Barbara Höller’s critical engagement with space, the overlaying of surfaces, grids and linear structures, principles of randomness and consistent linear systems, movements and vibrations is founded on the characteristics of concrete art and carries within it elements of Op Art. Her way of working both formally and in regard to content has exceptional consequences – the aforementioned aspects have been defining for the stringent further development of the work group of the last four years.
Drawings made in 2016 an belonging to the Interferenzen [Interferences] series are in black pigment liner or Indian ink and, chronologically speaking, are also the beginning of the work group in which Höller examines the so-called moiré effect that arises where finely delineated grid structures overlap. The artist lays from two to four hatchings on top of each other at acute angles so as to open up four or five hexagonal spatial structures. These can be understood as references to architectonic formations that break through our customary perceptual limitations and challenge our ways of seeing. The subsequent silkscreen series Vibration Research (2018) then employs a number of colours in order to achieve the surprising effects that these structural overlays produce. Ultimately, the overall impression here is more atmospheric and softer than with the high-contrast black-and-white works. As the title might suggest, Höller regards her series as research work that examines the artistic potential of the optical interference patterns or moiré effect. Her linear structures are transferred to a screen and printed three or four times, each successive print run being given a slight turn or shift. The results are complex interference patterns which engender fascinating visual impressions.
The large-scale wall installation, Interferencija, in the Labin City Library in Croatia in 2017 was the first occasion when Barbara Höller translated the unsettling effects of the moiré effect into a installation using adhesive tapes. Worth noting here is that the dimensions of these wall pieces always relate to the site specific architectural situation. Two years later, as part of an exhibition, she expanded the work group by an additional facet by making use of an unused glass vitrine some meters in length as a temporary pictorial surface. Once again she used coloured adhesive tape to produce the allegedly vibrating patterns. From the perspective of the viewer’s peripheral vision and their rapidly changing position while walking through the Hallway in Pink (2019), what is actually a static installation appears to be in motion. This is due to the combination of reflections in the glass and seeing through the glass to the wall and the shadows projected onto it by the grid structures. The vitrine, an empty and almost ignored piece of furniture, takes on a new spatial character. Höller has repeatedly worked with both glass and the modularity principle – in the White Noise cycle (2019) and the four-part, variable wall object, Yada Yada Yada (2019), for example. Although in the latter there is no narrow adhesive tape to impart dynamism to the wall, there is a projected shadow that comes from the double-sided printing of grid structures on a glass surface. Just as in the above-mentioned vitrine installation “time”, “motion” and “space” already play a role because of the effect of the shadows and the active “passing-by”, the adjustable wall object also engages with these three aspects: “The object is dedicated to the endless simulation of motion. ( . . . ) If the order is maintained, the first part can always been placed at the end – but the tapes always find their continuance and supplement each other,” explains the artist in a short text about her work.
In the process of using the adhesive tape and developing the related installation Höller began to take notice of the in-between areas that remained free – separated from the surface – which she then defined as interstitial space. Höller deals with the various aspects of the characteristics of the term “interstitial space”. Here, she is not only concerned with architectural and physical approaches but also with the interpretation of the term as a potential space or room for manoeuvre in which social interaction takes place, the personal or structural parameters are explored or new technical possibilities for digital transformation are opened up.
In series such as Plac (2018), Drift (2018), Arrow (2018/19) and Driften (2019) she again takes up the formal aspect of the tapes which have optically receded into being white linear structures in paint. In contrast, the interstitial spaces are vertically structured, divided into segments or moved to the centre of events as arrow-like, asymmetrical rhomboids with coloured accents. Seen from a distance, they constitute a diffuse illusions of depth.
In Driften (2019), the artist engages with virtual space when the physical limitations and laws of our earthly world no longer apply. In the realm of the internet, which is subject to permanent change and has no claim to permanency, nothing is unequivocal, nothing as it seems to be. Being prepared to continually adjust to new circumstances, to look at matters from various sides so as to be able to correctly categorise media-processed information, is reflected in Höller’s flexible and simultaneously very definitely well-considered and systematically constructed pictures.
