When looking up the definition of a word in the dictionary and then the ones that define it, one can jump from one place to another indefinitely. Words differ and at the same time, depend on each other in an endless semiotic circle. Meaning is always postposed and can be traversed like a discontinuous landscape that never ends. A landscape of interweaving paths, colliding references and expanding echoes…
In Rasmus Nilausen’s new exhibition at L21 titled ‘Watchwords 1’, his paintings are like those dictionary definitions between which one can jump endlessly. The title deals with the idea of perception and communication where painting expresses itself freely as a medium with a wide range of perspectives. Meanwhile, the exhibition room becomes a discontinuous landscape filled with quotes and references to the history of painting and thought, from mythology to the work of Titian Vecellio (1490-1576).
The term ‘différance’ coined by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, precisely describes this experience: “the movement according to which language, or any code, any system of repetitions in general, is constituted “historically” as a network of differences 2.” As its pronunciation is indistinguishable from the French word différence, it is a purely graphic term.
Homonyms – words that sound alike but have different meanings – are divided on a practical level into homophones, with the same pronunciation, and homographs, with identical spelling. This opens an interesting field of confusion in which, in some cases, only the eye can identify the intention. This inevitably brings the language of words closer to the visual language of painting.
The reflection in the mirror held by two angels in front of Titian’s well-known Venus, expands and overflows the space of the canvas with rapid, intuitive gestures. The mirror-quote makes it possible to work from a historical tradition, instead of starting from scratch over and over again, as in the case of Sisyphus’ amnesia.
Sisyphus working from home
In his eternal and divine punishment, Sisyphus pushes a huge rock up a mountainside every day. Before he reaches the top, the rock will fall again in an absurd process that lasts forever. In recent times, this mythological character has also embraced remote work and refers precisely to an activity based on repetition, that which must be done over and over again without ever ending. Is not painting, in its dynamics of doing and undoing, finishing, and starting again, also related to this absurd and strangely happy process?
The experimental study of phenomena attempts to unveil the mysteries of matter. Carrying out a process of transmutation, becoming something else from already existing elements – the mirror reappears on the canvas, emerging from the background of rhythmic black brushstrokes. A twisted flask contains the magic of the pictorial process, visible in the studio, but often overlooked in the exhibition’s ultimate form.
The process is also like an expansive echo that manifests itself in different canvases. In “Echo” the veiled reference to Titian returns in the magnanimous form of the lion of Venice. It is a canvas-sculpture – a fresco with textured edges in which the choice of materials is that which allows one to make more and better mistakes, to be able to edit and intervene as the painting progresses.
In “Echo System” it is the quotation marks that becomes matter. Inverted Latin commas and reddish lines connect the two bodies of this diptych while prolonging its visual sound on the gallery wall, inserting it into a large system of coordinates.
From Munch’s dreams to the intersection between body and language. There is a sudden awakening in the realisation that we are made of words and images nearly as much as flesh and bones. Deep blue inverted commas are growing feet that anchor them to the ground. Or perhaps the walking feet become a quote midway along the route. Spaced repetition – the very act of walking.
These interconnected quotations allow Rasmus Nilausen to play with and explore the narrative in painting. The exhibition is thus composed as an infinite text that invites reading and solidifies thought in action. The pilcrow mark, once used to indicate the end or beginning of a paragraph, encourages us to walk in other directions, to look for new definitions, to resume motion, to start over again.
1. noun efficiency in all things was the watchword: guiding principle, slogan, motto, maxim, axiom, mantra, truism, catchword, catchphrase, catchline, sound bite, byword, battle/rallying cry, formula, refrain, saying; informal buzzword.
2. Derrida, Jacques. “La diferencia / [Différance]”. ARCIS, 1968. Page 11.
Esmeralda Gómez Galera