Places where there is more

Between painting, object and installation

The recent works of Gilta Jansen, born 1979, are rarely confined to a small format. The development in her work over the past four years portrays a trend from filling a wall to filling a room, from two-dimensional to three-dimensional. Many pieces are concepts that are made specifically for the particular space they occupy and are therefore only physically and sensually experienceable for the duration of the exhibition. These ephemeral structures self-consciously and competently explore the limitations and possibilities of painting, objects and installation. Jansen’s compositions always create a connection between the aesthetic experience and ones own corporeity, the perception of space and the visual world she constructs.

Many of Gilta Jansen’s pieces possess a certain element of ambiguity, due partly to her nigh on minimalist methods and the narrative content of the titles. In the indeterminacy of things, a multitude of possible associations open up, which the viewer can explore and discover for themselves. Jansen avoids the danger of arbitrariness by harmonising the qualities of the space, the choice of materials and the dimensions and proportions of the graphical elements in her compositions, placing them in a dialogue with one another. Jansen’s works should be understood as sensually perceivable ‘thought spaces’, in which the viewer is an integral part.

Re: sensual. Taking an overview of her oeuvre to date, it is worth noting a high level of haptic content in the work: rough/smooth, artificial/natural, soft/hard, round/angular. Is this just playing opposites off one another? It would appear much more as if Jansen wants to seduce the viewer with the pleasures of sensual attraction that arise out of these differences. The viewer’s gaze sweeps with relish over forms and colours. The works deftly enthral and seduce the eyes of the beholder. When the curator and art historian Jean-Christoph Amman spoke of works with a high level of seductive potential, then he was surely thinking of works that are, in essence, similar to Jansen’s.

The use of the term seduction can be understood in the sense of a promise that proclaims something more. And sure enough – whoever is taken in by the beauty of the surface is left to their own expectations. However, by immersing ourselves in the pictorial language and following the leads given we can break through into the deeper meaning of that which is represented, to the more. This transition is almost stealthy. It is the subtle nature of the materials that leads the viewer to another receptive level, almost without noticing it. Jansen manages to create a scene with two different perceptive levels to it with a striking economy of means. More often than not it is an area of morbid insinuation and critical scrutiny of our own life styles that opens up under the beautiful, sensually alluring surface.


Surface Areas. Spatial Painting

There are many references to Jansen’s biography to be found, even if they are encoded. Real spaces from the artist’s surroundings are translated into the virtual space, taking on a new image-reality. She is a collector of the visual impressions from her life, from her travels and from various social circles, which she then transforms into new narratives. A level of abstraction is prerequisite in creating a dissociated, anonymised view that allows for general statements, as is the case with the room installation X Life: My only 1 and only L (2005).

This piece in the exhibition “Plattform II” at the Kunstverein Hannover occupied a small room that was cut-off from the rest of the exhibition. This fact itself creates a certain intimacy between the work and the viewer. Jansen strengthens this feeling with a semi-transparent blind that blurs the scenery in the background like a fog, making it somehow mysterious. The powerful green surfaces in the foreground and the way in which the edges are cut is reminiscent of lush meadows and vegetation. Fabrics with green and blue checked patterns seem to reconstruct strangely familiar memories of a picnic on the grass, like our visions of idyllic nature. As well as having this romantic streak, the image simultaneously purveys a tone of the narrow-minded bourgeois. This world presents itself as conformist, narrow and restricted – like the plaid cloth and the space into which the viewer steps. In this context, the gaudy pink coloured plastic blotch on the floor is particularly striking. The possibilities of association with love, sex, murder or environmental pollution open up a wide range of interpretations. Even if there are no direct indications of horror and pain, the viewer cannot escape the cold and silent atmosphere of solitude and latent brutality completely. There is a tension in this work that can never be completely released.

The black power cable that snakes across the floor represents another mystery. If this was given element in the room, then Jansen has decided not to remove it. She took it on as part of the space and began to work with its characteristics. In terms of form, the black cable is competently integrated as a connecting element between the pink coloured blotch and the back wall. On a semantic level, it is telling a story without begin or end, just like the rope that comes from an unknown place and disappears into the unknown at another point – evidence of other scenes, independent of one another, yet existing simultaneously.

Jansen manages to evoke a thought out narrative in the viewer’s mind using just a few elements of form and colour without becoming obstructive in the process. At the same time, the use of paint as a painting material is abandoned. Colour appears in a multitude of materials and objects, in combination with an equally large multitude of forms and materiality. The work is only pictorial in the sense of the composition of the surfaces. Through this it becomes clear though, that the form of the space is also related to the forms of the pictorial elements presented and is inextricably connected with the expression of the picture as a whole.