Metaphorically speaking, a further aspect of this picture series is that it throws light on the speed of information transfer in the context of digital processes. If paging through files or swiping the display of tablets or smartphones results in digital pictures breaking down into rhomboids shortly before they disappear, then the speed of digital information transfer and processes of communication is transformed – if only for a fraction of a second – into a visual image. While in the digital world spatial categories now only have a virtual character, Höller attempts to capture and preserve these areas as interstitial spaces.
Human perception, motion, space, openness and ambiguity are themes are repeatedly found in the artist’s work. Knowing that various modular methods are being used, it is almost automatic that that the viewer feels a need to mentally re-position or re-order the individual parts of the artworks. This phenomenon is generally known as “mental rotation”, a term borrowed from experimental psychology. It refers to the ability to perceive two- or three-dimensional objects and to (mentally) turn them and/or to set them in new constellations. On its own, this device of mental rearrangement is enough for Höller to be able to give space a dynamic and a rhythm. In our minds we organise our thoughts as a chronological process of movement: which part of the work can I reposition and where such that the alteration of the composition still allows the pre-defined interface elements to meet without problems in the (new) overall picture?
In 2017, so as to be able to create reduced spatial structures with only a few thin lines, Höller began to bring two phenomena together in the picture series Flow Down and Trail – gravity, which follows the fixed laws of physics and the principle of chance which, as an event is neither quantifiable nor predictable nor is it guided by intention.
Instead of large-scale stretchers covered with the usual linen (canvas), Höller uses a polyester fabric which she considers to be better for her purposes because of its smoother surface. Silvie Aigner has vividly described Höller’s work process as follows: “The edge of the painting is marked with dots at predetermined intervals of approximately five centimetres. Once again the point becomes the start of a line which, following the laws of gravity, stretches across the whole picture. The point is where the artist places the colour spray and applies the paint. This means that the allegedly straight line – as it would be drawn by a straight edge – is actually an uncontained trickle that is not subject to constraints.”  The picture support is subsequently turned a number of times and mounted on the wall in various suitable positions. The thin acrylic paint mix, which has been developed from many practical tests, always flows vertically downwards subject to the laws of gravity. Where the paint encounters a line of colour which has already dried, it may follow its course for a shorter or longer distance before eventually succumbing to gravity’s call and continuing its vertical journey. Coincidence creates the route of the lines and thereby creates an unpredictable filigree net covering the entire pictorial space in a subtly three-dimensional structure.
Although Höller is conscious of the factors influencing the work, she cannot control them. This means the end product is always – and usually – surprising. The trick is that the chance changes of direction of the paint flow generates an effect on the image which cannot be predetermined by the artist- This conscious decision to incorporate chance as a principle for creating order enriches Höller’s generally participative approach by yet another facet.
In Höller’s most recent series of pictures entitled Copy (2019), recognition is limited to details of geometric surfaces that form spatial structures in conjunction with companion pieces in contrasting colours. Referencing the square form of the picture support, the artist operates here with squares which, because of their distorted perspectives, are not immediately recognisable as such. The phenomenon of mental rotation finds an echo here in some of the works. A nuanced observation of the formal language is necessary in order to detect parallels in the structures that – as in the Shift series – plays with the effects of light and shadow. In Copy, a slight misalignment of the equal-area black-and-white or green-and-grey coloured areas create imaginary spatial distances. A closer look reveals that Höller first painted the dark square before, in a second step, laying a lighter copy over that. This then forms a subtle, but nevertheless clearly visible, fine edge in relief which draws attention to the spatial overlay.
Starting out from the moiré drawings and their vibrating and cosmic fields of energy and moving on to the wall installations executed with wide adhesive tape and the further exploration of the so-called interstitial spaces, Barbara Höller’s works have systematically become increasingly involved in the details – down to the smallest possible units: asymmetrical rhomboids that have been transformed into slits and elevated to the point where they become a formative size and able to constitute space. Perhaps a search for similarities or analogous relationships in everyday life, society, politics and nature? A search for the mirroring of the macrocosm in the microcosm and vice versa? In any case, we are dealing with an art that is exploratory, one with the processes of perception at its core.
Hartwig Knack ist Kunsthistoriker und freir Kurator und lebt in der Nähe von Wien.