NIGEL HALL – Hidden Valleys

Kunsthalle Mannheim  

13. Juni – 12. September , 2004





Ausstellungsaufbau …







Rolf Lauter – Interview with Nigel Hall in London, April, 2004

Rolf Lauter

Nigel, you have a clear idea of nature. What exactly do you feel when you see nature, or when you are out walking in nature?

Nigel Hall

I feel two things. The landscape that affects me is usually pared down, harsh. In fact I usually respond most strongly to desert landscapes, coastal landscapes, seascapes, mountain landscapes, particularly if the latter are covered in snow. I experience them as elements separated by space – with spatial intervals. Thanks to the marks within the landscape you sense the void between the elements. So for me such landscapes offer a sense of distance and a sense of inter-related elements.


Does that apply equally to both the desert and the mountains?


Yes. I was brought up in Gloucestershire where there are trees and bushes; it is a filled landscape which is beautiful. But I respond most strongly to an empty landscape, one that is pared down, emptied of detail. I went to America when I was quite young – albeit primarily to satisfy a whim, to satisfy my imagination about deserts. I had never been to a desert, but something in my being drew me towards them. I therefore settled for two years in Los Angeles, because I both like big cities and I liked a big city that was close to a desert. After all, there aren’t many. So I spent a little time in the Mojave Desert – walking, sleeping out at night under the stars, exploring. And every time I went into the desert for the first few hours or days, I asked myself: Why am I here? What am I doing here? After all, the Mojave is not a dramatic landscape like Monument Valley where there are great rocks; instead, it is essentially empty, with maybe just tumbleweed, dust and dirt tracks here and there.


Do you mean by this something like ‘infinite’?


That emptiness hones your perception. It heightens your powers of perception. It is almost as if you were starved of events at first: there is nothing here. Then, as you grow more accustomed to it, as your whole being slows down, you become more heightened and more aware. And the slightest mark of man in the Mojave, perhaps a rusty pipe that sticks out of the ground for some reason, becomes a phenomenon in its own right. You see it, almost as if you were on drugs: it becomes more real than you ever imagined something could be. One of the early pieces I made is called Soda Lake. Soda Lake is a dry lake in the Mojave Desert. I was standing there in an expanse of encrusted salt that stretched for miles and miles to the horizon, and at a certain point there was this pipe and I came across this pipe and thought: What the hell is this? And exploring further, I took a pebble and dropped it down the pipe. As it bounced around the side of the pipe as it fell downwards, it made this reverberating sound – bo-oo-oo-oo-ng, that sound of a pipe – and it hit water after seven seconds, meaning the water was a long way down beneath the surface of the desert. Then the echo of the splash came back up the pipe. I realized at this point that below the flat desert was another unseen area, a water-table. And so it was that in 1968 I made Soda Lake. It is an elliptical bar suspended above your head and attached to the ground by a diagonal rod; separated from it is a suspended form, a thicker rod hanging vertically about ten centimeters off the ground. And that piece proved quite seminal to me because it explored spatial interval, contained empty space, while also describing the way the centre of the earth pulls a plumb-line, ensuring it hangs vertical. As we stand vertical on the earth, you and I standing a meter apart, we are both holding our balance, drawn to the centre of the earth like verticals. We are not parallel, because we converge. Those two hanging lines are drawn to the same centre of the earth, where they converge. So my sense of landscape is bit like this, it is part romantic, part physics, part a sense of being, part an awareness of the self in a big context. Indeed, the landscape is a big empty space and it is part of ourselves standing on this globe that is the earth.


So your starting point was always the earth, the coordinates and basics, the volume of the universe, the ground. In other words, you proceed from the condition of a person in the world standing on the ground and perceive this in terms of the horizontal and vertical coordinates?


Yes, just as water dripping from a tap forms a vertical, so a table of water forms a horizontal. That is absolutely part of it. Equally important and not to be denied is the direct experience of light, shadow, the experience of dust, the experience of landscape itself. It is not always a dry, abstract notion, for it is both together.


When did you understand that the natural elements fuse to create an idea or form in your mind?