From Romanticism to Rugs. Cut-outs

A three metre tall length of paper in the corner of the room forms the background for a wild boar skin laid out on the floor in the piece Der Kaiser (2007). A forest floor, branches and intertwining foliage are alluded to using very minimal means. The brown coloured paper is folded in the middle and follows the contours of the room so that it is flat to both of the walls. Like in the classical murals, in which central perspective gives the impression of spatial depth, a similar effect is created in this picture by the actual depth of the corner. The space between the piece and the viewer is real, not virtual. It is precisely in this space, in this distance between, that an aesthetic experience is made accessible to the viewer. The size of the piece means that the viewer not only comprehends this spatial depth mentally, but becomes completely implicit in the picture and as such perceives the work physically.[1]

At first is seems as though the paper cut-out is symmetrical. However, differences at the outer edges can be quickly spotted. This is an example of how Jansen does not cover up, avoid or even dispose of the characteristics of a room, which would be seen by many as disruptive factors, but rather integrates them and allows them to exist as an element of the work. The incorporation of the two electrical sockets and the light switch means that the boundary between picture and wall is not clearly defined – any accusation of trying to make them more attractive or decorating them appears to be defied. In fact, the white wall becomes an essential component of the work, especially as the spaces cut out of the paper lay the white surfaces of the wall bare.

For Jansen this is partly about playing with negative and positive space. For this she makes use of the principles of the Rohrschach test. One is immediately reminded of themes such as humanity and nature, romance and the forest idyll. Yet these ideas do not have enough time to take on clear forms in the imagination before they get caught up in indeterminacies that have something to do with images from nightmares and from other medial sources. Before we can really recall the invigorated and elevated natural ideal of romanticism, our vague suppositions revert to the opposite: a visual line of connection is drawn from the contours of the paper cut-outs to the wild boar skin, which refers to nothing other than itself, a rug. So the eye doesn’t concentrate on the brown paper surfaces, but rather on the white empty spaces, in which some may claim to see a kind of forest spirit. The threatening feeling is haunting. With this interplay of perspectives, Jansen creates conditions that ultimately leave the viewer in the dark. This is deliberate - the potential to question ones own clichés and attitudes towards the themes of humanity and nature lies in the ambiguity of interpretation.

The interplay between the two-dimensional and three-dimensional space is also an attempt to illuminate the possibilities of painting, objects and installation. The three-dimensional space is made up of surfaces that are, at one and the same time, both paintings and objects. However, in this game of negative and positive space, spatiality can also recede again in favour of two-dimensionality. In following such thoughts we simultaneously deconstruct the illusion of an image-reality, opening up the workings of the narrative method.


Barricaded Window. Changes in Perspective

Group projects with other artists break up the solitary work done alone in the atelier or exhibition space. In 2005, Jansen developed a bizarre and humorous performance together with Mareike Poehling, Franziska Wicke, Axel Loytved, Mirko Winkel and Britta Ebermann, which was curated by the Polish Galeria Kronika and the Kunstverein Wolfsburg. Big in Bytom was staged fraud: the group spent several days posing as a famous new German band on tour in Poland. The boundaries between appearing to be and being, professionalism and amateur play in show business were explored in depth and then celebrated on stage in a big finale. The artist group alibi kolektif was formed for this occasion and other collective projects have been developed since.

Over the past few years Gilta Jansen has worked with Britta Ebermann on many occasions and in various different locations. Their first collaboration was in 2006 during the mhh-Kestnerschau in Hanover. Here they developed a piece on a 4 by 7 metre window pane, 1:1 ist jetzt vorbei [1:1 is now over], using various materials such as PVC, film and acrylic paint. The picture nestles on the outside of the building like a membrane. There are openings in the surface, cut and torn, which enable a view of outside from inside and of the inside from outside. We’ll begin looking out from inside. It is worth noting that the exhibition space itself is empty. The viewer stands alone in the room and looks, strictly speaking, at the backside of the picture, which almost completely covers the window. Or should one say barricades the window? The urban, public space, with all of its order and disorder, moves ever closer, almost infiltrating the exhibition space. The openings in the picture are peep holes, yet simultaneously correspond with motifs in the background: right-angled, geometric apertures match architectural structures further away and ragged, more irregular spaces refer to the green area in front of the window. The shapes, or rather spaces, make reference to the urban context and in so doing bring the real space into the picture. In other words, it can also be said that the viewer does not look at the picture in the exhibition space in isolation from the outside world, but rather in front of its urban context background. The traditional framed panel as “window to the world” is literally that in this exhibition space. Copying reality to create illusion is not necessary - reality moves into a new light in this abstraction and alienation and enables a new perspective of the surroundings. The title 1:1 ist jetzt vorbei demands precisely that: a break from the old and implying a new start at the same time. It proclaims innovation. A white exhibition space is no longer needed. The White Cube’s powerful influence in defining art is displaced with the viewer becoming the defining factor. If we want to view the front of the piece then we have to leave the exhibition space. The public space becomes the new location of aesthetic experience. The view inwards from outside is a change in perspective, which is a metaphor for the emancipation of the viewer. The viewer defines their “seeing” themselves.

