Is time actually moving faster, or does our subjective perception make it seem as if everything is speeding up the older we get? The rapid passing of time is what shapes our zeitgeist as an all-encompassing denominator. But what about notions like “in strength lies calmness” or “haste makes waste”? Mechanisms deeply rooted in a socioeconomic system are not easy to break down. For some time now, however, we have been seeing the emergence of a collective, albeit initially reticent awareness of how wrong it is to impose an increasingly inhuman and consistently time-driven concept of society upon ourselves. The idea of deceleration is a central theme in Bernhard Licini’s (*1956) “NEUE LANGSAMKEIT” exhibition.
Looking back at the history of modern times, it first appears to be a story of acceleration – a development also visible in art, which had brought out new inventions and expansions as avant-garde itself. From impressionism, to futurism and abstract expressionism, to the kinetic art of the 1950s and media art. But don’t we get weary of this fascination with unbridled movement at some point? Today, in an age of the Internet and globalisation, probably more than ever. Feeling pressed for time, scattered and burnt out not only gives rise to the need to slow down (relaxation techniques, slow-food or slow communication), but also the realisation that progress must be dissociated from the notion of acceleration: In order to move forward, we need to slow down!
While Bernhard Licini appears to subscribe to this idea in his work, it is not because of current social trends; it is, according to the artist, driven by the desire to transcend the square as a shape. This compacted result instead traces the tense relationship between width and height. He examines the reciprocal ways of viewing his pieces depending on how they are orientated. “I have further developed the cube with one simple action, namely omitting the walls and adding an element in the centre. What I find interesting here is the realisation that the integrated elements now consist of open, rather than the previously closed, bodies”.
Aware of this fact, viewers almost conclude that only art is capable of symbolising this dialectic of movement and stillness. Because if we look back on the idea of movement or acceleration in art history, we find it manifested in numerous forms in the works of William Turner, Auguste Rodin, Marcel Duchamp, Robert Delanuay, Jean Tinguely and Günther Uecker. The slowed, silent counterweight is cultivated in fanciful worlds created by Max Ernst, Mark Rothko and Mario Merz, as ambassadors of the Arte Povera movement. The Bernhard Licini works featured in the “NEUE LANGSAMKEIT” exhibition focus on these two polar concepts of acceleration and deceleration. In addition to the object itself, the artist also reduces the amount of work put in – and this reduction is clearly part of the overall creation.
For him, however, it is not about the harried search for perfection or complete, reduced form. His work is the result of a long creative process. He makes models, then lets them “grow”. “I watch them, and leave them be. One could almost say I give them time and space to grow. If, after an
extended period of time, they are still there and relevant to me, I work on them and condense the idea I initially had for the model. That was how I came up with the idea of sticking individual objects together, rather than welding them. This reduces the overall concept of an object, from working time to the finished piece”, says the artist.
Reduction means breaking with expectations, to an extent. This is unsettling for anyone who shies away from all things clear, pure and linear, and is refreshing for those looking for precisely that. Bernhard Licini’s artistic approach uses this clearly defined framework as free space to unlock seemingly unchanging rules, and allow unexpected aspects in, so as to reveal the content. While it’s admittedly not always easy for viewers to see this, they do have “time” to lose themselves in the work, to surrender to this “new slowness”, and to linger.
The “NEUE LANGSAMKEIT” exhibition primarily focuses on the works of Bernhard Licini, but there are also two smaller pieces by his uncle, James Licini (*1937), placed in the small external display cases, clearly distinguished from the work of his nephew. They are, however, still accessible and visible to viewers as a means of highlighting the different approaches and techniques applied by the two artists using similar and, in some cases, even the same materials.