Rolf A. Kluenter. Portals of the Labyrinth

Entering the Labyrinth
About Rolf A. Kluenter's latest group of works

The Labyrinth is the home to the hesitant
The way of the one, who is eschewing to
reach his destination
Will easily draw a labyrinth

Walter Benjamin

The logic of an artwork can generally be deduced from a single physical or spiritual movement. Since many centuries the portal of the Romanesque Cathedral of Lucca is adorned by an artwork in stone, showing a circular labyrinth, which according to the accompanying inscription refers to the legend of Theseus. Its specific form evolves from a single rotation and spiritual motion, leading from periphery to centre. As the famous legend instructs, the way out of the labyrinth, can be achieved with the thread of Ariadne, at best. Interpretations of the legend, which serves as an archetypal model for the human understanding of the world, all-too often overlook the location of the entrance. Access to those archetypal forms of labyrinths, which can physically be entered, is only possible from the west, an orientation, which already for the Celts signified the direction of death or the otherworld, respectively underworld. The east on the other hand constitutes the entrée to insight and renewal, until today. Thus labyrinths are by no means only symbolic one-way figures, but also concrete ways of experience, whose accomplishment includes a specific spatial motion.

"Portals of the labyrinth" is the title of Rolf A. Kluenter's latest group of works. The ambiguous title suggests to first consult a biographical foil, not only because the unusual path of life of the artist, who being born in 1956 in Bürvenich near Cologne, is characterized by a consequent turning to the east. After graduating from the renowned Fine Arts Academy in Düsseldorf in the year 1982, Rolf A Kluenter didn't focus on New York, which as metropolis of contemporary art had produced a hypnotic maelstrom, but rather towards Nepal. For him, the new positioning, which not only in the physical sense meant a counter-direction, was like the entry into the labyrinth of insight. Especially because his sojourn also included an intensive occupation with far-eastern ways of thinking and meditation. Until 1994 he lived and taught in Kathmandu, after this daring the move to Shanghai, a metropolis with a capitalistically characterised dynamic that constitutes the third station of an unusual artistic path.

Who ventures so far into another direction has something different, significant to communicate. Rolf A. Kluenter's dealing with far-eastern traditions of thought results in an artistic impulse, which western criteria and terminology can only inadequately describe. In "Portals of the Labyrinth" this impulse is mirrored by the sensitive leitmotiv of the colour black, which as allegorical negation seems to be omnipresent. Already for "Secret Room" a group of works developed between 1986 and 2004, Rolf A. Kluenter used hand-made paper, which only after the addition of coal dust adopts a significant black dyeing. Resembling a signature the paper material serves as the dark painting-base, which in its surface structure, material interwoven character and graduation of colour appears multiple facetted and fractured. Thus it functions like the negative film of a not (yet) exposed photograph, whose grain is waiting for the first rays of the sun.

Thus the colour black constitutes the starting point of a creative process, which literally as well as metaphorically can be referred to as VIA NEGATIVA. The treatment of the black surface is effected with white and black tinctures, which mostly evoke net-like structures and interweavements, their overlapping often creating spatial effects. Circle and rectangle, dot and line serve as formal points of reference in the coordinate system of artistic query. Positioned in relation to each other they obviously follow rational principles only to a limited extent. Instead they are becoming independent and create various complex connections. Consequently the dual patterns of cognition, which principally allow the understanding of the world, mutate into far more complicated systems. The works belonging to "Portals of the Labyrinth" are fragile and accessible in-between entities, which venture on the narrow ridge between abstraction and association. How open and subtle these paper-works are conceived cannot only be seen in the border areas, which consciously fray or expand into the three- dimensional.

The viewer's associations of these fragile networks with road maps, computer generated brain waves and labyrinth-like archetypes, which sometimes appear meandering, spiralling and atomising themselves, are not coincidental. In a process of viewing, which in the vocabulary of perception psychology is termed 'cognitive mapping' these structures of reception give valuable orientation points for image recognition. But Rolf A. Kluenter's wall-covering works also include numerous pitfalls as the titles "trap door", "phantom exit" or "Fruehwarnsystem" indicate. Even if melancholy and insight are conjoined as in the case of "Melancholia meets Sophia", it is rather difficult for the insight: The light bulbs remain switched off.

In numerous aspects Rolf A. Kluenter's works mirror an unsettling act of visual understanding of the world, amounting to an introspective query. They prove that the entry into the labyrinth does not remain without consequences. The Hungarian theologian Marcell Mrtoffny once remarked that nowadays art does not need theology but that instead theology needs art. Who takes a look at the works of "Portals of the Labyrinth" will inevitably agree with him.

© Christoph Schaden, 2005

published in: Rolf A. Kluenter. Portrals of the Labyrinth, Amsterdam 2005, p. 9-12

Rolf A. Kluenter

Text published in:
Rolf A. Kluenter - Portals of the Labyrinth
Amsterdam 2005, p. 9-12.

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