Philip Loersch: Teaching Stones To Say Friendly Words

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Philip Loersch: Teaching Stones To Say Friendly Words

Philip Loersch: Teaching Stones To Say Friendly Words
to Sat 19 May 2018

FeldbuschWiesnerRudolph Philip Loersch 1

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Philip Loersch doesn’t just read books. He makes them his own by expertly
fashioning them in stone. Drawn trompe l’oeil, the covers invite viewers to read a book that cannot be opened. Reason and logic are just as important for Loersch’s works as is humor; the boundless pleasure in drawing is just as elementary as patience and diligence.

FeldbuschWiesnerRudolph presents a selection of the artist’s new drawings, sculptures and installations, which were created as a contiguous narrative for the gallery. Not only paper and pencil, but also soapstone and nylon threads are among the media he works with.

Philip Loersch is interested in making knowledge and knowledge structures visible – as well as in the idea that Michelangelo made visible the figure inside the stone rather than sculpting the stone into a figure. He is not a copyist – such as the protagonist in Nikolai Gogol’s novella, “The Overcoat,” which he counts as one of his inspirations – but a draftsman through and through, who represents his material exactly, who transforms it and who simultaneously has the courage to smash it to pieces thereafter.

This is how he creates his quasi-archaeological finds – splinters of Reclam booklets made of stone that outlive their papery predecessors, but that can never be read. The idea of the text, however, immanently preexists in the stone. The stones can now indeed speak. The title of the exhibition comes from one of those graffiti in Pompei that have been able to endure for a long time in the form of signs scratched into stone and that constitute one of the sources for the statements made by the exhibition. In Loersch’s stone sculptures, writing becomes what it is when there is no reading – a sign. An I was here scratched into the wall.

Also part of the exhibition: a drawing of his pension statement, idyllically placed inside a North German garden, delicate and accurate, attentively executed down to the smallest leaf of grass and the tiniest letter. An official letter on cheap paper, one of those that habitually makes cultural workers laugh or that brings them to tears, is thus imbued with the penciled version of the kind of emotion and dignity due a beloved person. Philip Loersch calls it a self-portrait: “The Old Garden.” The artist’s special kind of humor immediately attracts viewers who take a closer look, drawing them into his work.

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Philip Loersch in conversation with Celina Basra
My starting point is always the pleasure of drawing

Philip Loersch is interested in making knowledge and knowledge structures visible – as well as in the idea that Michelangelo made visible the figure inside the stone rather than sculpting the stone into a figure. He is not a copyist – such as the protagonist in Nikolai Gogol’s novella, “The Overcoat,” which he counts as one of his inspirations – but a draftsman through and through, who represents his material exactly, who transforms it and who simultaneously has the courage to smash it to pieces thereafter.

This is how he creates his quasi-archaeological finds – splinters of Reclam booklets made of stone that outlive their papery predecessors, but that can never be read. The idea of the text, however, immanently preexists in the stone. The stones can now indeed speak. The title of the exhibition comes from one of those graffiti in Pompei that have been able to endure for a long time in the form of signs scratched into stone and that constitute one of the sources for the statements made by the exhibition. In Loersch’s stone sculptures, writing becomes what it is when there is no reading – a sign.
An I was here scratched into the wall.

What is the origin of your interest in books and writing? Was there a first impulse?
The origin lies in my dealing with scientific texts. At some point I got the idea: This page in this book that I’m just now dealing with – why don’t I draw exactly this page and the text on it? When I’m using stones and draw and paint a simulated book cover on the surface, then a book occurs that is only thinkable. The book exists inside the stone as an idea and as a possibility, but I can’t open it anymore. But maybe it’s just at this point that it develops more possibilities. When we can read effortlessly, we read without seeing the text. What is drawing and what is writing? For me, such distinctions are not so important. In my works, even the printed script once again becomes handwriting. And, in the end, all of it is drawing.