Some writer once said that the experiences of childhood constitute the basis on which creativity is formed throughout the rest of your life. You use early experiences. To answer your question indirectly, my early experiences are of my family, who were quite visual. My grandfather was a stone-carver who restored buildings, he was a stonemason. And I learned from him that an incision with a chisel did three things at once: it makes a line, an edge, and a shadow. There is a relationship between the materials, between the substance and idea, because a line is an idea. How a shadow meets a line and makes a facet is both a physical experience and also an idea. To take my work as an example: there, the line has a strong linearity, it creates shadow, and delineates edges. So those early carving experiences are embedded in the work I do, be it drawing or sculpture. The sculptures themselves are in natural materials (wood), whereby the precision of their forms is perhaps tempered by the natural marks that occur in wood in the same way as in a piece of Corten steel, its sharp definition is softened by the natural weathering of the material itself. My grandfather taught me a great deal.

I grew up in the countryside and spent a lot of time on my own from the age of perhaps eight until twelve or fourteen walking, cycling, drawing landscapes.

Then there is the time in which I grew up. I was born in 1943 and had experiences either directly or indirectly of wartime, of air raids. I came to associate space and distance with an element of fear. Most children now would either be interested in aeroplanes or not. My experience, by contrast, was that of fear. When out of doors as a child and a plane flew over, I´d run inside.

Therefore the aerial space above my head became an active dimension, one to be used. And since then I have used it, not in a fearful way, but because it became tangible. Take a searchlight, a wonderful thing. But when I was a child I was quite scared of searchlights. Now I see the beam of a searchlight as the connecting line between this point and that, spanning space.

There is a little sculpture called Ship-to-Shore. The title has a poetic sound – I like the idea of ship to shore, it is beautiful alliteration while referring to the radio communication between a ship and the land – at least they did call it “ship to shore communications” when I was young. And there is also a linkage here between a distant point and a near point.


You talk about time, space, elements. And when we look at some of your works, there are always polarities – between light and shadow, all kinds of complementary elements. When did you start to work more with the inside and outside, and other such complementary properties?


Again, I think it is quite an early experience. In the 1960s, I made works that dealt with interiors. There is a sculpture called FreezeI from 1965 which has a number of hidden spaces. There is a truncated pyramid hidden with curtains, forming a concealed space. You are outside, but your mind is trying to explore the inside. Then there is an arcaded section with recesses which do not really allow you to penetrate. I suppose the experience essentially hinged on a questioning of what connected the visible space with the cryptic one.


I see more constructive elements in the early works than now. Before it was metal, it was construction. And now you are working more with soft elements which I like very much – with wood for example which you carve. The recent work has more to do with transformation than construction. Did you learn more about transformation from nature?


That’s an interesting point. I cannot say that there was a sudden switch from one to the other. Because between the linear metal pieces to which you refer and the work I am doing now there was the period of the bronze sculptures like the green one called Sharing. It is almost like a bridge, a bridge between the two. So I don’t think it is quite accurate to talk of a clear sequence of works that has gone from the metal to wood. I think the process is more like Chinese whispers, each piece is somehow similar to the next and so on until you find, say, after a ten year period there are great differences between them. I cannot really explain the changes. I suppose I wanted to deal more with the delicacies of light changing. And with the linear pieces, that was not something that it was easy to explore. You can address a spatial interval, a fairly abrupt spatial interval; perhaps, however, I wanted to deal more with a gradual transition from one form to another.


I think the edges are more precise on the wooden pieces; light and shadow oscillate slightly. The metal is harder and colder; on the wood you see light and shadow more distinctly, more subtly.


Yes, it registers more.


This is why I think you became increasingly intimate with the inner structures of life and nature.


I think it is in fact an increasing awareness of those aspects, absolutely.


I think you instill your objects with your inner life, they seem more alive.


That is probably true. The thing that is consistent with all of them is that the sculptures, be they free-standing sculptures, wall pieces, recent wood ones, earlier metal ones, is that they all exhibit transparency. They allow the eye and the mind to pass through them. You see elements through a piece, elements of the real world. The sculptures borrow space from their environment. So the same sculpture placed in my studio is going to look very different from those placed in Mannheim, because it will borrow the space of the museum in Mannheim. That is the beauty of sculptures. And with the wall pieces there is always the wall that filters through and is exposed through the sculpture.


