One might have expected this show to be hosted by a museum rather than a gallery. For this retrospective overview of the work of the undeservedly little-known Cologne-based painter Rune Mields, Galerie Judith Andrea showed works ranging from the late 1970s to 2013. Mields’s painting is marked by the strictness of her conceptual approach to questions such as: What can we think? What forms do our thoughts take? And which principles can be used to order these forms? Can we, for example, conceive of death? And if so, how?
This latter question is the subject of Komm, du süße Todesstunde (Bach) (Come, o sweet hour of death, 2007), a triptych after Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantata of the same name. On each of the three pale grey panels, a skeleton painted in white holds in its arms a slumped, dark-grey human figure. Over this scene, the musical notes and words of the cantata are crisply painted in black. The image of death is overlaid with abstract signs, notes and words – but the words convey just more images, metaphorical ones this time, tied into the acoustic order of Bach’s music. For how, other than in a ritual act of the kind to which Bach’s cantata originally belonged, can death, which is in fact inconceivable, be encountered?
Almost all of Mields’s pictures are painted in black, white and various shades of grey; the only work in the exhibition that diverges from this palette is the series Couleur et femmes (1989–91). And although they frequently feature abstract signs, words and numbers, the pictures are never conceived in purely conceptual terms, as forms of thought. Instead, her pictures always also have a strong graphic, near ornamental impact.
Many of Mields’s pictures include numbers and number series, like the five-part Söhne der Mathematik (Sons of Mathematics, 1986–87). Over the written-out version of what was then the highest known prime number (over 10,000 figures), Mields painted warriors from Paolo Uccello’s mid-15th century painting The Battle of San Romano. In the 1980s, the military began using prime numbers to encrypt its command communications. By combining abstract numbers with images of warriors, the digits are made to betray the contexts of their usage. In the six-part series INFINITY (2002) Mields more directly addresses the representability of the infinite: INFINITY: (after Giordano Bruno) shows many circles (Bruno compared infinity to a circle), while INFINITY: (after George Gamow) features the words ‘EINS, ZWEI, DREI, UNENDLICHEIT’ (one, two, three, infinity) against a background consisting of different-sized numbers, corresponding to George Gamow’s description of infinity.
The theme of infinity, as well as questions concerning the limits of our capacity for thinking and imagining, have long occupied both thinkers and artists. Today, these questions seem to be returning to prominence, if one considers the attempts of the speculative realists, among others, to seek answers to such questions outside of metaphysical categories. For Mields, a strict conceptualist who cleverly uses the visual power of images in her work, these questions never went away.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell