Länge: 6:25 Min.
Länge: 6:01 Min.
Länge: 3:00 Min.
Länge: 5:07 Min.
From 1988 to 1993, Frank Berendt studied painting and graphics with Professor Arno Rink at
the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig, and he is a member of the New Leipzig School.
Berendt, like many other Leipzig artists, favors figurative images, yet he shuns any form of narrative. Instead, his isolated figures float like dream-images before intensely coloured or shadowed but spatially indeterminate backgrounds. Everything seems movable, changeable, flowing, yet, at this one moment, fixed: like filmstills excerpted from a continuum of motion and change; form amid transformation, the metamorphosis of all visible phenomena. Phantom images stabilized through the painting process – their fragmentary quality seems the result of their oscillation between origin and disappearance. The painted scenes, as well as the video-projections – whether of people, animals, objects, or liquid substances – resemble mental images: figurative projections of consciousness. This consciousness-like quality is also what gives Berendt’s work a strong feeling of reality. The momentary persistence of these mental images lends them an intimation of permanence, so much so that they seem to suggest the possibility of deepened looking, of contemplation.
Frank Berendt’s works really do invite such contemplation, yet without any gestures toward devotion. Precisely crafted details call for such intensified looking – the viewer notices the watery aura of an eye, the sculpturally accented, harmonically formed contours of lips, the reflection of light on drops of water, or the nocturnal backlighting that breaks through an enchanted thicket in small doses: islands of focus in scenes that sometimes appear shadowy, as if seen through a veil. In terms of colour, his paintings display a reduced visual complexity, relying on strategies of complementary contrast or monochrome. Yet he lets the few colours shine intensely, composing harmonies of tones and trusting their emotional effects.
His video works have their origin in painting, as well. They are characterized by superimpositions, painterly blurring, and a stretching of time, and because of their dematerialized, light-generated appearance, they seem even closer to mental images than the paintings. Frank Berendt likes to portray human figures in tense groups or, in contrast, turning inward – in a state of internalization. Despite the depth of figurative detail, there are no portraits – representations of concrete, living people – in these works. Instead, the figurative elements have an exemplary quality – the individual stands for the many, as a concrete embodiment of the general. These images depict existence from a philosophical point of view. In contemporary art, this is a controversial approach, but one that Frank Berendt shares with other members of the New Leipzig School such as Neo Rauch – and even with the already-classic British painter Francis Bacon. At the same time, the relation to such artists points to the fact that with Berendt the viewer finds himself in a domain of pictorial suggestion that tends to transcend linguistic possibilities of representing the world in complete sentences.
In delving deeper into Frank Berendt’s artistic practice, it becomes clear that his aesthetic approach corresponds closely with the devotion to Japanese martial art and Zen Buddhism that has shaped his life for many years. In fact, it seems possible to see Siddhârtha Gautama’s above-cited advice from the Diamond Sutra as the key that can open a door to a deeper understanding of the visual world of Frank Berendt. A central concept in this world, as in Mahayana Buddhism, is Shunyata, which ontologically points to the impossibility of ascribing an enduring substance or stable character to the phenomena of the world, and is therefore translated as „emptiness.” The Prajnaparamita Sutras, which include the Diamond Sutra as well as the famous Heart Sutra, contain many variations on the paradoxical thought „Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” Such sentences are meant to encourage us to transcend conceptual distinctions and ultimately to relinquish a worldview that sees an intrinsic distance between subject and object. It is a radical change of perspective, which often seems to us as thinking subjects like an impossible undertaking. The Sanskrit word „paramita” in the title of the sutra refers to this comprehensive break, as it means „that which has reached the other shore.” For many, this is a spiritual act, while for others it formulates a universal-ecological view of the world: since the becoming and passing away of every thing is dependent on the becoming and passing away of all other things, nothing can permanently exist in and of itself alone, and therefore everything lacks substance – is „empty.” Close observation of Frank Berendt’s work suggests that he is constantly searching for the perspective-shift of Shunyata in his artistic practice – and that he invites the viewer to do the same.
Night Woods/Thickets It is night, and the eyes search for a way through the
darkness, they long for the light in the distance. The way there, to the place where the
disquieting darkness of the night ends and the grey of morning is already beginning, is
impassable. Thickly woven branches disturb the freedom forward progression. The feeling of
being trapped and lost awaits in the wood’s labyrinth and yet: a glow in the sky seems to
announce the morning to come.
Frank Berendt’s Night Woods and Thickets captivate through their intense immediacy. The detail we are shown conveys the view of a person in the woods. In our viewing we are present in the woods, elementally confronted by them. The horizontal branches in the foreground interlace into a dynamic net and create the impression that the viewer himself is in motion – as if we are moving past the branches and see them from the corner of our eye, see how they become distorted and lose their form. And yet: there is also peace and reassurance in these nocturnal thickets.
We can discover polarities here: we are insurmountably trapped in the tortuous paths of the forest, but at the same time we sense the freedom, the light, the clearings, that seem to lie just beyond. Though inwardly we feel threatened by the impossibility of passing through the darkness and we yearn to reach the light, there is also a desire to remain here in the night wood, a wish to be enclosed by the goodness and forgiveness of the waning night.
