Selected Works 1988 - 95

I first encountered Kiekeben’s work at the Royal College during his postgraduate studies there. He was concerned then, as now, with the removal of illusionistic tricks from his art while maintaining the possibility of depth, both physically and intellectually. At that time he was working directly on the etching plate and presenting the "master” alongside the "copy” as produced by the printing process. These "Fusion Projects” had developped out of series of combined etchings and steel plates which form the earliest illustrations in this book. In particular, "Project David”, a work made especially for a group exhibition in remembrance of Kristallnacht represents a key moment in the artist’s development. The plate lies on the ground, almost discarded and providing mute testimony to an event that has already taken place. In contrast, the prints which each produced are mounted on the wall and stand tall at just over human scale. Each plate is offset from its print and placed opposite a blank wall space. Allegorically, the work speaks of survival and resurrection, while sculpturally, it invades the space around it, creating a sense of physical depht both through the wall and the floor. Viewers are left in no doubt where the print originated, but the "original” is at their feet, an apparent reversal of the usual artistic hierarchy.

The transcendence of reality and illusion as opposite poles of the artist’s practice has become one of the crucial intentions of Kiekeben’s work since "Project David”. His discovery at the Royal College of the various possibilities of computer generated images has led to more recent work which begins with "Transit”, his final piece made before his move to Edinburgh. Like "Project David”, this work invaded the space beyond the wall and extended the print into a three dimensional object. The plates were folded so that they stood proud from the wall and two lines of thirteen plates were fused with the 26 etchings to produce a single cohesive work. In "Transit”, however, the image on the plate was not drawn by hand but produced using a computer graphics programme. In doing so, the issue of the original and its copy is immediately complicated by the presence of a pre-existing model in the form of binary code in the computer. The plate is no longer the "natural” repository of the artist’s uniqueness but is merely a link in a chain of aesthetic production from programme to plate to print. One can even imagine the process going full circle with the print being scanned and returned to the computer.

As a viewer, what am I to make of this skilful denial of the source and its replacement by what Kiekeben refers to as the "matrix”? On a philosophical level, the writings of Baudrillard on the disappearence of the distinction between the real and imaginary through the simulacra can be recognised and discussed.

On an aesthetic level, I have to acknowledge that the great pleasure I derive from these objects is not based on single human intervention so much as a process of establishing parameters and letting chance (chaos) take its effect. This is true both of the computer programme itself and of the process involved in transferring the image from code to plate to print. I therefore find myself in the position of imposing my own order on the images rather than simply accepting what I am given – a task which is both exhilarating and troubling because it can reveal something of my own psychological preferences.

The basis for Kiekeben’s recent computer etchings (The "Inset” series and the "Two in Three” series) has been the repetition of a single, quite small element across a large field. This can be seen clearly from the image of the laser print for "Inset IV” overleaf. In these works we move at lightning speed from simplicity to complexity by a simple process of addition. It is impossible to identify the initiating element, or "prime mover” in the work because it does not exist. Instead we have the matrix as the only identifiable source for the piece, though one that is absent from the actual work. It lies elsewhere, most productively perhaps in the mind of each individual viewer. A work such as "Inset III” demonstrates both the importance of chance occurrences and the complex responses required of the viewer. Two prints taken from the same platte flank the plate itself. The prints are held away from the wall and forcefully move towards the onlooker. Through close attention, s/he can begin to perceive differences between the two prints caused by minor irregularities in the manual printing process. The plate, held back against the wall, should hold the answer as to which is more "correct”. However, its material and purpose are of an entirely different kind from either print and there is not even absolute certainty that the repeated elements within the plate are perfect reproductions because of the vagaries of the physical execution.

The onlooker must therefore look for the "absolute” not in the work but in his or her interpretation of it – pleasurable process which continually varies with time, light, mood and opportunity.

Charles Esche
Glasgow, 1995