For Hannah Regenberg (born 1985 in Emden, Federal Republic of Germany), writing is a form in which language can be visualized. On billboards, in advertisements, and in headlines, language thus becomes image. Hannah Regenberg is interested in the clash between the meaning of the words and sentences, on the one hand, and the materiality of writing in its various typographic manifestations, on the other. She sees the roots of this clash as already inherent in writing as a form. Text in the sense of a linear textual flow of arguments is thus lost. Regenberg pushes language’s tendency to become image even further. In large-format screen prints, she composes letters into redundant black slabs. As such the letters become mere building blocks in these structural images. Language is rendered mute. Regenberg’s sculptural works, created with wood, bronze, and steel strips, offer complementary contrast. Some objects are based on advertising slogans, from which she removed the writing. What remains is only the outer contours – abundance becomes empty. In all of Hannah Regenberg’s works, moments of imperfection play a role. Their formalism might seem clear at first glance, but traces of the production process are noticeable again and again: streaks, uneven colour gradients, misprints. These imperfections reference a process that would appear to be characterized simultaneously by its flawed mechanicalness and its uncontrolled organicalness. Hannah Regenberg lives and works in Berlin.
What We Encounter
On the Works of Hannah Regenberg
Published in: Hannah Regenberg, 2016, Lubok Verlag, Leipzig
In view of large segments of current artistic production that can scarcely do without the use of digital techniques and inter-media arrangements, the working modes on which the art of Hannah Regenberg is based seem almost old-fashioned. The shapes of letters of the alphabet, derived from patterns to be found in publicity and advertisements, are assembled through many steps of a process of revision and abstraction into large-scale prints in which the trace of their former shapes, their resemblance to letters of the alphabet, is almost totally eliminated. At the same time, this artistic abstraction imbues them with a new, non-objective clarity which, for its part, would not be conceivable with the abstraction of the material that serves as the artistic point of departure, namely the letters of the alphabet as graphic representations of language. Flowmarks left behind by the printing process, blemishes that remain as traces of the work process are indications of this manifold transformation. The work process itself is not abstract but refers to the forms of an industrialized artisanal labor that today, however, has long become historical. The silkscreen procedure of which Regenberg makes use developed during the early twentieth century, in the context of the triumph of advertising, into a form of communication at the heart of urban mass culture, and it thereby refers back to the social origin of these fragments of the language of advertising which, as the shapes of letters, constitute the template for Regenberg's works but are absorbed by them, as it were.
To conceive of the recourse to procedures of analogue reproduction as a melancholy reminiscence of a historically outdated technology would be fundamentally mistaken. Instead the method of analogue reproduction, in which aesthetic transference—the transformation of the initial material into an objectivity that has its own laws and is detached from the initial material—remains present and recognizable, makes possible the reflection upon the reciprocal transition from abstraction and reification that characterizes Regenberg's works. Techniques of digital reproduction tend to simultaneously swallow up the object that they render; they eradicate from themselves the traces of transference, the very work that is always inherent to them. Methods of analogue reproduction, on the other hand, make it possible to give weight to the traces of transference in the process of abstraction itself.
For this reason, even there where Regenberg's works—as in her most recent creations—renounce any reference to the shapes of letters in favor of horizontally arranged, striped greyscale patterns, they nonetheless never appear as mere prints, but always as something printed, as autonomous aesthetic objects that do not reproduce but instead leave behind that out of which they have arisen and to which they make reference.
The artistic difficulty that connects all of Hannah Regenberg's works and is reflected upon by them in various ways can be described as the question concerning the pattern: What is the actual point of departure in the production of an aesthetic object, and to what extent can it be found again in the object at the end of this process? Can it be discovered at all, or is it not true that the aesthetic object is characterized by having in a certain sense escaped from the material on which it is based?
On the other hand, that which gives rise to an aesthetic object—even there where it has been absorbed by the process of aesthetic transference, by the intrinsic logic of the object—must nonetheless remain present in that object in some form or other: No work of art arises simply out of itself, but always depends upon something else, upon a material to which it has recourse but which also offers it resistance. In a certain sense, perhaps, the work of art is this resistance, inasmuch as it points toward an object outside of itself without which it would not exist, yet from which it constantly withdraws. The fact that Regenberg developed her characteristic manner of aesthetic procedure in emphatic distinction from her initial experiments in painting bears witness to an alert distrust with regard to the widespread assumption that art somehow arises out of itself: the fear of the painter in front of the white canvas, just like the fear of the writer in front of the empty piece of paper, contains the far-too-seldom expressed recognition that the task of art does not consist of inserting something there where nothing was before. Instead, there must always already be something which can cause the aesthetic attitude to ignite, can transform it, can draw forth a response from it. This response crystallizes in the aesthetic object.
This process of crystallization can be reconstructed in the changes in Regenberg's prints. The early prints are still dominated by the pictorial element, are reminiscent of the tableau, while the abstract patterns derived from the shapes of letters of the alphabet become increasingly independent in recent works and come together into autonomous, seemingly mobile aesthetic objects. Flowmarks, processual defects that remain behind, now recede into the background as traces of the production process; contrasts between the various shades of black and gray in the delicate, mutually differentiated horizontal stripes determine the design. The individual bars are arranged in rows, intersect each other or spread out; appearing in place of monolithic surfaces are segmented patterns that are sometimes reminiscent of the slats of a venetian blind fluttering in the breeze. Much more than the older ones, the recent prints are spatial art whose impact depends directly on the size, height, lighting and further characteristics of the site where they appear. At the same time, in spite of their pictorial quality, they possess a dynamism and a movement that impel them past themselves. In this way, they distance themselves from the conventions of graphic reproduction and, in terms of the visual impression they convey, tend toward the sculptural element which, in any case, attains greater significance in Regenberg's more recent works.
