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Behind The Curtain

oil, acrylic and spray on canvas

Behind The Curtain • 2015 - The Legacy of Absence
Abandoned places hold a special attraction in this day and age, in that they act as a counterpoint to the exceedingly organised, so-called “civilised” character of the contemporary world around us. Possessing no obvious function, they are essentially useless in the context of the infinite value chain of our modern economies. But, by the same token, empty rooms can also exert a special resonance for those who create art, since artistic endeavour is always aware of the need to confront our present with the legacy of the past. Such building structures – largely peripheral and slowly deteriorating on the outskirts of our urban landscapes – create a counter-reality juxtaposed to the clean and technically subsumed world we inhabit. They still play host to past life cycles of which we are almost completely unaware. René Holm made his way to such a place; a remote sanatorium on the outskirts of Berlin that has been long been forgotten by the outside world.

The result is an impressive series of paintings bearing witness to the inner workings of the process of decay. After many visits to this location, René Holm has succeeded in maintaining and cultivating the atmosphere of absence in a way that is both psychological and photographic in nature. The product of this confrontation with the still vital remnants of these empty rooms is the Behind the Curtain series.

If one enters the sanatorium building, which is slowly being subsumed by foliage, from the outside, it appears as if the former doctors and patients of the facility disappeared suddenly, perhaps overnight, and mysteriously left everything behind. Some furnishings and equipment are still in their original place, albeit in a chaotic arrangement, and they now show signs of -vandalism. Shattered windows allow draughts to blow through the masonry, making curtains waver as if brushed by ghosts. This mysterious atmosphere, which seems to hark back to an animate and ordered past dynamic, is oppressive and inescapable. The dominant, unshirkable thought here, is that an appalling event took place within the clinic. The physical remnants in the abandoned rooms serve to stimulate our desire for completeness and our need for a narrative to accompany the scene, prompted by this state of inexplicable emptiness. Those individual objects that remain are assigned a symbolic value by our imagination. Indeed, this largely empty structure would be the perfect backdrop for the staging of a psychological thriller. At the same time, these now unserviceable buildings seem like a set of modern ruins, but ruins that suggest a positive, Arcadian vision from the Romantic era (compare this with the work of C.D. Friedrich below). We also witness how the untameable expansion of nature can bring civilising processes to a halt.
René Holm addresses existential themes time and again in his work. In most cases, humankind makes its presence felt, even if it is only through the traces it has left behind, in this case the abandoned spaces. In his series entitled CRASH (2011), Holm focuses on forgotten stonework structures and monuments, coated in graffiti and surrounded by nature. The work series LOSE (2009-10), transports human fate into the dark depths of the woods, as faceless figures tell their tales of loss. Through the forceful presence of trees, the artist drags the observer’s view into the depths of the woodlands. We are thus confronted with the rupture in the harmonious, unified relationship between man and nature. Now we begin to observe how nature – albeit hesitantly – starts to seep into man-made spaces. Floors become softened and very much alive, reminding us of the earth in one of Holm’s woodland scenes. His typically powerful rhythmic stroke, paired with a profound, multifaceted understanding of space, serves to turn the damaged chair or broken lavatory into something -transitory in form. These objects are embedded in a flowing, painterly harmonisation process that brings together structures touched by nature and the atmospheric presence of man, who resonates through the traces he has left behind. The expressive painterly force of the works thus lies in their symbolic form, representing decay and, consequently, an existential threat. This is because René Holm’s formal aesthetics always bring us back to nature, which here stands as a noble and sovereign entity in the face of anything and everything man throws at it.

BEHIND THE CURTAIN deals with latency, with the narrative power of that which remains, and in doing so creates a most contemporary iconographic form, a narrative of forgetting and of being usurped. The sombreness, the almost palpable silence of the uninhabited rooms, is intensified by means of a latent natural presence – latent because it is formal in its presence. In CRASH we discover works of graffiti which, in conjunction with nature, mask and reinterpret the signs of the past, and this affords the pieces a more universal dimension, in that it brings together forms that seem opposed to one another. As with Paul Cézanne, who knew how to stylistically integrate architectural elements, such as bridges, into his landscapes, and who thus stated the case for a natural presence, René Holm finds, almost by means of a reverse method, an aesthetic formula for urban naturalism. In light of our increasingly demystified environment, this urban naturalism makes a clear statement; there needs to be an appreciation of that which is forgotten and impalpable, so as to provide a lasting expressive form for our sense of longing – tinged with Nordic and Romantic aspirations – for the mysterious and the bygone. Left to their own devices, theses pastose images of rooms that are abandoned but now filled with tentative new life, reset our perception of time to a contemplative tempo, in keeping with the flow and movement of

Uwe Goldenstein