By Kaegan Sparks
"Marco Breuer’s current exhibition, Nature of the Pencil, at Von Lintel Gallery pitches his hybridized practice into the purview of drawing. The title, an anagram of pioneering photographer William Henry Fox Talbot’s mid-nineteenth century treatise The Pencil of Nature, sifts dual modalities of Breuer’s work to the fore. Working primarily with photosensitive materials in the darkroom, Breuer engages photography obliquely through manual mark-making; he almost never uses a camera. Moreover, seeking to activate inherent chemical properties of photographic paper through constrained interventions, Breuer’s approach is both exacting and laissez-faire, circumscribed and organic, provoking generative tensions at the contact point of stylus and substrate.
Breuer says in an interview with Carter Foster, curator of drawings at the Whitney Museum of American Art, that his goal is “getting photography, ideally, to the immediacy of a drawing.” Driven by a formalist deference to his materials, Breuer’s work preempts photography’s traditional mimetic modes to favor its capacity as a more literal index of the physical mark. His hallmarked scratching, searing, scoring, perforating and other abrasive, subtractive processes, alongside controlled explosions, gunfire, and applied chemicals ranging from saliva to alcohol, are corporeal and often violent, yet at the same time carefully controlled. Breuer tends to commit the lifetime of a specific material or instrument to a single piece; he avoids the potential of reworking. For instance, many scratch pieces are limited to the use of a single blade in one working period, after which the work is completed and the tool destroyed. In others an object is set ablaze, exposing the paper by both emitting light and obstructing it; the product documents the duration of the event before the object is consumed.
Breuer’s recent installations at Von Lintel Gallery and earlier this year at the Minneapolis Institute of Art deviate from this unembellished self-determination, introducing subjective processes through chalked annotations on the gallery walls. The Von Lintel press release text suggests that “[t]he altered gallery, painted with a band of chalkboard black, refers to the photographic darkroom as well as the classroom.” Breuer has described his practice in the darkroom as performative, but private. The final state of the material is always paramount; the process behind his individual photographs is rarely legible to a viewer. This relationship is somewhat dismantled in his present installations, exposing the artist’s working process more transparently through handwriting (and traces of erasure) left on the wall.
Whereas at MIA Breuer integrated the chalkboard midway through the exhibition, footnoting his work with process notes and interjecting an Asher-esque institutional critique by indicating the gallery’s architectural and logistical apparatus with tick marks and arrows, at Von Lintel his voice is subdued and introspective. Unlike at MIA, there is no performative transformation stressing his pieces to react to their context; instead of explicating their methodologies to the extreme of optical diagrams, here Breuer defers to sparse musings. Inscribed on the south wall of the Von Lintel installation is an adage excerpted from the Tagebucher (Sketchbooks) of Swiss writer Max Frisch: What is important is what cannot be said, the white space between the words."
Read full review @ The Drawing Center