by Josefine Hübler

Markus Oehlen is a painter, musician and sculptor. While studying at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf he already developed a strong interest in the cross-over of various media. Alongside the conjunction of printing techniques, photography graphics and painting on canvas, he transferred these parameters and their visual idioms into the three-dimensional and digital space, creating a distinctive visual language.

By implementing ironic references of either political issues or imaginative fantasies he reflects on contemporary discourses in a sublime matter. Since 2002, he has been a professor of painting and graphic design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where he has lived and worked ever since. Along with his brother Albert Oehlen and Martin Kippenberger, he is one of the main protagonists of the “Neue Wilde”, who, from the early 1980s onwards, turned away from the suppressive intellectual constraints that prevailed throughout the 1970s within the art world in a nonchalant and playful spirit through an abundance of imagery, visual storytelling, materials and colours. Ohlen’s education as a dessinateur and his deep attachment to music by playing drums in various bands profoundly shaped his approach to crafting art. His work method is informed by the overlapping and blending of multiple printmaking techniques, often featuring bright colours, screen-printing grids and elements of tie-dyes and pop-cultural artefacts.

Since 1995, Markus Oehlen has been experimenting with reproductive techniques based on the idea that “more is more” and integrating them in collage form into his works. By then, graphic solutions for a spatial representation in the digital image were already being developed in computing. Oehlen was intrigued by tackling the principle of cluttering, the rigorous repetition and criss-crossing of lines and paths, figurative elements and motifs, culminating in a mesh-like structure and thus formulating a new pictorial language. Thus, reality seems to condense in them as a shimmering simulacrum.

Oehlen is concerned with consciously setting himself apart from the familiar, which is expressed in his incessant urge to try things out and experiment. He thereby aims for a dialogue between elements such as photocopy, letterpress, drawing, pattern and audio. The result is a playful engagement with old materials and new techniques and vice versa.

This echoes well the data avalanche created by the internet, which inexorably and mercilessly compresses and links, reveals and preserves everything you create online. It happens quite often that artists are being categorized or classified in genres that consequently impose an artistic corset on them and thus envelop their works in limitations. Oehlen’s plan is to “circumnavigate” these boxes in order to secure his experimental freedom. His artworks are indeed responses to the standardized values of conservative ideas and feature complex pop-cultural inscriptions. Following the tradition of Dada and Fluxus, he strongly focuses on the dismantling of traditional notions of art.

The evolution of the presented collection of 9 video pieces first began five years ago, when Markus Oehlen was unable to pursue his usual artistic practice for health reasons. The artworks are not intended to be understood as a series, but rather convey a state of mind than a concept per se. ‘Confined’ to bed, he searched for alternatives and experimented with several video programmes and scanning options of his printer. The repeated compulsion to isolate caused by the global pandemic is reflected in numerous aspects of the videos.

While titles such as “1975 QUADGE 2” or “STUDIO VISIT 4 98:20” serve as ironic analogies, contextual references also hint towards pandemic demands for new forms of representation of artworks and artists through online studio visits, zoom meetings or face time conversations.

His use of materials dates back to the 1970s, from which Oehlen transforms various drawings through intense photo-copying into something characterised by distortion, warping and twisting that is then contextual supported by sound. While his paintings, executed in pastose style, tend to generate an effect of being digital, he is now playing with the creation of an audio-visual painting in digital space. It resembles a series of television programmes that constantly illustrate new frequency-like narratives, thus throwing the focus back on the individual in isolation. These video pieces reflect on the data overload and the power of information during the digital age. This became particularly evident in Lockdown. Our senses are entangled by the data vortex, disrupting, dissolving, decoupling and disintegrating our identity into myriad elemental parts whirling around. Similar to a perpetual image noise generated by the image and audio formulation of Oehlen’s video works. With the use of sound frames, he allows his comments to be expressed in a condensed visual form. Just as data and sensory overload seem to crack our heads, the video works scratch, tear, contradict and deform without losing their focus on purpose. It almost seems as if we have to ask ourselves how disruptive the evolution of NFT will be to our thinking. Especially in relation to digital art production and representation.

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