Marcel Duchamp’s renunciation of his vocation as a painter, in the early 1910s, was a paradigmatic rejection of painting‘s direct trace of subjectivity for the direct access to context that found objects afford. The German artist Florian Slotawa’s sculptural installations have tended to return the ready-made to the subject by dynamically activating a sliding scale between the art object as subjective trace and as foreign, found matter. Slotawa has often referenced the medium of painting but never, until now, actually worked with it. In 2007 at the Sprengel Museum in Hanover, he laid his own possessions – household appliances, items of furniture – into a big wooden panel, so that only one of their sides was visible. They were reduced to flat shapes within a formalistic composition: a pseudo-painting. The effacement of the personal to abstraction corresponded to the suppression of a found object’s three dimensions to two. The touch-specific medium of painting was conversely associated with the suppression of personality, of the object as an index of possession and therefore of self-definition.
In a new series of wall-based juxtapositions of found objects and painted panels, this give and take between the given and the made, the private and the public, the ambivalent selfhood of painting and the ambivalent otherness of the found object, is explicitly figured in a dialectical form. This sounds dogmatic but these might be Slotawa’s most delicate and mysterious works. Most consist of an unmodified found object mounted on the wall in terse conjunction with a rectangular panel of industrially spray-painted aluminium. The ratio between the size of the object and the painted panel fluctuates, but they tend toward an equivalence in which the painting is an effaced – and self-effacing – adjunct to the object‘s blatant foundness and functionality.
Painting’s introduction of a subjective dimension to the matrix of the found object is immediately qualified by the delegating and codifying of chromatic specificity done by mass-production. All the works are titled after 1980s and ‘90s cars, and the single colour used in each (referenced in the titles) was one of the cars’ original colours. It is characteristic of Slotawa that his delegating chromatic choice to a standardized colour index coincides with his insinuation that objectivity is a sign of the subjectivity of nostalgia: these are the colours of the cars of his youth. The painting is the ivory-tower abstraction to the object’s worldliness. But these values switch. Chrysler PS4 (Bright Platinum met.) (all works 2015) places a mid-grey plastic pallet box next to a slightly larger painted rectangle of a slightly lighter grey; but it is the webbed base of the box, structured by a cross, which resembles an abstract composition in this context, while the painted sheet – which is actually the only ‘made’ art object in the pairing – looks, in comparison, like an automobile part in the currently common car colour of metallic grey. Similarly, the three-part light switch of Chrysler PJM (Light Silverfern met.) resembles an immaculate piece of geometric formalist art when twinned with a narrow grey panel that might be taken for a feature of the gallery’s decor.
Having established this dialectical conceit, Slotawa proceeds to challenge it. Toyota 3B4 (Apricot met.) pairs a copper monochrome with a facial cleansing brush’s packaging. The conjunction is at odds until you notice that the hair of the model on the box is an auburn similar to the paint. The flexibility of Slotawa’s paired template transforms what at first appears to be a study in post-Duchampian dynamics into a commentary on painting’s default role as a sign for the commodifiable art object. And yet my favourite piece worked itself free of the dialectical function of its binary structure. Volkswagen C6T (Jadegrün met.) juxtaposes a green rectangle with a pair of green-tinted safety goggles. The combination pans out as the serendipity of an unusual shade of paint precisely matching the green of the goggles, despite the disparity between transparent plastic and metallic gloss. It is a perfectly useless trouvé, until you realize that its chromatic formalism is subservient to a simple functional correspondence: the goggles are what the car painter holding a compressor gun might have been wearing as he sprayed the aluminium green.