I have the feeling when I look at these beautiful wooden sculptures that they grow out of the wall as if they were plants or trees. Somehow the elements become their soul. With all the details and the things that are going on inside, each sculpture becomes a world in its own right.


I totally agree; each of them has an inner world. But it is a world that respects, acknowledges and makes use of the larger world outside. The sculpture is almost like a focusing device, it focuses the larger worlds within it without actually denying the latter’s presence.


Put differently, there is the inner world of these sculptures and the two-sided openness to the spectator and to the wall, to the inner world and to the outer world.


That is slightly too grand a description, but I feel somehow it may be a metaphor for how we exist as regards the outside world. I have always felt very intrigued by the very thin surface that exists between us, or between one and the world around – the thin world of skin. It is like a boundary that we are desperate to try and break down, because in each of us there is a whole world of thoughts and interpretations, of experiences and responses. And there is always the difficulty innate in trying to penetrate these and mingle them, and come to terms with each other.


I think with your works you gently touch on the delicate borderline between fore-grounded presence and something behind, perhaps transcendence.




Your works resemble membranes. The viewer could touch them, but does not for fear of disturbing their subtlety, can look through the translucent surface but cannot go behind it.


There are different methods of bridging that almost impenetrable gap. It is interesting that you mention borderlines or frontiers. When I was in documenta 6 in 1977 I was given a room to use and I made three works: one was Borderline, one was Frontier and one was called Threshold and they referred to the proportions of the doorway to the room. And many pieces refer to interior existence and how it relates to exterior.


Are we at the beginning of a better and deeper understanding of the “other world”, the reality and the other reality?


Do you mean mankind in general or…?


Let’s say more in our spiritual world. We always have a feeling of where we come from, that we are part of universal time and space, but we think we live here in real space although there are other times and spaces.


It is certainly the big question. I have a sense that more and more people are desperate to find answers to it. As traditional religions are becoming less attractive, and despite the fact that when we look around what we see increasingly is a material world, we are drawn more to find out something that is deeper regarding the connection between where we are, where we have been and where we go. I cannot say I am a philosopher, I make sculpture. But I don’t make sculpture like a sort of hermit both physically and mentally, I make sculpture in the real world – one does not illustrate anything.


I have the feeling your sensitivity increases permanently. You are some kind of a mirror of what is going on in the world and you are moving from construction to intuition. With your new works you touch more on natural principles. It is as if, earlier you thought you understood and now you seem to be trying to learn again to find out something that is real.


That is absolutely right. You learn and then make a sculpture and then you make a sculpture and then learn from it. You have an understanding of the world and from that you make a sculpture. When the sculpture is made, that teaches you more about the world. So it is a sort of cycle of knowledge.


Things arise in the mind like Plato’s “eidos”. They are part of this bigger cycle of doing something that is parallel to nature, to paraphrase Cézanne. You are touching something we can feel but cannot define, although we have to try doing that.


Yes, one can go so far in deconstructing the sculptures, you can go so far in analyzing them and then you come to a point where it is what it is, namely a phenomenon of space and light. And it speaks to you directly and you have to trust that and not always expect it to be analytical in essence. As with music: you can explore it, describe it in words and analyze it, but there comes a point when you accept that this is what it sounds like or, in our case, this is what it looks like.


Your light wooden sculptures, the two butterflies, are almost moving on the wall…


I gave them a nickname when I was making them, and called them “drifters”. And the name has stuck as, like you say, they have this floating quality. They are the same form – one is slightly larger than the other. But they are aligned in different ways, so you can read them in different ways.


In other works you place the movement on the inside. This seems to all be about time and space, movement, light and shadow. Everything starts to transform. In your admirable drawings of the circles I see that as well. The simplicity of the forms does not make everything more simple, but instead more complex.


That is true. The pattern of my working life has been a sort of wave movement of increasing complexity, where I am absorbing, exploring and discovering. And then there has been the act of reducing that complexity to the simplest of statements. I find that far more satisfying for me. It says something quite straightforward and by virtue of that straightforwardness possesses greater depth and resonance.


