Great Unresolved Cases

text by Bettina Carl , 2007, published in catalogue Förderkohle, 2007 and in "second",
2008 © Bettina Carl, 2007

Ina Bierstedt explores the lyrical potential of painting. Given that the medium has been freed of its formerly representational functions, painting itself becomes the source and the motif of her landscapes, instead of a reference to real or reproduced spaces. On her canvases Bierstedt combines numerous layers of paint, fields of colour and figurative elements. Constructing highly complex spatial relationships, the artist questions the limits of her medium in the process. Textures and surfaces blossom into fabrics. Forcing oil and acrylics to coexist, she then waits to see what compound effect these chemical adversaries will have on her canvas. Paint also gets splashed around, and smeared or alternately applied with a very fine brush to create tidy little realistic depictions within the painting.

Bierstedt’s images are scenarios; her pictures do not tell stories. However, there is plenty of action. Some controversy is always being plotted, and the occasional cease-fire never lasts for long. Any silence is only a moment of pause before or after catastrophe strikes, because one senses that turmoil can break out again at any time. Wherever one finds a space where the gaze could come to rest for a while, the surface suddenly gets sucked into a whirlpool. A carefully rendered tree could be snapped in two by a merciless mountain range and then tossed out of the picture altogether. The force of gravity is completely absent in Bierstedt’s paintings; it is impossible to really set foot on such unreliable ground. Forms remain uncertain and emerge out of separate, unattached components. Whenever they do seem to consolidate, one still senses it may all soon fall apart again and disappear.

One might expect that such components would inevitably lead to declamatory and overly expressive spectacle-like compositions. Have we lost our way? Have we, along with the artist, gotten stuck in the thick mud of German romanticism? Bierstedt does, in fact, draw on this tradition. More precisely, however, her work is in line with a romantic attitude that expressly maintains an ironic distance to its own frenetic creations. The artist is able to keep this distance because she handles her visual material with utmost accuracy. For example, when borrowing the methods of Art Informel painters, she is never tempted to evoke a retro-mood. She applies expressive gestures or plays on the materiality of colour so that these abstract elements can equally play their part on the canvas along with representational images. And in the middle of an “informel” nowhere, one suddenly encounters narrative, humorous details: for example, miniature architectural elements, which have been copied meticulously from magazines for model train aficionados. While, on the one hand, they contextualize their surroundings as “nature,” on the other, they provide comic relief and therefore emphasise the artificial, theatrical character of the painting.

Looking at a landscape painted by Ina Bierstedt, one has the feeling of finding clues to a mysterious case. One senses that something disquieting has happened - something, however, that cannot be denominated. Drama is present, but only as an after-effect, as a sense of danger and disorientation. Yet Bierstedt's paintings do not entail pathos. They are rather small, for one thing, and they forgo the use of high dark-and-light contrast. For this reason, it is often hard to discern whether her scenarios take place during the day or at night. Her use of colour is subtle but tends to be rather turbid and bitter. Although particularly her recent works have a strong rhythmical quality, in the end, these pictures are silent.

Painting is the result—but also the medium—of a process, and this is very tangible in Bierstedt's images. Although the paintings unfold beyond linear narrative structures, their multiple layers of paint, stratified with an interwoven web of strokes, tell of the dimensions of time. In this sense, Bierstedt's paintings are like unusual stages that allow actors to play out different scenes in parallel, in the foreground and in the background. Albeit, what may appear to be simultaneous is always subject to a painting's laws of causality and contingency. Thus, Bierstedt's art remains highly ambiguous, and this is the source of its deeply felt intensity.

Bettina Carl

Translated by Bettina Carl

Bettina Carl works as an artist, curator, author and lecturer in Zürich and Berlin