Entering Torsten Lauschmann’s recent solo show, the first thing you saw was the stuffed peacock. The colours seemed unnaturally bright – although in fact they have a peculiar iridescence that chemical pigments could never replicate. This is because the fantastic green, gold and blue of the feathered eyespots is generated by an interference effect, depending on the viewer’s position and the angle of light. Above the peacock hung a work entitled Self-Portrait as a Pataphysical Object (2006), a kind of chandelier fashioned from audio adapters and cables with a single small bulb at the centre. Although not a beautiful object in itself, pataphysics – ‘the science of imaginary solutions’ referenced in the title – enveloped this exhibition of quizzical objects, drawings, films and Polaroid photographs.
In the essay ‘Pataphysics: A Religion in the Making’ (1961) Asger Jorn wrote that the theme of contradiction underpinning much pataphysics had served to confirm that ‘the possibilities of art and the absurd are many’. Certainly this is a dictum that could be used to describe Lauschmann’s practice; a German-born, Glasgow-based artist who trained as a photographer, he has performed as a VJ and solar-powered busker known as Slender Whiteman, designs software and websites, and has made an elegiac film about the phenomenological investigation of the street lamp’s function in consumer society (Misshapen Pearl, 2003). His Internet campaign World Jump Day (2005), conducted under the moniker Professor Hans Peter Niesward from the Institute for Gravitational Physics in Munich, was an attempt to reverse global warming through a synchronized single jump across the globe. The scope of his work can also telescope from the global to the domestic – most poignantly in Mother and Child (2004), the extremely intimate film he made of his partner (the artist Cathy Wilkes) and their infant son while they slept. Lauschmann also seems at least partially motivated by a desire not to do what is expected of him. Responding to a recent invitation to perform at a meeting of the Glasgow arts collective Caravan Club, he surprised the assembled audience by appearing dressed as a caveman and proceeding to bake bread in a hole in the ground.
Interference, in all its various meanings, is a significant term in thinking about Lauschmann’s work. It appears in the title of one of the works in this exhibition, Interference, Even (2006), a loop of a girl adopting a gymnastic pose, which Lauschmann appropriated from a nameless French art house film. The girl holds an extended crab posture, resting her elbows on the floor and scribbling endlessly in a tiny white notebook. The interference mentioned in the title describes the way in which the scene has been dislocated from its original context but also articulates the physical impossibility of her position. The use of the word ‘even’ aligns the girl with Marcel Duchamp’s Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (1915–23), a reference reinforced by the nearby drawing of a boy entitled Marcel (2006). This found image depicts a boy dressed in peasant garb, suspended in mid-air over a giant spoon. Trailing from the boy’s finger is a three-dimensional triangular toy, inked in by Lauschmann. The theme of playful disruption continued in a group of Polaroid photographs (Polaroids No. 3, No. 8 and No. 20, all 2005) taken in Lauschmann’s home. Childish detritus was evoked in images of a pink balloon resting vertically on a wooden floor and of small handprints on a window, luminous against a night sky.
Projected onto an oversized old-fashioned blackboard was The Mathematician (Pal Erdös) (2006), an animation developed to accompany a soundtrack of excerpts from a documentary about the celebrated mathematician Pal Erdös. Lauschmann has envisaged Erdös as a face made of numbers: his glasses are an infinity sign, within which a plus sign and a minus operate as forlornly blinking eyes. The pliant white numerals, which stretch, recede and extend on the black background, are mesmerizing in themselves but also serve to displace the extra-linguistic body language that might make Erdös’ strong accent easier to understand. The difficulty in understanding what is being said results in interpretations that are gathered slowly or not at all – as with Erdös’ re-telling of the nursery rhyme ‘Jack and Jill’ as ‘Sam and Joe’.
The curious thing about this exhibition was that the atmosphere created by the various pieces exceeded the effect of each work individually. On leaving the gallery the visitor might have had the pleasant feeling described by the pataphysical motto, ‘I arise again, the same though changed’.