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Svenja Deininger presents a new body of work comprising more than 40 paintings at Vienna's Secession
Svenja Deininger, Echo of a Mirror Fragment, exhibition view, Secession 2017, Photo: Markus Wörgötter.

VIENNA.- Svenja Deininger regards painting as a process: she does not consider her pictures, on which she often works over long periods of time, to be self-contained entities. The process of creating an image rather serves to stimulate reflection and acts as a mental continuation of a form or composition – the imagining of the future picture and how it is located in a spatial context are thus essential elements of the artistic process. As if working on a text the artist elaborates and polishes the syntax of her art. She considers her works to be parts of a system that require their interrelations to be analysed whenever they encounter one another. She alternates large and small format pictures and by means of combining and positioning them in a space she creates a tension, which, together with her range of shapes, results in a ‘Deiningerian idiom’.

For her show Echo of a Mirror Fragment in the main exhibition space of the Secession, Svenja Deininger has created a new body of work comprising more than 40 paintings. Inspired by the unique architecture of the Secession, with its peculiar tension between the floral ornaments of the facade on the one hand and the astonishingly austerely designed exhibition space with its clear lines on the other, the new paintings echo this contrast by juxtaposing straight lines reminiscent of architectural blue-prints with more organic elements: rounded shapes, wavy lines and curves, in which, despite their fragmentary character, there is even a faint suggestion of figurative representation.

Two of her pieces refer in a straightforward manner to the building’s architecture, specifically to a detail that is no longer visible and is probably largely forgotten: the unusual shape and the positioning of two small round paintings call to mind the two round windows which, in the course of the renovation of the Secession in 1985/86, were placed in the entrance wall of the main exhibition space, only to disappear again a few years later.

The strict symmetry of the building, especially the floor plan of the show room with the two aisles, prompted Deininger to paint a series of ‘mirror images,’ where the basic pattern of one painting will reappear in a modified way – e.g. left-right-reversed or upside-down – in another painting. These echoes, together with the individual colouration and treatment of the surfaces, elicit fresh interpretations by enabling the artist to create an interplay between the pictures. This intention is further underlined by the exhibition design – devised by Deininger herself –, which features two narrow openings to the aisles and is generally aimed at directing the viewer’s gaze. As in earlier works, the artist iterates various compositions and forms in different formats. Thus, large-format paintings are apt to reveal themselves as close-ups of details from small format paintings and vice versa. The free play of combining various forms their blanks (there is a pronounced focus on what is not represented in and between the paintings) yields ever-new perspectives.

Deininger’s works, keeping a fine balance between abstraction and subtle gestures at figuration, are characterised as much by their idiosyncratic composition as by their layered texture. The artist’s work method corresponds to her interest in endowing the flat canvas with a spatiality and a materiality that oscillates between the concrete and the vague.

Due to the alternating application and removal of multiple layers of primer and colour coatings, lines and forms appear to inhabit different planes of the painting – what is in front of the surface and what is behind it seem to be in constant flux. In an elaborate work process, the artist removes or reduces in places the dried paint by means of multiple sandings or strippings only to proceed by applying new layers of colour, some opaque, some translucent. In many of her pictures parts of the canvas are left blank. Deininger thus draws the viewer’s attention to the painting support: the canvas itself becomes a compositional instrument, while the colour and character of the fabric assume the function of design elements. In this reduced colour palette, it is mainly white (in many different shades) that sets the tone. The artist contrasts delicate colour gradients with accentuated lines and edges; dark shapes immersed in shadows are placed alongside radiant and vibrant colour fields.

The artist book designed by Svenja Deininger does not feature reproductions of her paintings. Instead she decided to include in the book assorted photos, graphic drawings, cut-outs and associative texts by Agatha Jastrzabek and arrange these elements in a rhythmic sequence that allows for a more expanded understanding of her artistic production. Leafing through the book one is confronted with many elements that also crop up in her new paintings: doublings (or what seem to be such); playful manipulations of complementary opposites such as up/down, positive/negative, close/far; layers as vertical stripes; minimal visual shifts that evoke motion and the passage of time; etc. The artist book can thus be read as a catalogue of shapes, colours and ideas or as a kind of pattern book that documents Deininger’s artistic methods.

Svenja Deininger, born in 1974 in Vienna, lives and works in Vienna.

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