Leni Hoffmann

Exhibition: Feb 29 – Apr 7, 1996

Something goes on behind the closed door that leads into Leni Hoffmann’s site piece PAL. Anytime you pass by this door you’ll see light coming from under it, implying habitation. Behind the door something is awake, the halogen lights are always on, the windows are always open. It has an odor (earthy), a texture (vestigial swirls of thumb-applied Plasticine) and an ear (you know it listens). It is mute, but emanates an auditory hallucination: the sound of time passing.

In truth, all personification aside, the piece is a thick impasto of lagoon blue, chile red and lime green plasticine applied to the two walls of a corner in the upstairs gallery at ArtPace. One wall is recently built, made of sheetrock and intersects the original brick exterior wall of the building which is also perforated by four metal warehouse windows. Perpendicular to each of these walls are two concrete beams which support the ceiling and meet to form an implied corner diagonally opposite the one where the old and new walls meet. Thus a sixteen-by-thirty-foot rectangle is delineated with one corner defined by the walls and the opposing corner by the beams. The areas of color butt up to each other along vertical lines which run from the floor to the ceiling, eleven-and-a-half feet high. The white area which extends to the left beyond the boundaries of the rectangle is the largest, then blue, red and green in successively smaller expanses. The diminishing six of each from left to right enhances the sense of marking time. The color scheme also mimics the way different sides of ArtPace are painted different colors on the outside. This effect achieves a visual transformation of the building and the interior space, as the inch-deep plasticine impasto consumes and assumes the thickness of the brick exterior wall when you view both inner and outer portions of the wall through the open windows. In this way, the cleverly illusionistic depth of the plasticine applied by the artist consigns the brick and sheet-rock surfaces beneath it to an oblivion in which each is equalized and nullified.

Hoffman’s work is simultaneously site and body specific. That is to say that the body is also a site. I stood very close to the blue surface and put the tip of my nose just inside the flower of Plasticine. I also put my hands, palms forward, near the surface and let my fingertips mingle in the swirls. I could smell the earth-techno origins of the material. Viewing the work peripherally from such a close point of view emphasized the directional aspect for the texture and brought time into the experience as I became intensely conscious of each application of thumb-pressed Plasticine. Ultimately, the body is part of the piece just as space, time, and the world beyond are, and the transformation of the space is as much psychological as architectural.

At the conclusion of the piece, the plasticine is peeled off the walls and placed in black garbage bags and stacked in the center of the room to await final disposal. The shrunken pile of dead flesh is pathetically tiny compared to the mysterious volume previously acquired by the installation. This ritual of dispersal is an important aspect of the work and further humanizes the project. The piece assumes a memory, and eventually, a death.

The next day, a new project is begun on the roof of ArtPace. This piece is to be viewed from the top of a parking garage adjacent to the building and be destroyed a day later. That night, about forty people gather for the viewing.

From atop the ten-story parking garage, the activity of the city at night is distant, untouchable. The separate, unknown purposes of people moving about on foot and in cars are mingled with the seeming randomness of blinking lights and flickering reflections. The ambient, vehicular drone of the street is grafted to a mood of divine melancholy: from up here you can look, but you cannot touch. Anyone can understand the loneliness of a god from here. The world, like a child grown up and away, can no longer be known. After awhile a pattern emerges in the randomness and the disconnected events umbrellaed under your observations seem more orchestrated, even giving way to an occasional synchronicity with your heartbeat. A solitary radio tower with aircraft warning light is a ready volunteer, though its willingness to participate in the pattern now taking shape before you seems more resolute than cheerful. The one piece missing from the pattern is at the place from which you observe. This blind spot is your own remote point of view.

Below, on the street, the same sounds formerly heard from above seem mundane, no longer imbued with mystery or sadness: everything is what it is. From down here, it’s what’s happening on top of the parking garage that seems unlikely – the idea of people partying up top under the night seems exotic. But either way, in the light of day all this will be gone. Only empty parking slots will look down upon the rooftops below.

One rooftop over from the parking garage (and eight floors down) you can see the new piece, UBIK, a site-specific set of horseapple-green circles on the roof of ArtPace. Each thirty-six-inch circle is ade up of 275 two-inch spheres of plasticine. As with Hoffman’s other work, the manipulation of the plasticine is body-derived. In this case, the balls were formed with the palms. The arrangement of the four circles leads your eye off the roof and underscores that these circles are part of a set of all circles which includes others you can observe from the parking garage: table tops, manhole covers, a coiled hose, even a small circle of clover (‘better than mine’) grown up in the soil where a wooden telephone pole once penetrated the concrete sidewalk. As the number of circles within your field of vision increases, the scattering of them eventually leads your eye of the ‘page’ again, as the distance fading in every direction forms a blurry edge and all that is beyond it exists in a visual oblivion. This core of the visible that holds you at its center is in fact circular itself.

-Hills Snyder


Leni Hoffmann

Nürnberg, Germany

Leni Hoffmann, who lives and works in Nürnberg Germany, has shown her work throughout Europe and Australia.  Her Artpace residency is her first installation in the United States.  She made her first visit to San Antonio in 1995 ago during a tour of this country made possible by an artist’s grant from the German government.  After a brief stay at Artpace, the artist laid plans for her installation.
Hoffmann makes art by reinventing the architecture of a gallery, library or other environment as part of her finished work.  A similar installation by the artist, recently presented in Gallery 14 at the Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane Australia, was described by Timothy Morrell, the exhibition’s curator, in the accompanying catalogue:
This installation is… an absolute part of the existing architecture.  Although plasticine is applied to surfaces, no object has been added.  Individual elements of the design…are duplicated in a veneer of plasticine.  The monochrome interior is re-projected back onto itself in bright color…restating but subverting the original architectural logic.
The installed work is a highly tactile three-dimensional arrangement of surface treatments which surrounds the viewer.

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