Seeing is understanding. This belief seems to inform every effort to visualize complex facts in a simple graph. With the help of bars, circles, curves and arrows, order turns into chaos; convoluted webs of relationships are untangled and ironed out on a two-dimensional plane. Whether such graphs actually represent facts – or rather create new truths – was one of the questions addressed by the group exhibition Schaubilder (Charts).
Appropriately, the show began with a chart of historical references, put together by curator Thomas Thiel: a Qibla diagram (1196) indicating the direction for praying towards Mecca for different locations; diagrams by Albrecht Dürer; Aby Warburg’s image atlases; and Mark Lombardi’s drawings of densely woven networks of politics and business. In the works by the ten participating artists, the emphasis was less on conveying information than on establishing a personal system ofreference. Take Jorinde Voigt’s 2 Horizonte (Belgien I-IV) (2 Horizons (Belgium I-IV), 2011) or his Views on Views on Decameron (2012); these topographic maps of personal sensory impressions were made using views from different angles.
Nikolaus Gansterer focuses on the diagram as a hybrid of image, symbol and drawing and examines the direct causal link between drawing and thinking. Over several years, Gansterer ordered and studied visualizations from various disciplines in science and the humanities; he took them out of their original context, redrew them and then tested the speculative potential of the results by asking other artists, theorists and scholars to interpret these ‘figures of thought’. Their interpretations gave rise to a publication (Drawing a Hypothesis, 2011) as well as the wall and table installation Drawing a Hypothesis, Table of Content (2012). Inthe installation, Gansterer presents the visual material as a hypothetical test set-up yet frees it from text and intention so viewers can generate new, open narratives of their own.
The most spectacular work in the show was Michael Najjar’s series of digitally manipulated photographs (High Altitude, 2008–10). In 2009, Najjar climbed Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest summit in the Americas at 6,962 metres; he photographed the surrounding ranges with their sheer, jagged outlines and then matched them on the computer with the no less dramatic ups and downs of stock market indexes from the last three decades. The result is a fascinating mixture of abstract and natural dimensions, but what else do the snow-capped financial market peaks tell us?
The artist-philosopher Marcus Steinweg portrays more complex structures of thought in his concept diagrams, such as Philosophy as Art (2012), which are made with a simple DIY aesthetic (his use of adhesive tape recalls works by Thomas Hirschhorn, with whomhe has collaborated). Using the almost classical mode of mind mapping, Steinweg relates colour-coded philosophical positions and ideas to his own texts, thus forming increasingly dense conceptual clouds.
There are many readings of the term Schaubild: from classical diagrams to three-dimensional models, installations, photographs and videos. With this wealth of readings and with works in different media, the exhibition demonstrated that visualizing data has less to do with the sober portrayal of facts and more with a personal line of argument. Rather than rendering knowledge transparent, each artist conveyed a specific viewof the world while suggesting that all charts might just work this way. Alexandre Singh’s poster Assembly Instructions (The Power of 100) (2010) – originally commissioned by Art Review magazine to illustrate its ‘Power 100’ ranking for 2010 – offered a fitting conclusion. The cryptic iconography of his pyramid motif is an absurd take on the wish for transparency in a sector defined by hierarchies.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell