German artist David Schiesser and one of his murals
(photo by Yannic Poepperling)
(photo by Yannic Poepperling)
One could possibly tell the history of our species and its relationship to the world, their reality, our reality, through a narrative accounting for the expansion of dimensions. Eyes on the horizon, three-dimensional preys and predators running, the hunt. The birth of symbolic thought on bidimensional drawings on charcoal and ochre, composed within that elusive dimension, time. But there, in the dark of caves, our most basic notions of art and reality were set in stone. Our vocabulary may have expanded, but we are still on those walls, running among aurochs and other animals, some already extinct.
Yes, since then, string theory has postulated the existence of at least 7 more dimensions, most of them beyond our perception. Because they were not needed for our survival, our evolution? Or are they perceived in some other way, mysterious, yet palpable? Three dimensions for five senses. Length, width, and height. And time, time, the elusive fourth which causes so much transformation in the length, width and height of our own bodies. Sight, vision. Hearing, audition. Taste, gustation. Smell, olfaction. And touch, somatosensation. Does time not wear these senses out? Do you see what I mean? Our vocabulary expands. Or should I say, do you hear me, as you touch this page? These are our sensory modalities. And are these not senses then, our perceptions of temperature (thermoception), movement (proprioception), pain (nociception), balance (equilibrioception) and vibration (mechanoreception)? Some go as far as to include internal sensations, such as our senses of hunger and thirst, in our list of tools towards conceiving the world.
But we are still on those cave walls, eyes scanning the horizon for meat. Scanning the street for the arrival of the body of the beloved. There must be an integral pleasure in being a human and drawing. We keep on counting. 1, 2, 3. This dimensional game comes into play in our bodies themselves, on which the largest organ strikes us as bidimensional: our skin. And yet it covers our length, width, and height. In some cultures, it can be stretched into bidimensionality, as in Japan's black market for tattooed human skin. It is this dimensionality that seems to be in constant operation in David Schiesser’s work, from our oldest practices with charcoal to the latest programs in photography. This operation of length, width, and height translating themselves into lines drawn on a canvas, or on the skin of humans who offer their four-dimensionality for David Schiesser's drawings, his work as a tattoo artist on bodies that will be ravaged by time.
In Peter Greenaway's film 'The Pillow Book' (1996), the writer Nagiko, played by Vivian Wu, says: “The smell of white paper is like the scent of skin of a new lover who has just paid a surprise visit out of a rainy garden. And the black ink is like lacquered hair. And the quill? Well, the quill is like that instrument of pleasure whose purpose is never in doubt but whose surprising efficiency one always, always forgets.” The film references Sei Shonagon's classic diary 'The Pillow Book' [ 枕草子 Makura no Sōshi ], completed in the year 1002, in which she lists among unsuitable things, “Ugly handwriting on red paper”, because there is an erotica of lines on planes, an erotica of drawing. It is our engagement with the world.
In his treatise on the Vampyroteuthis infernalis, comparing the evolution of vampire squids and humans, Vilém Flusser writers: “We have been exiled to the surfaces of the continents. There we have managed to walk upright – to erect ourselves – and now we loom into the third dimension, into space (heavenward, if you will). It [the vampire squid] has been exiled into the depths. There it has managed to erect itself and now it touches the seabed like an open palm. In so doing, its palm is analogous to ours, but it is not concerned simply with feeling the third dimension, as we are, but rather with feeling multidimensionality.”
As humans, arrested in our three dimensions (plus time, time the elusive), we may all be as in the tale of the blind men describing an elephant through just one sense. It could that art is this attempt: to reach the unperceived realities of string theory through our lacking senses. But even in our industrial design, objects try to shape themselves to serve our bodies, as I seem to infer from David Schiesser's collection of chairs in which his practices attempt to morph into one: the drawing, the tattooing, the skin and the canvas. Our relationship to the world of lines and planes is here, in a body that calculates the heights, lengths and widths so as to climb a staircase safely. The folding of lines and planes of a body that sits down. And if we have brought evolution into this, it is clear why the various species of flatfish seem to obsess Mr. Schiesser. The flatfish that has cheated the cage of three dimensions for safety and survival.
Let me close this attempt at a meditation. Writers are often summoned to make sense of the work of visual artists, though we do not share in the proceeds of this sense-making process. I could have saved your time by simply stating: the pleasure I derive from David Schiesser's work is first of all immediate, direct, and wholly available to my primitive senses already ravaged by time. If I were to attempt a list of pleasurable things, in the style of Sei Shonagon, I would included David Schiesser's lines on planes, yes, that abstract two-dimensional surface with indeterminate width and length, zero thickness and zero curvature, on the curvature of my thick eyes.