Texts/Christian Knechtl: Absences // Ambient Space // Absorbing Space

Christian Knechtl

Ambient Space // Absorbing Space

The being of nothingness

We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel,
But it is on the space where there is nothing
that the usefulness of the wheel depends.
We turn clay to make a vessel,
But it is on the space where there is nothing
that the usefulness of the vessel depends.
We pierce doors and windows to make a house;
And it is on these spaces where there is nothing
that the usefulness of the house depends.
Therefore just as we take advantage of what is,
We should recognise the usefulness of what is not.

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (translator: Arthur Waley, 1997)


In Beatrix Bakondy’s works we encounter the phenomenon of space
paradoxically through its very absence.

Can space exist without matter?
Is the existence of time conditional on the existence of space?

The space that surrounds us is not homogeneous, nor is it static. On the contrary.
It changes along with us. We shape the space we live in with materials from
non-material worlds: we build the world-space that surrounds us with joy and
fear, hope and melancholy, confidence and remembrance, happiness, and other strange sensations.

The core content and the themes of Beatrix Bakondy’s works are comprised of sequences of these different states of being (ambiance and absences) like the white shadows of pulsating sensory spaces that are not always visible, their narrowing and widening, their heavier and lighter states, their intermittent veiling in the alternation between these densities of perception.

Our hands alter the world and the space that surrounds us. We create an awareness of the world not just by physically processing that world, but also by touching it. The way we perceive objects with our hands also shapes the way we think. The empty space between the objects is as important as the objects themselves.

The Japanese wabi-sabi world view is very closely associated with this way of perceiving the world. It is based on three simple truths: ‘Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.’ 1

Veiled beauty, a beauty not immediately apparent, is the focal point of this world view. Its essence is the inner truth that lies hidden inside the shell of the inconspicuous. The principle of ma stands for emptiness, which is the precondition for all that exists, since the state of emptiness also comprises the sum total of all possibilities.

The works of Beatrix Bakondy describe a wide arc consisting of absences and ambivalences, of the hidden and the unperceived, the mystical and the metropolitan. The beauty of the unnoticed natural shapes and the delicate plant shapes of weeds is illustrated in the Galaxies series. Objects that exist on the margins of perception become shadows of the everyday life that surrounds us (Aerosols).

There are works that are politically explosive – but they are meditative too. Take for example the image series Memory of a Space: paper imprints of people seeking asylum. The cast-off paper shells are their reworked body casings, subsequently preserved solely as photographic images. The photos echo the life-spaces shaped by the hopes or anxieties of the asylum seekers, who find themselves in this involuntary ‘holiday from life’. 2

The Man Without Qualities is a key novel, indeed a roman à clef, in understanding the concept of culture in the 20th century. What is particularly remarkable is that its author, Robert Musil, initially earned a degree in mechanical engineering and then a doctorate under the physicist Ernst Mach, and it was only much later that he began working on his analytical novel.

For Ernst Mach the existence of sensations as an ambivalent mediator of our perception is pivotal for our understanding of the world. Mach was a successful physicist, but also a philosopher, science theorist, and pioneer of gestalt psychology. One of his principal works is entitled The Analysis of Sensations and the Relation of the Physical to the Psychical. As a physicist, Ernst Mach was the first to use photography to document the structural-dynamic properties of air as a medium. His documentations in which he demonstrated the cone-shaped compression of air in front of projectiles are famous. Of particular interest to us are the experiments in which Mach reversed the experimental setup, now blowing moving air onto a fixed object. New physical phenomena become visible here, such as the phenomenon that the shock-waves of moving objects  compress the air by up to fifty times.The Mach number, which describes the speed of an object as a ratio of the speed of sound, is the result of this research.

The spray-painted works of the series Aerosols and Galaxies are shaped by
the same spirit that imbued the first photographic documentation of these air vortices. The phenomenon discovered by Mach becomes the medium of artistic expression. As a result of the swirling turbulence of aerosol paint particles, the plant structures to be depicted are reproduced from the upper side, but also from the underside applied to the image medium as white shadows cast by negative pressure and suction phenomena.

Equidistance as a dimension of consistent quality within neighbouring disciplines
of art characterises Beatrix Bakondy’s genre-spanning and cross-media projects. A high artistic and investigative aspect is to be found in all her fields of activity: her artistic involvement with plant shapes results from actively working in a nature garden, which in turn gave rise to the title of this series: Galaxies. For these are autonomous energy worlds in which plant worlds regenerate themselves daily by alchemy, optimised in shape, structure and method: the great magic of photosynthesis. Only plants enable the life-giving transformation of sunlight and carbon dioxide into breathable oxygen and storable energy mass. This provides the clue to the continual exploration of cycles
in Beatrix Bakondy’s œuvre. This analysis of cycles reflected in all her works corresponds to the ‘breathing of plants’ (just as plants breathe in carbon dioxide and release oxygen).

1 Richard R. Powell, Wabi Sabi Simple, Avon/MA: Adams Media, 2005, p. 19
2 Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities. Volumes 1 and 2, translated by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike, Picador, 1995, p. 276