Badische Zeitung, Tuesday 7 August 2012

Smiling in the rapids, Raffi Kaiser. Le Voyage des voyages. The companion volume of texts and pictures for the exhibition at the Freiburg Morat Institute.


“The presence of nature is important for me”, says Raffi Kaiser. Yet it is in his Paris atelier that he does his drawing. He lets the pencil glide quickly over the paper, drawing once lived nature from his mind. It cannot be said to have been ”retained”. What emerges from under his hand Franz Armin Morat calls “a unique universe”. The exhibition  has its name from a long stretch of images entitled “Voyage des voyages”. The reproductions, which are completed by a DVD, include this 66 meter long  “Voyage of voyages”, sheet after sheet, the center-piece of this year-long exhibit at the Morat Foundation (reviewed in the Badische Zeitung of  14 January).

In addition, the early cycle recording the experience of the Negev desert (1981-83),  reminscences of the Far East, “Rafting on the Colorado” and, not least, Kaiser’s Greek cycle. In his 2007 exhibition “Japan and the West”, Markus Brüderlin had shown Kaiser’s two great Japan and China cycles in the form of a spiral, with a stone circle of Richard Long’s in the center. In his contribution to the present publication, he considers Kaiser from the viewpoint of Peter Sloterdijk’s far-ranging study “You must change your life”. For this is what Raffi Kaiser did when he went into the desert and turned from painting to ascetic monochrome drawing. It was a goodbye to the art business. Distance won in every respect. In order (as Sloterdijk puts it) “not to be consumed by the angry fuss” .


The world-travelling drawer


Kaiser’s asceticism is thus, observes Brüderlin, “a strong statement about the state of our society”. These deserted landscapes may seem removed from the world, disaffected. If anything, the opposite holds. The sheets on which Kaiser retraces his journeys, Brüderlin writes, “the dancing, aerial, ghostly lines which combine into fantastic landscapes, these contain more affection for the world than all the hectic fluctuations of the stock market curves that flicker across the screen”. Brüderlin discerns in this world-travelling drawer something he calls “enlightened spirituality” – a precise counterpart, this, to what the sub-title of his exhibit “Japan and the West” called “filled emptiness”. Thanks to a non-dualistic way of thinking, emptiness does  not in the Far East stand in strident contrast to fulness.

“Form is emptiness, emptiness form”, writes Katharina Epprecht, deputy head of the Zurich Rietburg museum, citing a Zen Buddhist insight. Epprecht, who already commented on Kaiser’s work in the Wolfsburg catalog, points out that in a picture the emptiness that wants to be everything cannot simply be a blank surface. What matters are the “edges at which the artist shows his ability to go beyond ‘what is said’  and to fill emptiness with meaning”. It is not, therefore, a question of white paper but of how Kaiser’s pen and pencil address it.

Epprecht speaks as an expert on East Asia. Others in the volume speak on the basis of Western art history – and also from their closeness as friends. In 2001 Nicholas Fox Weber, director of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, accompanied Kaiser on the Colorado river in an inflatable raft. Hurled into the rapids, Kaiser was found floating in the water, imperturbable, “a broad smile on his face”. Never, writes an astonished Fox Weber, had he seen anyone in “so perfect a state of Zen”. It is the same equanimity that smiles at one out of these sheets.

The free rhythms of these drawings evoke other images. Fox Weber discovers here  memories of his own, from regions where Raffi Kaiser never had been: Costa Rica, Iceland, Ireland. The “Journey of journeys” in which chains of mountains and stretches of coast and expanses of desert are outlined show landscape and the experience of lanscape as an unending opening of self. An incredible amount is encompassed in the serene flow of this journey It is a contribution to the pictorial idea of the panorama. A lightly sketched summa. The empiricit’s eye meets that of the thinker and dreamer of landscapes.


– Raffi Kaiser. Le voyage des voyages, ed. Franz Armin Morat, modo Press, Freiburg 2012, 276 pages, trilingual, with numerous reproductions, 35 euros.

– Exhibition at the Morat Institute, 31 Lörracher Str., Freiburg. Till December, Saturdays 11-18.


Volker Bauermeister

(translated by Irving Wohlfarth)