❉ This is the tenth in a series of blogs that discuss diagrams and the diagrammatic format, especially in relation to fine art and the sciences. I recently completed my PhD on this subject at Kyoto city University of the Arts, Japan's oldest Art School.
Feel free to leave comments or to contact me directly if you'd like any more information on life as an artist in Japan, what a PhD in Fine Art involves, applying for the Japanese Government Monbusho Scholarship program (MEXT), or to talk about diagrams and diagrammatic art in general.
Figures 1, 2: Yves Netzhammer, digital drawings, 2010
The working process of Swiss artist Yves Netzhammer begins with what he calls his 'stockpile of conjectures'. This is a growing body of diagrammatic sketches that compose his process of visual thinking, and act as source material for further development into finished drawings, animations, sculptures and installations.
Netzhammer's use of computer illustration and 3D modeling programs is a means of distancing the hand of the artist from his artworks, and imbues his work with a concise and highly distinctive aesthetic of economised line, form, colour and movement. In this way, the diagrams, models and video works of Netzhammer embody the characteristics of what Duchamp called "paintings of precision", imagery purified of irregularities and presented in an airless, ideal realm.
Figure 3: Yves Netzhammer, Untitled, Seilzeichnung, 2011,
Rope, metal, wood, glass and colour, variable dimensions
'Seilzeichnung' (rope-drawing), was the first art work I saw by Netzhammer in Gwangju, South Korea, in 2011. Part wall-drawing, part sculpture, the focal point of the work is the diagrammatic depiction of a dog biting a human wrist, with the dotted bone of the forearm visible between the dog's teeth. The fingers of hand hold a swab with which an anonymous person appears to be taking a clinical sample from the back of the dog's tongue.
Certain elements of Netzhammer's work are common to other diagrammatic artists such as Mark Mander’s use of cross section, artificial architectural constructs, interconnected forms and lines which divide, connect, and often bind objects and ideas together.
You can read more about Mander's work in a previous blog here: Portrait of the artist as a building.
Netzhammer first studied architecture and received training in architectural draughting. This is an important point, because of the strong theoretical and practical presence of the diagram within the field since the 1980's. Netzhammer later enrolled at Zurich’s Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst, where he attended the figurative arts course.
The human form in Netzhammer's work is depicted in a way that highlights its own artificiality. His figures resemble the featureless models used in art school life drawing class, crash test dummies and shop display mannequins. These are presented in spaces constructed in the idealised, neutral style of the computer-aided design programs of architectural modeling. A stark, single light source also helps direct the viewer's attention to the objective, artificiality of this system of visualisation.
Below is a series of video extracts that help give a clearer example of how Netzhammer uses the diagrammatic format to create a distinctive, objective visual language which he then applies to emotive, subjective themes in a way that I describe as Romantic Objective.
The clips were compiled by the artist himself from an exhibition at Bremen Art Museum in 2006: 'Die Anordungsweise zweier Gegenteil, bei der Erzeugung ihres beruhrungsmaximums' (The arrangement of two opposites while their maximum point of contact is under generation).
Figure 6: Yves Netzhammer, The Arrangement of Two Opposites While
Their Maximum Contact Is Under Generation
2005, Kunsthalle Bremen, Germany
I contacted Netzhammer in 2013 as part of my PhD research into the importance of the diagram in contemporary art. I wanted to ask about the role the diagram plays in his own drawings, installations and video works, and why he opted to work with diagrammatic imagery. He explained that:
" It started, in my case, in looking for another way to show a new form of subjectivity. I positioned the computer between me and my thoughts/wishes. I guess, I prefer the diagrammatic “style”, because I’m really trying to find “something” (connected to philosophical questions). Not in the common scientific sense of discovery, but something which appears close to our questions about identity. I hope that an artistic approach to forms of empathy can generate such results, especially, when it comes in a paradoxical format like drawings, which stands in the tradition of explanation. "
A full transcript of Netzhammer's answers and other interviews with diagrammatic artists can be found on the research page of this website.
Below are a series of video clips of Netzhammer's various projects.
More information can be found at the artist's own website: http://netzhammer.com/
and also the online journal: http://www.journalfuerkunstsexundmathematik.ch/
Dr. Michael Whittle
British artist and researcher