Women The faces of the women Frank Berendt paints are clear and beautiful, they
shine: they hint at their essences, at essentials, at their spirit and inner concentration.
These women have closed or lowered their eyes; only rarely do they look at the viewer, as if
to cast a spell on him. The atmosphere that dominates in „Milch” (Milk) is precisely one of
magic: a woman stands in deep blue, her eyes closed, her gaze inward. The colours bring the
atmosphere of the situation and the spirit of the woman into harmony – here blue is the
spiritualization of a human state. This blue shimmers, as Frank Berendt explains, between
the possibility of a genuine union between woman and man, represented here by the fluidly
wavering white between the raised hands, and the difficulty and ambivalence of such joining,
indicated by the position of the hands, which seem to demand the keeping of distance. The
„milk,” and hence the togetherness, finds no purchase in the room – it floats; it is a
moment and not eternity.
„Kränkung” (Insult) is the link between the thickets and the women, since it combines motifs from both. A woman stands in a rectangular space holding a pillow in her arms. Its feathers are falling out and dissolving, but the woman holds it tight to herself nonetheless, she embraces it, not resigning herself to the loss, to transience. In the background a window looks out into the night, which for Frank Berendt can be a sign of groundlessness or instability, and into a wood. Near her face, the branches have formed a human heart, complete with blood vessels. The sour-ce of the eponymous insult is unknown. Is it an unjustified insult or an unforeseeable one? The hints of the „inside” – the closed eyes, the square room, the impenetrable, unrelenting dark blue attest to her elementarity. This insult hit the heart. It remains unclear who is injured – the one in the painting, or the one who stands outside it. Day is already dawning in the night woods. Soon night will be conquered and perhaps with it, the insult. And the feet will tread more surely on the ground again.
Men In contrast to the women, the male figures are rarely turned frontally
towards the viewer. Instead, they turn in the opposite direction or are so enmeshed in the
space of the painting that looking or turning outward is impossible. Driven by a desire to
flee, „Laufender Mann” (Running Man) seems to rush head-over-heels into emptiness, which may
be a visual representation of uncertainty. Is it despair, and the desire to press the reset
button on life, to escape back to the beginning where nothing was lost, nothing gambled away
– and where one yet knew the possibility of doing so? Or is it rather the dynamic outburst
of a young man enticed by life, by future heroism and the desire to do glorious deeds?
„Mann mit Maus” (Man with Mouse) is less ambiguous. The mouse of the title cannot be seen by the viewer. The working title „Kapitulation” (Capitulation), offers an explanation, however, and it becomes clear that the mouse is in the man, that the man is the mouse. It seems as if he is trying to press his head into the floor, as if hiding his head would make his whole body disappear, and even his very existence. The space of the painting is hermetically sealed by the restrictive brown; flight is impossible. The situation provokes a self-confrontation which is unbearable. There is a hopeless desire to relinquish previous human existence and actually become a mouse: to disappear into a hole, to be no longer visible.
Videos The videos shown in this exhibition came to being through a lengthy
process which began in the mid 1990’s and was revisited and completed in the 2000’s. The
videos are closely related to Berendt’s paintings, and in fact their motifs sometimes
concretely reappear in paint. As in the paintings, in the video works the viewer’s gaze is
focused directly on the subject. The camera needs only a slight radius of motion for this
precise and sensitive concentration on the theme at hand. Video – „I see” – can also be read
here as „I recognize.” I recognize myself.