There are several exercises for authors who suffer from writer’s block: Walter Benjamin covered pages of paper with quasi-ornamental script drawings. Others recommend copying existing texts written by other authors. It’s a way to feel the specific rhythm and mood(s) of the other texts – a kind of incorporation into oneself of text material.
With respect to my work, I often think of monks who copy manuscripts in their capacity as copyists – and thus create perpetually expanding palimpsests. Incorporation is a nice term for that. Also interesting is Nikolai Gogol’s novella “The Overcoat,” one of the literary models for the Reclam shards; the novella is always relevant for my work on the level of contents.
It is about Akaky Akakievich who, every day in some Russian Ministry, copies boring files. At night, he lies in bed and asks himself what sort of new files God will send him the next day. That is, here’s the idea of writing as something sent by God. This story was a starting point for me – since I too copy writing that in a way becomes a part of me.

Viewers of your work immediately think of the idiom written in stone.
An important idea for my early stone books was indeed the notion of enduring – of writing things in stone as it were. One of the first books that I turned into stone was Euclid’s Elements – a classic of hard science. Another stone work originated in Leibniz’s thoughts on unborn ideas. People are not born as though they are empty little wax tablets but like marble that already contains within it the veins for its future configuration.

You are showing a large-format drawing of different human hands engaged in various gestures. The title is: “Favorite letters.” The veins are drawn with a special subtlety and strength. That’s a stirring detail. Is this a reference to Leibniz’s veins?
That reference was not what initiated this drawing in color pencil – but it quite actually fits. In the past few years, I have thought a lot about my work materials: Pencils, rulers, and so on, objects I use in my work. The books too are a kind of material. And another and very important instrument is my hand. It is quite literally all about handwriting and gestures: how to communicate with one’s hands. My starting point is always the pleasure of drawing. That pleasure is incredibly strong for me. Every child starts with drawing. I have never stopped – and quickly noticed that I have a much stronger connection to the line than to color.
My work is very time-consuming and I am very rational when dealing with the medium of drawing. And that’s just what I like about it. Reason and logic are important to my work. When something has a logical structure and an integral coherence, then it has a distinctive kind of aesthetics, one that differs from something that is wrong. The same is true – and especially so – in mathematics. I argue that a correct calculation is felt to be more beautiful even on the sensual level than an erroneous one.

The page in a book that contains subject matter considered aesthetic (beautiful, because logical) thus becomes a work of art we can sensually perceive as beautiful too?
Exactly. However, there is a special tension that develops when subject matter and aesthetic representation seem to contradict each other. There’s a beautiful sentence by Gogol that takes up a whole page – a magnificent sentence that contains nothing but platitudes. In it, Gogol uses the idiom in a word twice, which of course is absolutely absurd. However, it is also outstanding: The subject matter stands in contrast to the solemn tone and elaborate detail of the verbal form. The same thing can be said about my drawing of the pension statement. I take an inordinate amount of time for every leaf of grass – and in the end the drawing shows nothing but an administrative letter.

Looking at this infinitely fine and detailed drawing, we immediately wonder: How long did the artist take to draw this? At once, time plays a role – for the viewer.
Time as a topic in fact does not interest me at all. Otherwise I would not be able to create such works. But there are only a certain number of hours in the day, and, of course, I have to establish
a structured schedule: Every day, I draw for 8 hours. And like Gogol’s character, Akaky Akakievich, I am very disciplined when I work. My desire to draw is extremely strong, but when implementing it, I treat drawing as a craft. The word ‘to draw’ also contains the idea of pulling – this is very clear in the English language. For me, drawing thus also means working. I don’t have a problem at all with the notion of ‘craft,’ or (closer to the German) handiwork. Hand and work: a very nice word. What’s also important: I create artworks to show them. I want other people to see them – and I am very curious about their reactions.

Skilled craftsmanship keeps fascinating us. This old phrase: I can do that too! That one doesn’t work here. You are not interested in time. Are you on time in spite of that?
Very much on time!

Courtesy of the artist and FeldbuschWiesnerRudolph, Berlin
 
 

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