Although they are exhibited works, Hannah Regenberg's text collages, which usher the procedure of printmaking into a new field of discourse, can nonetheless be described as sculptures only to an equally insufficient extent. In them as well, Regenberg—taking up techniques of the cut-up aesthetic—focuses on transitions between language, lettering, and visual image. Most of the time, the initial material of the collages consists of interviews and portrait texts from illustrated periodicals, men's or women's magazines and colorful pages, from which Regenberg has extracted direct statements from VIPs, starlets or “people like you and me,” and has then assembled them into new blocks of text in which almost every sentence begins with “I.” Although the “I” that speaks is always a different one, the rearrangement of the textual building blocks brings to the fore the homogeneity and triviality that connect the statements of each “I” and reveal their emptiness: “In my story there is nothing but holes. / When I tell about myself, I often have the feeling: That's not me. / I hate speaking about things that it is not actually necessary to speak about. / I remember a time when, besides the number of calories, I was interested in only one thing: taste.”
Nonetheless, the aesthetic procedure of the collages is not satirical or parodistic. It is scarcely concerned with unmasking an everyday language emptied of meaning or with criticizing the pseudo-subjectivity of a jargon of self-experience. Reading the collages instead reveals that the homogeneity of the texts is likewise only a deceptive appearance, that closer scrutiny brings to light contradictions and inconsistencies which indicate the fragmentary nature and incoherence of the blocks of text, in other words point to the collage-gesture itself. “I won't let any idiot into my life if I'm not sure of myself. / I'm not gay, but it's impossible to stamp out the rumor. / I hate black leather. / I'm a run-of-the-mill fellow who just got lucky.” It is impossible to decide what is being parodied here, the self-justificatory discourse of an unaffiliated woman focused on career advancement, of a furtive homosexual, or of an abysmal philistine; the individual statements do not adhere to the consistent rhetoric of satire or parody, but in their mutual contradiction come to the fore as autonomous entities.
The independence of the individual textual fragments is further enhanced by the exhibition character of the texts, their presentation as artistic objects. If it were only a matter of the critique of a reified language whose subjects all unjustifiably call themselves “I,” it would be enough to read the texts instead of also seeing them. Basically, the corresponding linguistic formulas could simply have been precisely invented for this purpose, instead of being found in already existing texts. But their presentation as aesthetic objects, as found pieces, emphasizes the visual character of the texts and the objective character of the excerpted, altered, and assembled fragments and makes it possible to reconstruct the places at which cuts were made and textual segments were rearranged, without allowing definite statements to be made about their original shape. Although the texts are collages of reproductions, of articles in various magazines, they themselves are accordingly in a certain sense originals which at best allow themselves to be graphically reproduced, but not to be repeated in oral or written form in circumvention of their character as found pieces.
Regenberg also takes as her subject in the textual collages the multiple transitions between abstraction and reification: That which is supposed to appear in magazines as authentic self-expression formulated by subjects and “taken from real life” is emptied into an abstract form by the cut-up procedure that uses the statements as patterns, as textual building blocks. But the forms that have arisen as abstractions from their already conventional context are in turn not abandoned as the stereotypes that they would basically like to be, but are brought together in such a way as to give rise to new interconnections, but also to new disruptions, punch lines and contradictions that do not simply expose the found element from which the works take their point of departure and which serve them as a subject, but instead take the found element seriously and preserve it by making use of it.
As a main heading for that which connects her works situated in a contradictory framework of both visual and linguistic nature, Hannah Regenberg chose for her first solo exhibition the made-up word “Internale.” Its first segment (“Intern”) refers in German not to inwardness, but to processes that occur immanently as it were, beneath the threshold of articulated expression, and are very possibly not fully evident to the individual himself. The second segment (“ale), on the other hand, is reminiscent of Biennales, Berlinales and Viennales and thereby of the sphere of the public presentation of art, with all its unpleasant and scarcely avoidable accompanying circumstances. The ongoing contradiction between what happens in the work of art and what it remains related to because this is prescribed for it echoes therein. The word, however, could also simply be the plural form of the coined German word “Internal” and could thereby indicate a group of objects which are characterized by the autonomy, the framework of immanence that is systematically shattered by various art biennales. The coined word itself thereby brings to expression the dichotomy which is both subject and object in Hannah Regenberg's works.
Translated by George Frederick Takis
Obsolé (mit Judith Rau), Galerie Sperling, Munich
Kommunikation, Galerie K’, Bremen
Talk, KKV Monumental, Malmö
Internale, Galerie K’, Bremen
Artist Talk in: Heil versprechen, Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 1/2020
Hannah Regenberg, Katalog, Lubok Verlag, Leipzig
artist pages, in: artist Magazin, 1/2016
point line surface solid simulacrum, a/topic N°3, www.atopic-magazin.com
Im Interim, Galerie K', Bremen
Reprint. Wandel durch Reproduktion, hase29 –Gesellschaft für zeitgenössische Kunst, Osnabrück
Raum XVII, Werkhalle Wiesenburg, Berlin
Jahresgaben, GAK, Bremen
Neuköllner Produktion/48 h Neukölln, artspace Treptower 12, Berlin
Die unbestimmte Form, Galerie K’, Bremen
Whytake a chance with anyone else, Basis, Frankfurt/Main
I opened my third eye and I regret it,Kreuzbergpavillon, Berlin
Time to feed the birds, Galerie für Gegenwartskunst, Bremen
Of The Universe, Weserburg - Museum für moderne Kunst, Bremen
Blanks, Galerie K’,Bremen
37. Bremer Förderpreis für Bildende Kunst, Städtische Galerie, Bremen