I discern much poetry in your work . Which poets have been important to you?


The first one who comes to mind is the US poet Hart Crane, who had a short but extraordinary life. I think he influenced Jasper Johns because Jasper Johns did a diving figure and Crane, who suffered from severe depression, apparently committed suicide by diving off a ship.* Crane wrote about the experience of America, and because he understood it so well and his writing was so specifically about America it transcends its subject matter and becomes meaningful for anybody at anytime. This is what poetry and good prose should be. Studying anything in detail makes you understand bigger things. Looking at the structure of a flower will tell you a great deal about the structure of the cosmos. Then there is T.S. Eliot, a poet whom I find tremendously important. Not to mention e. e. cummings, another American, who on the face of it seems very humorous and lightweight, yet if you read his poems twice, you sense how they become darker and more tragic in some ways, more meaningful. Reading generally is important to me. Early on there was A. E. Housman, the poet of the English countryside, and Thomas Hardy. They are romantic at heart and I find them very moving


Is that the reason you did the book drawings?


The book drawings came about because I had damaged my hand and was not able to make sculptures, and so I wondered how to occupy myself for the two or three months until my hand had recovered. I decided to do what I love to do, which is read, reread things. How often do I have the opportunity to reread? Very seldom. But I realized that this was not enough and that I could perhaps make drawings from them in some way. Now my work strongly emphasizes the vertical and horizontal coordinates. The byproduct of the two is the diagonal, and the diagonal occurs a great deal in my work. So I started to consider how I could re-invent or re-explore the diagonal, and devised this method of connecting the first and last point of each paragraph. The result is a number of diagonals of varying lengths and angles, and overlaying page after page gave a reinterpretation of the structure. It is not a method I think has any great depth, but what it does is release an image from those books that has some relationship to them.


Thank you very much for these insights into your work.

* Jasper Johns, Periscope (Hart Crane), oil on canvas, 1963; Jasper Johns, Diver, 1962, oil on canvas

Wie die Nacht zum Tag wird

By Sean Rainbird

Masse, Volumen, Oberfläche und Licht sind nach wie vor entscheidend für die Realisierung und Erscheinung skulpturaler Ideen, die Grundlagen für die Schaffung von Objekten. Nigel Halls Serie Times of the Day bringt einen weiteren Aspekt ins Spiel: die Dimension der Zeit. Diese Skulpturen sind Ausgangspunkt für mehrere andere, darunter Hidden Valley, Snow Light, Like Thunder und die etwas frühere Ship-to-Shore, welche den Kern dieser Ausstellung bilden.* Um Zeit entweder als bestimmten Moment wie in Times of the Day oder als allgemeiner aufgefasstes Phänomen geht es ganz offensichtlich in einer Serie präzise konstruierter Wandreliefs und Bodenobjekte. Die neueren Arbeiten bezieht Hall durch die Titelgebung allgemeiner auf die Natur, doch es sind immer auch Verweise auf spezifische Zeitlichkeiten impliziert. Alle diese Arbeiten sind aus mit Birke furnierten, nicht massiven Holzelementen gebaut, die zu ineinander greifenden Schleifen, Ovalen und Kreisen geformt sind. Die Passgenauigkeit, mit der die gekrümmten Formen sich berühren, erinnert an die Präzision von Uhrwerken oder die Verzahnung von Schaltgetrieben. In dieser Analogie werden sie zu Zahnrädern, die kleinste Veränderungen messen können. Ihre wie exakt ausgeschnitten wirkenden Ränder und ihre Winkelhaftigkeit lassen an ein reibungsloses Ineinandergreifen denken, ihre unterschiedlichen Durchmesser an die Möglichkeit, verschiedene Geschwindigkeiten zu erzeugen. Es handelt sich aber um unbewegliche, visuelle Gegenstände, keine mechanischen Modelle – ihr Sinn liegt in der Andeutung, nicht in der Funktion.