In the video piece „Steinwurf” (Stonethrow) a slender youth sits upright and nearly motionless at the edge of a lake, his legs folded in, his forearms resting on his thighs. The back of his head lies deep in shadow. The bare back of this child, graphically marked by the shoulderblades and the spine, is the central point of the video image – it be- comes a visual benchmark. The inherent inviolability of a child, highlighted in „Steinwurf” by the boy’s physical grace, the straightness of his posture, is connected here with the potential danger of his naked back’s vulnerability. The threat in the atmosphere literally billows from the ground: a dark movement in the water slowly approaches from the opposite bank of the lake as if it would overflow onto him. Fields of motion overlap extensively in the video image; fields of light grow lighter and darker – sepia, bronze, black. It is a still image set in motion by single frames which are multiply displaced and laid over one another. The soundtrack of sporadic splashing and slight whooshing is not part of the reality of the scene on the bank: sound and image do not belong together, rather, they are joined and become one in the mind of the viewer. The fact that sound and image are parallel but not thematically unified inspires the idea that the youth is no longer actually present as a person, that the scene lies in the past and this is just the realization of a memory. But then: the youth moves his right arm and reaches beside his body for a stone, but is interrupted by Berendt’s artistic intervention, which sets the action back to its starting point. The boy then tries again, stretches his left arm far forward with fingers spread, reaches for the stone with his right hand again and pulls back to throw it. At this moment the scene grows dramatically dark and the shadows turn green. But the throw is null and void – Berendt retracts the motion again. The tension created by the windup of the arm is not released. The image is relaxed by the immediate decrease of darkness – the scene grows lighter, goldener. In this video a simple, innocent movement is halted, summoned back into itself. The attempt to throw seems like a dream. Through an extreme close-up, „Uns” (Us) puts the viewer in supposed eye contact with a child. The child is in constant motion, as if playing an amusing game with us, a game with the eyes. Blurriness makes the child abstract and thereby turns the story of an intimate moment, intrinsic to the video itself, into the story of a thought. From time to time the face of a grown-up appears near that of the child. The blurriness of the shot melts the faces into each other so much that at times it is difficult to tell where edges separate the two bodies – in this way „Us” is made visual. The sound over the image is barely perceptible – there is a constant murmuring and whistling, a humming – theoretically interruptions, yet they support the rhythm of the moving image. The black and white of the recording is also a dynamic light/dark: the skin of the child’s face shines and practically pulses with light. For a few seconds the recording of the faces is suspended and the viewer is suddenly taken out of the close situation and thrown into a view of a field. The faces are interrupted for a few seconds once again: the child, a boy, shoots an arrow. It is still a game for the child, yet symbolically there is an initiation waiting for him just as there was for his forebears. Immediately after the arrow is shot the two faces, perhaps father and son, reappear, only to be interrupted by another cut – this time a field is being traversed in stomping, adult steps. The video ends with the smiling child looking at us once more.
„Uns” is the remembrance of a past in the figurative visualization of a child. In the fuzziness and choppiness of the recording we see an ungraspability, the togetherness of father and son. In contrast to this there is the self-emancipating, detaching boy with bow and arrow, and finally the lonely trudging over the field, approaching the horizon, alone. All this testifies to the impossibility of holding on to the past, the human tendency to keep-for-oneself and the regularity of constant progression. Human bonds are impossibly indissolvable, yet often we doubt them. Only letting go grants the possibility of a return to what has been let go.
Restriction and Freedom The abstracted spaces in Frank Berendt’s painting, which
are often set up like stages, are relieved of all superfluous accessories, indeed they seem
swept out with severe strokes. We are able to read them through their high symbolic content
and through the texture of the oil paint on the canvas. The application of the paint is
uneven and structured by clearly traceable brushstrokes. Sections that have been heavily
reworked are not hidden, but testify to the searching and finding of motif through process.
Berendt himself speaks of „fields of interference” without which his works could not exist,
through which he intentionally interrupts the subject with, for example, vertical strokes of
paint. In the video works as well he employs a „disruption of the material surface.”
Fractures instead of perfection and discord instead of triumph are expressed through the
visible traces of the work’s genesis and the specific usage of material. Like the spaces,
the colours do not cling to reality. These are powerful manifestations that allow for an
either-or: the colours shimmer and almost let the subjects dissolve between the curtain-like
vertical streaks, the fields of interference.
Through these moments of abstraction in which bodies, spaces and colours are transformed to a state far from their realistic contexts and in which dynamic narrative moments are infrequent, Berendt describes inner human states which are rarely peaceful. In these paintings we venture to look inward, where doubt and despair are made visible, where we can see the confrontations with the borders of the self and those of the world. These works confront us with ourselves. We discover that art is not necessarily obliged to give us hope and solace, but rather that it dares to find form and words for human-ness and its attendant abysses.
And yet: the clarity of subject, and the representation of beauty therein allows hope for a future, a hope for good, a hope for good in us, because recognition of the struggles of our condition has paved the way. Only from this recognition is the premonition of freedom possible: restriction and freedom require each other. And even when we wish for nothing more fervently than freedom, than to be freed, the possibility is also terrible. Our thoughts lurch through the uncertainty inherent to freedom. We fall on the way to it, we crawl, stand up, continue onwards, and never reach it. Our freedom lies in the acceptance of this path, in the fighting of this battle with ourselves.
/// Born in Leipzig
1988 - 1993
/// Studies Painting/Graphics at Leipzig Arts College (Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst Leipzig – HGB) with Prof. A. Rink and N. Rauch. Graduates with a Diploma degree.
1993 - 1995
/// Postgraduate study of Video arts at Leipzig Arts College (HGB), being his Master Disciple since 1995.
1988 - 1995
/// Member of Performance and Soundgroup „ The Oval Language“ (T.O.L.), Inter alia with „ Das Synthetische Mischgewebe“(F,D),ERG(USA) Tadashi Endo (J).
/// Several Study Trips, e.g. Morocco, Israel, Northern Ireland, India.
/// Takes up Zen-Practice under Zen- Master L.Tenryu Tenbreul.
/// Ordination as Zen- Monk.
/// Lives and works as freelance artist in Leipzig.
SOLO EXHIBITIONS Dogenhaus Galerie Leipzig/ Berlin
The works are in the collections of Angermuseum Erfurt , Kunsthalle Sparkasse Leipzig, Sächsische Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Regional Council Karlsruhe, Deutsche Bank and in various private collections.