to the far and near past, though the endpoint is hard to pin down since the distinctive abstraction it portrays imbues the work with an import of its own.


Fischer’s adherence to the painting’s unassuming capacity to invoke historicity and conjure up reflection continues to manifest itself in Spring, a mechano-organic system that displays a sudden jump from a bluish, luminous place to a murky, enigmatic one. The painterly zones of luminosity and darkness are captured by a linear, biomorphic mesh that spreads itself across and within the pictorial space through a crescendo of green-blue tonalities that motivate its elasticity. Fischer integrates a diverse array of old master, gestural and photorealist devices, culminating in unifying and disintegrating modalities that elicit the ebb and flow of spatiality. As such, Spring lends itself as a compelling, pictorial and frozen counterpart of the transient, hallucinatory imagery generated by the surfaces of Anish Kapoor’s Vertigo (2006) for instance. While the direct experience of the highly polished, reflective surface of Kapoor gives rise to a visual apprehension quite distinct from that generated by Fischer’s painting, the two experiences traverse, interlock, involute and disperse within the observer’s faculty of cognition, for they both instigate the eye to pull in and push out. Kapoor explains the commonalities of his sculpture and the medium of painting by associating the formal tension occurring on his work to Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings that he sees “as if they are in a flux, as if they are moving backwards and forwards, as if they are making themselves, as if they are not finite.”[5] For a moment, the concept of transitionality for Kapoor supersedes the mirrorical temporality of the image, returning it to the optical transitionality motivated by the physical surface. Thus the sensation of figure/ground undulation of Fischer’s Spring invokes Pollock’s networks of interlaced drips that cascade into our perception. While each of these three experiences constitutes its own language, it also unravels “a pre-language or a meta-language” that engenders communion, as Octavio Paz aptly remarks.[6]


With an aura of immense vastness of space, Eingangsstein of Fischer powerfully orchestrates one of the enduring motifs of her oeuvre: an elusive spheroid suspended within a whirlpool of overlapping, fragmented planetary rings that intermittently reverse figure and ground conditions, unsettling the painting’s perceptual state, its very gestalt. Titled in German as Entrance Stone, this imbrication of figure and ground is a device Fischer employs in a manner that fluctuates the dyadic relationships of vision: now the vibrant blue filament comes forth as an open, recessive space, yet now it emerges as a closed, protrusive mass, contending the extent of proximity of the ochre spheroid body. Here the blue filament prowls as an illusion of space, yet there it ripples as an abstracted, topological yarn. Now it is sky, yet soon it turns solid. Now it is intangible, yet soon it unfolds as matter. Now it is measureless, yet soon it ruffles as living tissue. It operates unsteadily through differential relations, as it persists to camouflage its morphology within the duration of the beholder’s absorption. It embodies a plenitude of circulatory exchanges.


As one approaches März, this painting of Fischer conveys both a continuity of the rich vocabulary of the dreamlike webs of the preceding works, along with a subtle shift to a quainter palette upon the lower bulbous masses. Charged with the rhythmic flow of stretched curls that intertwine, coalesce and split up, März continues Fischer’s organization of forms through the interlacing of disegno and colorito. A concentration on an exquisite compositional design and linear labor is coupled with a liberty of thinly gestural application of paint, encapsulating the dichotomy of the Apollonian and Dionysian, a dichotomy that incessantly contests its very thresholds, imbuing closed form with an inherent fluidity that caresses the beholder’s gaze. März appears as a sensuous, preternatural counterpoint of the thoughts of Deleuze and Guattari:

From the depths of time there comes to us what Worringer called the abstract and infinite northern line, the line of the universe that forms ribbons, strips, wheels, and turbines, an entire “vitalized geometry,” rising to the intuition of mechanical forces, constituting a powerful nonorganic life. Painting’s eternal object is this: to paint forces, like Tintoretto.[7]

At first, the late mannerist, abstracted surface of März transports the viewer to a universe of “vitalized geometry,” where the alterity of figure and ground is apposite to the law of Prägnanz. Yet as it remains chained to the alterity of stressed edges and lyrical gesturality running across the expressively modeled plateaus of shades of grey, blue and ecru, it sporadically threatens the good gestalt. In tandem, the mechanical application of shades of blue and gold within the hyperbolized filigrees affirms a sense of inchoatness with pre-modern techniques. It is in this sense that the pre and post-modern antithesis of März overtly resonates with the words of Paz on the reinvention of preexisting paradigms of painting: “After the classicism of the early abstractionists and the romanticism of ‘abstract expressionism,’ what we need is a Mannerist, a Baroque-abstract.”[8]


Lacunae cross slit harshly illuminated asteroids that transform into comets within a cosmos that continues dissimilating. Is it an oneiric recollection of The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even of Marcel Duchamp? Each of the apparitional images of the diptych entitled Embrace 1 and 2 of Fischer interlocks the polarities of rigid design and gestural sweeps, overturning abstraction, though not to the end of mimesis but that of a pulsatile vacuity that fluctuates ad infinitum between matter and cavity. This pair offers the beholder a climactic experience of seeing that is double-sided, as vision oscillates between the volumetric and spatial, the protrusive and recessive, the shimmering and gloomy, the cosmic and somatic. Within an instance entities become reversed: space cleaves itself as matter, light materializes as mass, shaded surfaces transform themselves into deep gashes, while void protrudes as substance recedes. Within this baroque apotheosis of abstraction’s full return to trompe l’oeil, the cosmic manifests itself as labial, in shades of deep blue. As this changeability instigates the gestalt, it recalls Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, wherein the spectator’s vision, deprived of direct access to the source of light at the cave’s opening, is inured by the shadow. Facing this image, the viewer confronts the cave’s opening, only to perceive that exteriority is inseparable from interiority. Through temporal flux, form here reveals itself as a continual weft and warp, a multiplicity of folds that waver through the regimes of linearity and coloration, reformulating “lack” and subjectivizing “femininity.”

This recurring transference of the Prägnanz, along with its perpetual disruption and (re)feminization within the armature of the Apollonian and Dionysian, swells the double-sided visual language of Fischer’s imagery into the temporal concept of Bergson’s la durée, rendering the observer’s timely apperception as the locus of signification.

—Raphy Sarkissian
New York, April 2009  



[1] M.M. Bakhtin, “Time and Space in Goethe’s Works,” in Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, trans. Vern W. McGee (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992), p. 29.

[2] See Henri Bergson, Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness (1889), trans. F. L. Pogson (Montana: Kessinger Publishing, 1910).

[3] Jacques Derrida, Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry: An Introduction (1962), trans. John P. Leavey, Jr. (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1989), p. 152.

[4] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy? (1991), trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), p. 183. See also Wilhelm Worringer, Form in Gothic (1912), trans. Sir Herbert Read (London: A. Tiranti, 1957).

[5] Homi Bhabha, “Anish Kapoor: Making Emptiness,” in Anish Kapoor (London: Hayward Gallery and University of California Press, 1998), pp. 11–41.

[6] Octavio Paz, Alternating Current (1967), trans. Helen R. Lane (London: Wildwood House, 1974), p. 7.

[7] Deleuze and Guattari, p. 182.

[8] Paz, ibid.



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