Diese Suggestionskraft wird durch eine besondere Zurückhaltung im Zaum gehalten, die sich schon an der blassen Tönung und leichten Maserung des geschmirgelten und polierten Birkenfurniers zeigt, das die Oberflächen dieser Skulpturen bildet. Deren Helligkeit und natürliche Lebendigkeit schaffen einen Ausgleich zu der starken Dynamik der Bögen und Ovale, aus denen die Grundformen dieser Skulpturen bestehen. Die schrägen Ebenen und ausgeprägten wie unterschiedlichen Kanten dieser Formen reflektieren und brechen das Licht. Sie schaffen Schattenzonen oder bündeln Licht in den Leerformen der Skulpturen. Zum Großteil Wandobjekte, sind sie autonome Werke. Manche Bilder ergeben sich jedoch, wie es scheint, durch ihre Kombination kreisförmiger Elemente, die wie Querschnitte eines Kegels konstruiert sind. Diese Scheiben und Ovale umkreisen horizontale und vertikale, oft spitzwinkelig zulaufende Gegenstücke in ihrem Inneren, die an verstellbare Jalousien erinnern. Die Formen dieser horizontalen und vertikalen Elemente sind aber keine einfachen Rechtecke, sondern eher dreieckige Keilformen. Manchmal sieht man die spitze Längskante der Keilform, das andere Mal ist die plane Fläche der dickeren Längsseite zum Betrachter gerichtet. Dies beeinflusst wiederum, wie sie entsprechend das Außenlicht fern halten oder in die inneren Leerräume der Skulptur führen, wie die Skulpturen Dunkelzonen schaffen oder das Umgebungslicht streuen.

In The Hour of Noon, auf die sich Snow Light formal am engsten bezieht, schafft die Übereinander-Reihung paralleler Keilformen starke Licht-Schatten-Kontraste. Sie lassen an geschlossene hölzerne Fensterläden denken, die in einem heißen Land die brutale Mittagshitze draußen halten. The Hour of Midnight hat drei Bögen, Kreissegmente, die am Rand eines zentralen runden Kegelquerschnitts befestigt sind, und ist viel raumgreifender. Die Bögen verweisen auf den Umraum, greifen in ihn aus und lassen so die Vorstellung der Unendlichkeit des Nachthimmels entstehen, an dem Planetenkörper für uns unerreichbar, doch für das Auge sichtbar umeinander kreisen. Die Schatten, die durch die sich verengende Öffnung der zentralen, kompakten Kreisform entstehen, verweisen auf eine hier eingeschlossene Dunkelheitszone, die im Weltraum allumfassend ist. Auf die Überbrückung großer Distanzen spielt auch der alliterative Titel Ship-to-Shore an. Mehr noch, er legt eine Kommunikationsform nahe; ein Mittel, in Verbindung zu bleiben, wenn man unerreichbar ist.

Bei den der Morgen- und Abenddämmerung gewidmeten Skulpturen sind steigende oder fallende Bewegungselemente zu einer horizontalen Ebene in Beziehung gebracht. Sie verweisen auf die auf- oder untergehende Sonne, bleiben aber bei allem Anspielungsreichtum in sich äußerst präzise. Hall übersetzt in seinen Skulpturen die Erscheinung der auf- oder untergehenden Sonne und ihre Bewegungen jenseits des Horizonts mit Wechseln der Größenverhältnisse zwischen den Scheiben. Die Rotationsbewegung der Erde von der Sonne weg lässt diese augenscheinlich größer werden, doch wir wissen, dass der Blickwinkel über die Krümmung der Erde für diese optische Verzerrung verantwortlich ist. Diese Konstellation kann die Sonne beim Auf- oder Untergehen auch oval erscheinen lassen. The Hour of Dawn spielt auf das erste Licht vor dem Erscheinen der Sonne am Horizont an. Das obere Element der Skulptur ist zum Betrachter hin geöffnet, sein unteres Gegenstück ist nach innen gewandt. Eines dieser verbundenen Ovale ist also zur Wand hin geöffnet und führt Licht ins Innere, das die Dunkelheit der Schatten umspielt, die es selbst schafft. Sein oberes Gegenstück ist umgedreht, so dass die größere Öffnung nach außen zeigt. Es zielt von der Wand auf unseren Standort, die blassen Oberflächen sind abgeschrägt, zum Licht hin geöffnet und vermitteln so den Eindruck einer allmählichen Einkehr einer helleren Phase des Tages. Die formal verwandte, wenn auch dramatischer betitelte Arbeit Like Thunder verweist ebenfalls auf anbrechendes Tageslicht, in diesem Fall durch Halls Anspielung auf die aufwühlenden Worte des Dichters Rudyard Kipling: „The sun comes up like thunder over China ´cross the bay.“ Der glühende Kreis der untergehenden Sonne am Ende des Tages wird von der großen und sich öffnenden oberen Scheibe von The Hour of Dusk verkörpert. Im Vergleich dazu signalisieren die unterschwelligen Schatten der kleineren Scheibe darunter einen Abstieg ins Dunkle. Eine ähnliche Lichtsituation wird vom Titel von Hidden Vallley angedeutet; sobald die Sonne den Kamm überquert hat, ist das Talbecken in Schatten getaucht. In den Notizbüchern des Künstlers sind diese Prozesse des Dunkel- und Hell-Werdens als Metaphern der Sterblichkeit gedeutet. Der Anbruch der Dämmerung lässt das Licht sterben, ein Leben vergeht, das danach nur noch in der Erinnerung lebendig bleibt.

