Bächli's drawings are essays: images that make approximations, necessarily incomplete and partial, to the intangible world.
Sílvia Bächli starts from subtle experiences of everyday life to build a visual inventory that can be found in the exhibition Side Facing The Wind. This is the eighth moment of the Reação em Cadeia cycle, a collaboration between Fidelidade Arte and Culturgest, which involves the participating artists in the choice of the artist who succeeds them.
Artworks as actors
In one of the first emails we exchanged about the conceiving of this exhibition, Silvia Bächli informed me that in her studio she already had a model of Culturgest Porto’s space and that, spread over the cardboard walls, there were already several ‘actors’. ‘(...) some first ideas...’, Bächli wrote. The ‘actors’ to which she was referring were, of course, scaled miniatures of drawings and sculptures, selected from among her recent production.
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Her decision to build a model of the space did not surprise me. I had read in one of her catalogues that this was her way of working when conceiving exhibitions: ‘My drawings do indeed take shape in the studio, independently of any show, but when I exhibit, I select and organize them in terms of the proposed venue. It’s only when I know what the space looks like that I begin to form groups with the different drawings.’ ¹
Knowing that Bächli was perfectly aware that an exhibition depends on the works it presents as much as on the relationships those works establish in (and with) the space had not prepared me, however, for the surprise of realising that she saw her pieces as ‘actors’. Her use of the term could not be accidental. An actor is not the same as a character. In fact, an actor tends to be the opposite of a character, especially when we consider them in the light of the question of singularity. The more inclined an actor is to play different characters, the more competent they are; the more particular a character’s role is within a given plot, the more impactful they are.
It is often assumed that works of art are carriers of a certain meaning; that, no matter how abstract they are, they represent something. To assume this is to see works of art as characters, not as actors. On the other hand, seeing them as actors implies stripping them of what could trap them in strong, rigid identities; it means endowing them with a flexibility and a fluidity that are incompatible with fixed, normative and functional uses. Bächli’s works tend towards this fluidity. Their existence is, above all, contextual. That is, what they represent depends much more on the environment in which they are inserted, their relative positions, their contaminations, contrasts and the distances between them, than on their ‘isolated’ identities per se. This is why Bächli gives precedence to the space: she knows that not all scenes can take place in the same environment and that each scene involves a different group of actors.
Now, no matter how fluid they are, these works do not, however, escape their physical traits. Besides that, and as if they were all part of the same family, these actors share various physical characteristics, most of which are borne out of a deliberate inclination towards an economy of mediums, materials and gestures. With regard to mediums and materials, Bächli’s works consist primarily of the application of gouache paint to the white surface of paper. Her drawings are made using broad, flat brushes and her colour palette focuses on greys and earth tones, with sporadic incursions into more open shades, but without ever losing a restrained register and controlled vibration. In terms of gestures, the inscriptions in her drawings frequently describe vertical or horizontal movements, either wide or short, exploring relationships of tension with the limits of the paper. While the wide gestures denote a control and virtuosity that can only be acquired with years of constant practice, the short ones are like notations, tending to indicate rhythms and repetitions, markings and dislocations, time and occurrence.
That none of Bächli’s works have a title is merely consistent with their plural vocation. But the name of this exhibition – side facing the wind – suggests a common territory for a set of actors that range between the figurative and the abstract, the arbitrary and the random. In this case, the allusion to our body impacted by a side wind is the motto that introduces the possibility of considering Bächli’s work as a visual inventory of the subtle experiences of the everyday, as an exercise that seeks to convey the tenuous impressions and sensations we experience, but whose registry in the body’s memory we tend to disregard. Of course everything is always more complex than it seems, but, from this point of view, Silvia Bächli’s pieces would be like essays – partial and necessarily incomplete images trying to grasp the slightest, not so tangible aspects of the world. In this sense, they are the result of an empathic awareness, of a constant and deliberate immersion in the sensitive domain, as if these actors had been asked to convey phenomena which, otherwise, cannot be seen.
1 Silvia Bächli in “Artistic Differences and Complicities: An Interview with Silvia Bächli and Eric Hattan by Jean-Paul Felley and Olivier Kaeser”, Situer la Différence, Paris: Centre Culturel Suisse, 2017, p.7- Resume
Between drawing and sculpture
Sílvia Bächli's works are mostly drawings. This proximity to drawing is largely due to the easy access that the artist has always had to the most diverse types of paper, since her father worked in a printshop. This biographical fact ended up being determinant in the choice of directing her work towards drawing.+ Keep Reading
"Her drawings are mainly composed of stains and gouache strokes, made with paintbrushes or broad brushes, on paper. They are simple or summary inscriptions, sometimes in black, sometimes in colour, but always using a palette that rarely strays from earth tones. Some of the drawings show figures of bodies or parts of bodies, but most are situated in the territory of what we usually call abstraction".
The sculpture work in the exhibition Side Facing the Wind consists of small painted plaster elements. The pieces are on a high table, giving the impression that they are on a kind of stage. These works are the result of recent work initiated by Sílvia Bächli in the field of sculpture.
¹ Bruno Marchand- Resume
"Drawing is the search for the right tone, for a formulation that is right, which I don't know exactly what it looks like beforehand - I would describe this as my "doing". Drawing is observing, remembering, touching, playing, repeating, inventing, eliciting, tinting, etc."+ Keep Reading
Silvia Bächli, 2018, interview with Linda Schädler- Resume
Silvia Bächli was born in Baden, Switzerland, in 1956. She studied at Schule für Gestaltung Basel and École supérieure d'art visuel Genève between 1976 and 1980 and was a professor at Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste Karlsruhe, in Germany, between 1992 and 2016.
Selection of solo exhibitions (2006-2021): La BF15, Lyon (FR); Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel (CH); Kunsthalle Karlsruhe (DE); Kunstmuseum, Basel (CH); Centre Culturel Suisse, Paris (FR); Musée Barbier-Mueller, Genève (CH); Frac FrancheComté, Besançon (FR); Kunstverein, Heidelberg (DE); Pinakothek der Moderne, München (DE); Kunstmuseum, St. Gallen (CH); Swiss Pavillion Biennale di Venezia (IT); Centre Pompidou, Paris (FR); Museu de Serralves, Porto (PT); MAMCO, Genève (CH).
Public collections: Pompidou Paris; MMK Frankfurt; Pinakothek der Moderne, München; Art Institute of Chicago; Dallas Museum; MoMA, New York; Kunstmuseum St.Gallen; Fundação de Serralves; MAMCO Genève; Kunstmuseum Basel.
António Sequeira Lopes
PRODUCTION (CULTURGEST PORTO)
DESIGN AND WEBSITE
Studio Maria João Macedo & Queo
Renato Cruz Santos