Places with More. Deeper Insight

Jansen’s works are often full of references to the world of music, architecture or literature. The piece Turbo Silent was inspired by the James Joyce novel Ulysses, Cut (2008) evolved through an examination of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons (from 1914). Alongside these thematic influences, a proximity to the work of Blinky Palermo, in terms of art history, also emerges. We can’t really talk about a direct line in artistic genealogy, but there are a few points of contact between Palermo’s work and Jansen’s work. It is particularly Jansen’s handling of the surface which is reminiscent of the work of the painter Blinky Palermo. Palermo’s statement about his wall drawings and paintings couldn’t describe the ephemeral character of Jansen’s work more fittingly: “It doesn’t remain in the photo, it only remains in the memory of those who really stood there”[2]. Like Palermo, Jansen always starts from that which is already there and develops the artistic work from out of that.[3] Both are painters who are directly tied into the tradition of painting in that the surface is their starting point. At the same time, they involve all of the surroundings and ultimately the viewer in their works. In that, Jansen, just like Palermo, dismisses the frame as a restriction of the picture, the works become “parts of a spatial organisation”[4].

Just as there are similarities in the understanding of space and painting in their artistic work, there are also differences between the two artists. Palermo is, for example, much more radical and uncompromising in reducing the essence of painting to colour and form.[5] Jansen’s works also don’t possess this “geometrically motivated formal closeness and strictness (…), which built up over the years and became ever more clear in Palermo’s work”[6]. Gilta Jansen takes a sensualist approach in her handling of the surface in order to emphasize the pictorial and aesthetic qualities of the materials she uses. Her works also have a narrative character, which is conveyed not only by their titles, but also through the empty spaces in them. Jansen’s wall pieces can be compared with the reflective surface of the water in a pond. If we concentrate on the surface alone, then we see the play of light reflected from the sun, distorted mirror images of clouds floating by and little waves, perhaps caused by a leaf that falls into the water. But if we want to experience more depth then we have to look through the water. When we do that, we can see the sandy bed, stones and the inhabitants of the pond, like snails, fish or underwater plants, despite the water and its reflections. Here we discover the living, iridescent essence of the pond that is hidden under the surface of the water. It is precisely this inner liveliness that is the “more” under the surface of Gilta Jansen’s work. On this note, I invite you to immerse in Jansen’s sensuous ‘thought spaces’ and to explore the narratives that are hidden within.




Amman, Jean Christophe: Bei näherer Betrachtung. Zeitgenössische Kunst verstehen und deuten. Frankfurt/ Main, Westend Verlag, 2007

Jappe, Georg: Der Bildraum als Klausur: Arbeiten von Palermo in Mönchengladbach, in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 21.02.1973

Küper/ Ruby: Treppenhaus 1, 2,… Susanne Küper, Ilka und Andreas Ruby sprechen über Palermos Wandmalereien und Rauminstallationen in Bezug zu Architektur und Raum. Pp 79 – 96. In: Blinky Palermo. Susanne Küper, Ulrike Groos, Vanessa Joan Müller (Ed.), Dumont, 2007

Wechsler, Max: Blinky Palermo oder die Entgrenzung in der Beschränkung. Pp 15 – 20. In: Förderkreis der Leipziger Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Museum der bildenden Künste (Ed.): Blinky Palermo, Cantz Verlag, 1993 


[1] The philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty was concerned with perception through the combined effects of language and the corporeity of consciousness. Towards the end of his studies his phenomenology focused on the limited usefulness of philosophical concepts in the analysis of visual experience. According to this, aesthetic experience is dependent on the bodily restrictions of our perception.

[2] In Georg Jappe, “Der Bildraum als Klausur: Arbeiten von Palermo in Mönchengladbach“, in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 21.02.1973, p 13

[3] cf. Küper/ Ruby 2007, p 83

[4] Küper/ Ruby 2007, p 83

[5] Palermo encompasses picture and object in the “fabric paintings”. They are not symbols or metaphors for something, no illusions of reality, rather the thing itself. Painting is made up of the pictorial quality of the object and its materiality. cf. Wechsler 1993, p18

[6] Wechsler 1993, p 20

Text by Meike Su (née Günther), Bremen , 2009

Translation by Tom Ashforth, Cologne, 2009