Inter Artes et Naturam

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© Courtesy of the artist & Nolan Judin
Inter Artes et Naturam

Potsdamer Strasse 83
10785 Berlin
November 17th, 2012 - January 12th, 2013
Opening: November 16th, 2012 6:00 PM - 9:00 PM

+49.30.39 40 48 40
Tuesday – Saturday 11.00 – 18.00 or by appointment


In 2008 Nolan Judin ded­icated the first exhi­bi­tion in their own exhi­bi­tion space, then on Hei­destrasse, to the Scottish poet, artist, and moral­ist Ian Hamilton Finlay, who had died two years earlier. We are extremely pleased to now pre­sent a number of important works by Finlay in our new space on Potsdamer Strasse. The title of the exhi­bi­tion Inter artes et nat­u­ram refers to a well-known mural by Pierre Puvis de Cha­vannes dat­ing from 1888-91. Finlay’s artis­tic explo­ration of the interre­la­tion­ship between nature and cul­ture is a theme runn­ing through­out his work. From the Pre-Socrat­ics to Rousseau’s nat­u­ral ide­al­ism, the French Rev­o­lu­tion, and neoclas­sicism, his inves­tiga­tion extends to the Third Reich and to the pre­sent.

Ian Hamilton Finlay first became known in the 1960s as an author of con­crete poetry. The typo­graph­ical order of letters and words were just as important to the poet as the tra­di­tional ele­ments of con­tent, rhythm, and rhyme—which pre­fig­ured his devel­op­ment as a visual artist. In addi­tion to exper­i­ments with the expres­sive pos­si­bil­i­ties of lan­guage, an inter­est in nature, the sec­ond major theme in Finlay’s work, emerged early on. In the late 1960s he began to ded­icate him­self to his cen­tral work, Lit­tle Sparta, a “poet’s gar­den” in the Pent­land Hills out­side of Edinburgh. This unusual Gesamtkunst­w­erk is a mix­ture of tra­di­tional English landscape archi­tec­ture, avant-garde art and poetry (full of puns and irony), and an irrev­er­ence for the conven­tions of moder­nity.

In addi­tion to this gar­den, over the course of 30 years Finlay cre­ated a complex and wide-rang­ing oeuvre, of which his work on and with lan­guage forms the core. There is no hier­ar­chy in top­ics or techniques and mate­r­i­als employed. Common to all his works is his inci­sive abil­ity to combine lin­guis­tic reduc­tion and visual spar­ing­ness. Some of his most successful works are based on the impact of a sin­gle word or the grad­ual mod­ifica­tion and transforma­tion of one object.

At the center of our exhi­bi­tion are a number of works painted directly on the wall. The large work SF (1978/2005) shows the muta­tion of two “s” letters over the course of eight steps—ini­tially appear­ing in the old Ger­man script, in which they look like two “f” shapes, and finally taking the form of the well-known dou­ble thun­derbolt of the SS emblem. The progres­sion of the type­face is revealed here as the devel­op­ment, or dec­line, of the cul­ti­va­tion and enlight­en­ment of the 18th century, when the old Ger­man script was in use, into the barbariza­tion of the Third Reich. In 1941 Hitler passed a decree that banned the so-called Gothic scripts (for exam­ple the pop­u­lar Sütterlin script).” How­ever, for many the old Fraktur script virtu­ally embod­ies the Third Reich. In SF, Finlay is con­cerned with the interre­la­tion­ship between nature and cul­ture: too much cul­ture destroys nature, but if one allows nature to take its course, inevitably some­thing wild and “inhuman” surfaces—which is here rep­re­sented by the SS. In the wall paint­ing 3 Bann­ers (1990-92) the curved blade of a scythe is transformed into a thun­derbolt. For this imagery Finlay was inspired by a text by the fiery preacher Abra­ham a Santa Clara (1644-1709), in which the Grim Reaper is described as a bolt of lightn­ing, which strikes the straw hut and the palace alike. Related to this work is the object/sculp­ture Sickle/Lightn­ing Flash (1990): four scythes with blades that have mutated into lightn­ing bolts. The rare silkscreen Birken (1996) is based on one of the famous images of the 1936 Nurem­berg Rally. The beams of light com­ing from the flak search­lights look like tree trunks. Below Finlay quotes the lines “Es blüht der Lenz...” (“Spring is blos­som­ing...”) by Heinrich Heine, in which the poet makes an iron­ically intoned state­ment against mental coercion and censor­ship.

The excerpts from war and National Social­ism that repeat­edly appear in Finlay’s works some­times perturbed his admir­ers and con­sis­tently pro­voked his crit­ics. When artists address National Social­ism they tend to nav­igate the fine line between aes­theti­za­tion and demo­niza­tion. The lat­ter causes us to view the crimes committed by the Nazis as acts beyond any norm of human behav­ior, thus allow­ing our belief in the good of humankind to remain intact. But Finlay refuses to assume this comfort­ing posi­tion. His inter­est in war is not a glo­rifica­tion of vio­lence but the con­scious confronta­tion between vio­lence and idyll. In many of his works he ele­vated the simultane­ity of the two to a nat­u­ral principle, while explor­ing the ques­tion whether nature does not exist in a per­ma­nent state of war.

The exhi­bi­tion Inter artes et nat­u­ram pre­sents five wall paint­ings (carried out by sign painter Les Edge, one of Finlay’ long­stand­ing collab­o­rators), a sculp­ture, and nine prints. It is on view through Jan­u­ary 12. Runn­ing almost the same time is the Tate Britain’s homage to Ian Hamilton Finlay with a show in the Duveen Gal­ler­ies, which is pre­sent­ing 24 works from the museum’s own hold­ings. A comprehen­sive group of works by Finlay that have been included in this year’s Sao Paulo Biennale were met with great crit­ical acclaim (on view until Decem­ber).