Marius Henderson

Published on the occasion of the catalog Untitled (antlers), 2016.

Entangled, intertwined, and in vibrant and processual assemblages, Kirstin Burckhardt’s artistic practice looks into what bodies and minds are capable of. Bodies and minds do not appear as separate entities in her work but rather as hybrid formations in constant flux. Trained not only in the fine arts, but also in psychology and neuroscience with practical experience in clinical psychotherapeutic counseling, Burckhardt draws on a multiplicity of archives of knowledge in her artistic practice. It is this transdisciplinary approach which informs her artistic practice of “sensual world-making.”[1]

In her recent work, Burckhardt has taken this concept of the sensual and corporeal world-making and realized it in a series of now several hundred drawings by the name of Untitled (antlers). Burckhardt operates in a world of ever-changing form and the humanoid form is not spared. Always starting from a seemingly simple stick person structure, as an abstraction of a humanoid corporeal form, the individual drawings undergo surprising transformations, and literally branch out into what appears like neuronal networks, cerebral structures, or even slightly uncanny doppelgangers and wandering limbs. All of these ink drawings are realized on the same type of paper sheet measuring 15 x 15 cm. These square paper sheets provide a sense of continuity and rigidity, like geometric grids, but also become fluidified through the variations, repeated visits, and layered observations of the drawings. These observations are influenced by Burckhardt’s research on interpersonal psychology, affect theory, and schizophrenia as well as her participation in the “trialogue” setting between clients, family members, and professionals in the context of the “psychosis seminars,” which were developed by both the psychologist Thomas Bock and the artist and compulsory sterilization survivor Dorothea Buck.

Repeatedly, these figures seem to approach anthropomorphic forms. Yet when drawing them closer and when considering individual drawings in the context of the entire series, uncertainty arises: What is it that constitutes a humanoid form? And likewise, what constitutes a humanoid thought? Are these abstractions of human bodies? And via their ostensibly exaggerated heads, also representations of human minds? With the head as the locus of the brain acting as the presumed container of the human mind? Is this already an anthropocentric projection or the result of neurotypical entrainment? An intense engagement with these drawing resists any simplified answer to these provocative questions because it is here where a body does not have a border but a margin.

However, simply attributing an embodied mindedness to the drawings runs the risk of missing their playfulness, which arises from the drawings’ vivid minimalism. The oscillation between serious inquiry and playfulness comes into play especially if one recedes into a mode of softly focused gazing. Then the geometric base components of the drawings, like lines, circles, curves, spikes, lobes, etc. start to gain traction and begin to dance. Yet dancing in this context also means dancing on bordering lines, in which bodies merge, splice, overtake, melt, come dangerously close, pierce, and re-unite.

Burckhardt’s practice is strongly research-based and these drawings seem to oscillate between image and writing. Should they not be seen as pictorial drawings but rather read as calligraphy – as logographic or ideogrammatic writing? Or conversely, can the Untitled (antlers) series be defined ex negativo, as “non-writing”, “non-symbols”, “non-images”[2]? This “liminal style” lets the Untitled (antlers) series not simply appear as drawings of something, like a sketch, but rather lets them appear as hybrid, in-between, processual gestures. Precariously, they seem to reside on the margins of writing, images, and symbolic text material. Burckhardt’s disciplined and minimalist gestures, the strokes, or carvings, on the sheets of paper sometimes emphasize the frame more than they do the contained “figures.” In this way, the drawings are co-compositional as the vast white space of the paper interacts with the ink traces and vice versa. Moving in and out of figuration, the drawings become disfigured figurations, always in process, tumbling, parsing the surrounding paper, partitioning the textured space. They are operations. They operate. They provide space for the as yet to be formed. As crystallized metastable operations in thinking-feeling[3] turned to pen and paper, touched by the artist’s hand, like minimal corporeal units in gestation.

Furthermore, Untitled (antlers) acquires a seriality that seems to insist on gestural emergence. The interplay between repetition and variation adds an agile rhythmicality. They resemble “minor gestures,” in Erin Manning’s sense, as they give “value to the processual uncertainty of thought as yet unformed,”[4] as a “continual variation” which all too easily gets neglected and overlooked.[5] The series appears as always already in the making, as a series of “minor gestures” which are invested in insistent research, and thereby may “open the way for a different kind of knowing, a knowing in the event, […] a knowing that […] delights in the force of conceptual invention.”[6] Untitled (antlers) continues to migrate between formal minimalism and the potential for affective and conceptual plenitude. And this gestural migration moves on and on and on…

                Cf. Kathleen Stewart, “Atmospheric Attunements,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 29.3 (2011): 445-453.

                Cf. Christian Driesen, et al., Hrsg., Über Kritzeln: Graphismen zwischen Schrift, Bild, Text und Zeichen (Berlin/Zürich: diaphanes, 2012).

                Cf. Erin Manning and Brian Massumi, Thought in the Act: Passages in the Ecology of Experience (Minneapolis: U of Minneapolis P, 2014).

                Erin Manning, The Minor Gesture (Durham: Duke UP, 2016), x.

                Manning, The Minor Gesture, 1.

                Manning, The Minor Gesture, 24

Copyrights rest with the author.