Flowers in faded hues, sprays of color, whirling, strewn and condensed into forms. A feast for the eye. Plunging into the painting, and the next and the next, we abandon ourselves to the swirling currents, carried by the rhythms of growth and the pulsation of color and form. Just float and stay receptive to the present moment: Karin Pliem’s painting gives rise to this state without the aid of anything but its own natural spirit. It gives us a buzz, both in the sense of intoxication and of an acoustic phenomenon, in which vibrations and interferences condense into lines and patterns, into figurative constellations, only to dissolve again into color as material, into painting. Everything has found its place and solidified in the painted surface of an artwork, where drying oils fix the vegetative, the animal, the sculptural within the surrounding park, among overgrown buildings that have yielded themselves to nature.
In the midst of all this painted floral splendor, one could well think of a dreaming faun, when opaque surfaces suddenly open, and gesturally rendered forms become visible as dabbed traces of color. Karin Pliem sets colors and forms against one another, building up layers, as if mingled background surfaces were oscillating between opacity and transparency. Undulant colors bloom within the interwoven surface of lines, transforming the canvas with their meandering as veins traverse skin, bearing the traces of flows and contact. Shimmering bodies emerge from the rough canvas that surround them, freeing themselves and ascending to the surface and into visibility. The works appear veiled and misty, out of focus, and yet this quality corresponds intimately with the incisive focus of the wandering gaze, which seeks points of orientation, there, where pure painting suddenly veers into forms that can be interpreted objectively.
And what happens when we have again come to our senses, and see the paintings merely as profane showpieces on display? When the dreaming faun has proven to be just a passing gust of wind that moved the leaves and grasses in a buzz of whispers and breathing nature? When with the return of a waking state, the vision shows itself to have been condensed nature on textile membrane: blot, impression, smear, veined surface, trickle, sprinkle...? Are these nothing more than outlined forms, line traces bundling together droplike flower petals? Without waiting for an answer, the paintings begin to enthrall us once more, shimmering in the background, as if they were bouncing up against a semitransparent surface. Colors, captured with quick gestures and framed in red, blue and yellow, form a contrast of tender hues against fuller, defining strokes of paint. Flowers coalesce into whirling chromatic floral surfaces, an undercurrent of color flowing toward a vortex... and one is tempted to disappear with one’s whole body into this frothing surf of color and tactile stimuli, were it not for something else, something less rapturous captured with all this rapture: what else shows itself here? Flesh, the animal, the unclean, that which we perceive in the depths, under the membrane of our skin, in the darkness of the body’s inner reaches. This something else becomes interpretable and shows itself to be a paradox: that which drives us to swarm out abuzz in the rush to share in the dizzy revelry of these intoxicating nectars has its dark center in the frozen terror of the reverse side of the life celebrated with vivacious exuberance in these paintings.
Taking a step back to the spot where the works are seen once more as a series of individual paintings, we see fading colors – various stages of blooming, wilting, collapsing in brittle dryness. Dust, dispersed pollen and disintegrating bodies against a rough background of squiggled brushstrokes. The looping garlands are merely paint sloughed off against woven canvas, traces of motion left by Karin Pliem’s painting utensils. Or are they not perhaps traces of pigment left by bodies that have long since disappeared into the distance, pigment residues of the flight of a butterfly that passed, accompanying the dreaming faun and leaving with a brush of its wings a MEMENTO MORI, a trace of time pulverized beyond form into dust and pigment?
Through the alchemy of paint-making, dust becomes formable matter, colors that Karin Pliem uses to interweave temporal life and visual imagery. Thus in her paintings we also have another pattern of time’s cyclical course before our eyes: the cycle of day and night. This is the unit of time that makes the larger cycles, the seasons for instance, experienceable, the cycles that are more closely linked to the natural cycles of growth and decay. We swing out, over the abyss of the other side and of finite time, animated by the exuberance of life, of glowing red and yellow darkening into violet shadows, invigorated. We stride through generously painted blossoms, their petals freshly wet by the dew. They gleam ephemerally, as if water had swirled into a floral texture, with paint being an aggregate state of this fluid, collected and stored, densely wrapped up in lines so that it can defy the barren desiccation of transience. We swing out, flying high and seeing from above the art, the painting of Karin Pliem, which in every moment also thematizes the conditions of its own functioning.
* * Translated from German by Christopher Barber.
First published in: Karin Pliem: Symbiotic Unions, Hohenems–Wien–Vaduz: Bucher Verlag 2016, pp. 34-35.
This text appeared there in advance of its publication in lengthier form in: Graf&Zyx Foundation (ed.), Karin Pliem / Boris Kopeinig. Strategische Komplemente II, Neulengbach: TANK 203.3040.AT, 2017.
© 2016 Kurt Kladler, Graf&Zyx Foundation, Bucher Verlag 2016