Western Modernists held a keen and well-known affection for Japanese art and architecture, drawn to its tendency towards reduction and abstraction. Frank Lloyd Wright’s concept of ‘organic architecture’ in which interior and exterior spaces flow into one another, for example, is reminiscent of the open structure of traditional Japanese houses. The interweaving of spatial design principles and processes of abstraction, which initially appeared in early Modernism as Japonisme, also provides the foundation for Sofie Thorsen’s exhibition at Galerie Krobath. Although Thorsen does not make explicit references to Modernism, the connection is undeniable given her use of linear principles. Formal affinities to Russian Constructivism and to contemporary approaches – such as that of Florian Pumhösl, who also works with a repertoire of Modernist forms – add to this impression.
In the exhibition, Thorsen combines graphic wall drawings with a series of large-format panels – Screen 1 (2014) and the triptych arrangement Screen 2, 3 and 4 (2014) – which paraphrased Japanese interior design: sparely furnished and divided by sliding doors and movable screens. The works in the Screen series leant against the wall, rather than being hung on it, and so partially covered the wall drawings behind them. Thorsen focused attention on the relationship between line and space. She deployed chalk lines – used primarily in interior design – to mark long straight lines used to produce the exhibited works. The wall drawings showed details of axonometric views of rooms, which Thorsen developed based on motifs she found on a Japanese screen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The panels positioned in front of them were covered in parallel lines whose density distinguishes them from the spare lines of the wall drawings. Here Thorsen is sounding out the line’s potential to depict both two-dimensional surfaces and three-dimensional space.
Several small, traditionally hung panels were – unlike the large-format works in the Screen series – positioned in strong reference to the wall paintings: in Raster (Grid, 2013), it was the recurring, overlapping lines of the axonometric drawing’s coordinate axes. Prominent among these smaller works was Test (2013), which displayed blurry lines – a by-product of Thorsen’s experimentations on another work – in contrast to the other works’ precisely applied ones. Elsewhere in the exhibition, a snapshot from a trip the artist took to Japan references the principle of horizontal stratification in Japanese design’s sense of space: the photograph reveals a view through a row of trees onto a landscape behind them.
In the exhibition, Thorsen brought her studies and other concrete material traces of her work process into view – the chalk line technique, too, ultimately served as an aid in the construction of the works. This became significant for the exhibition, supplementing the discourse of space and line with that of artist’s materials. The abstract language of Modernism, which resonated here was interpreted as a process always informed by the materials of production. However precise the artist’s work with chalk, chance nonetheless plays a role, as was clear in Test. The current trend towards digital media lends fresh relevance to the question of meaning and controllability of materials. Even if this perspective is not necessarily the exhibition’s focal point, it provides its strongest element.
Translated by Jane Yager