Landscape as Artistic Expression

Susanne König

The titles of the works being shown by the artist couple all refer to natural phenomena. They include Kakteen (Cacti), Palmen (Palms), Schwamm (Shelf Fungus) and Gebirgslinien (Mountain Lines), and they bring to mind the viewer’s own experiences of nature. The plants represented come from various regions: Cacti grow in the subtropics and are able to survive in arid deserts under adverse conditions. Palms tend to take root on warm, humid, tropical coasts, evoking for viewers thoughts of vacation. Schwamm recalls the shelf fungi that flourish in moderate regions and love the moist climate of moor and forest. Gebirgslinien and Nebelgebirge (Misty Mountains) call up associations with mountain landscapes whose peaks reach up to dizzying heights. Even the title Wucherung (Excrescence) is associated with a natural phenomenon: a flora that has been thrown out of balance and may begin, under certain conditions, to grow uncontrollably. In particular, plants that are exceptionally robust and resistant to outside influences appear in rapidly increasing numbers and can take over entire regions.

In engaging with nature, Thomas & Renée Rapedius turn their attention to an art-historical subject with a long tradition, especially in the genre of landscape painting. From the lifelike sketch to the idealized landscape image, representations of nature appear in every era of art history. Either artists have attempted to approximate reality in more or less naturalistic depictions, or else they have taken their inspiration from advances in the natural sciences, calling the reality of the visible world into question and creating instead abstract representations of nature, deconstructing forms, disassociating colors from objects and altering shapes.

Thomas & Renée Rapedius are inspired by nature as well. However, they fashion objects that do not necessarily reveal their proximity to nature at first glance. Rather, they confront the viewer with the products of mass production, building objects out of fanned-out sketchpads, nested paper cups and stacked cardboard boxes. Appearing in large numbers and always in the same form, the products call attention to their industrial origins and even seem, in their material composition, to be diametrically opposed to natural objects. At the same time, the artists play with a material that is characterized by fragility and flimsiness: paper and paperboard. Indeed, because of the way they are shaped and presented, fanned out and pulled apart, these two materials seem even less stable than they already are by nature. However, it is precisely this that produces a certain proximity to natural objects. For just as each of their artworks is vulnerable, so nature has proved to be equally vulnerable to human assaults.

In their works, the artists investigate their material and its artistic malleability. They interrogate their fragile objects as to their stability, flexibility and mobility. How many individual pieces can be stacked up before the resulting tower collapses? How far can a paper chain be extended before it tears, and how far can an object be twisted before it breaks? They are especially interested in paper’s foldability and the effects that can be achieved through folding. They fold it, unfold it, unfurl it. For Schwamm they developed a folding technique that creates a solid form only when the paper is pulled apart, a technique they have also used in other pieces. This method also enables the artists to essentially carry their works in their luggage.
The starting point for Nebelgebirge is a sheet of A3 paper with a zigzag line across it. This zigzag line divides the sheet diagonally into two halves, to each of which the artists have assigned a shade of gray. They then reproduced the sheet on a photocopier at six different darkness levels and assembled the individual sheets into a sort of collage. By flipping some of the sheets horizontally, they combined the zigzag lines into a single horizon reminiscent of a mountain range. The varying shades of gray produce a sense of depth.
Thomas & Renée Rapedius work “in situ,” adapting their installations to fit each exhibition space. The number of copies in Nebelgebirge, the variously sized objects in Kakteen and the length of the outspread arms of Wucherung are always based on the size of the exhibition space.

In addition to the formal mutability and adaptability of the works, through interpretation various associations can be established in terms of content as well. Thus, for example, the geometrical zigzag lines in Nebelgebirge recall, with their gradations of darkness, paintings such as Caspar David Friedrich’s Morning in the Mountains and Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog—the title here suggests as much. And the cactuses in Kakteen, which are capable of storing water within their bodies for months, allow associations with sheets of paper as repositories of knowledge. With its nested paper cups spreading onto the floor, Wucherung calls to mind a weeping willow, its title seemingly a paraphrase of the overall shape drawn by the branches of that tree.

The title of the exhibition—“falten, schichten, wandeln” (fold, layer, transform)—describes the two artists’ approach and working method, thus bringing process into the foreground. Thomas & Renée Rapedius are not interested in the object that is ultimately produced, but rather in the entire process of development, from searching for ideas and forms to researching materials, transforming them, presenting them in space and integrating the viewer into the reception process. This is also made apparent by the inclusion in the presentation of sketches, photographs and a collection of pictorial material, with which they highlight links and connections between individual objects.
Falten stands for the folding and unfolding of the paper, schichten for the stacking, heaping and piling of paper cups and cardboard boxes, and wandeln, in the sense of Wandlung (metamorphosis), for the transmutation and transubstantiation of natural phenomena into cultural objects, as well as for the deformation of the material. However, the word wandeln also means wandering, both that of the two artists through nature in search of ideas and also that of the viewer through their fictive landscapes.

The works of Thomas & Renée Rapedius deal with the borderland between culture and nature. Which raises the question of whether this borderline even exists in the Europe of our time, whether it is not so blurred that it hardly bears mentioning anymore. In general, nature has undergone a cultural change that has caused so-called “unspoiled” nature to vanish almost entirely. Today the division between nature and culture has lost almost all relevance, a fact that the works of Rapedius, too, seem to want to make visible.