Ob es um einen Wechsel der Tageszeit geht, wenn das Licht auf die nächtliche Dunkelheit folgt, oder nur um ein Objekt, das wie andere in einer Serie oder verwandte Werke strukturiert ist und in entgegengesetzte Richtungen ausgreift, stets bleiben die Skulpturen von Nigel Hall sowohl formal abstrakt als auch inhaltlich anspielungsreich. Sie vermitteln den Eindruck einer emotionalen Unaufgeregtheit, die auf Momenten der Abgeschiedenheit und des intensiven Beobachtens beruht. Zeiten, in denen die Konzentration die Wahrnehmungsfähigkeit für die Eigenschaften der Luft schärft, für subtile Veränderungen der Licht- oder atmosphärischen Bedingungen. Sie bringen insbesondere ein Verhältnis zwischen dem Gegenstand und seinem Ort in dem Raum, den sie einnehmen, zum Ausdruck, aber auch in Anspielung auf das weitere Umfeld, aus dem nicht selten die Inspiration für ihre Entstehung hervorging. Angesichts dieser Objekte denkt man instinktiv an Landschaften, und sei es nur auf der Ebene dessen, was sie evozieren. Auf den ersten Blick scheinen ihre Regelmäßigkeit, Geradlinigkeit, variierten Bogenformen und angewinkelten Ränder kaum mit Außen-Phänomenen in Beziehung zu stehen. Doch das Spiel des Lichts auf den installierten Skulpturen und die Bewegungen der Ausstellungsbesucher, die sie betrachten, ermöglichen dann noch eine andere Erfahrung – sie machen stumme Objekte wandlungsfähig. Diese Wandlungsprozesse sind nicht zwingend, man kann sie jedoch durch konzentrierte Anschauung erfahren, wenn man versucht, sich in die Position des Künstlers zu versetzen, der im abnehmenden Licht die Ausbreitung der Schattenzone auf einem Bergrücken betrachtet.

Es gibt Einschlüsse und Öffnungen in diesen Skulpturen, wie das auch bei der Betrachtung einer vertrauten Szenerie von einem geliebten Aussichtspunkt aus der Fall ist. Seit ein paar Jahren ist für Nigel Hall ein kleines Bergdorf in der südlichen Schweiz solch ein Ort, wo die ruhige Großartigkeit des Gebirgspanoramas ihm erlaubt, tagtäglich subtilste Farb- und Lichtveränderungen im Verlauf der Zeit zu beobachten. Bei der Betrachtung der schneebedeckten Gipfel wird einerseits das Farbspektrum reduziert, andererseits dramatisiert sich der Schattenlauf, wenn die Sonne allmählich über Bergrücken und Täler hinwegzieht. Obwohl Halls Skulpturen wie geometrische Abstraktionen ohne direkte Verbindungen mit Naturphänomenen erscheinen können, werden sie vom einfallenden Licht und den Korrespondenzen zwischen innerer Leere und äußerer Oberfläche in einem Maße belebt, dass natürliche Kräfte – wie auch immer abstrahiert und sorgfältig nuanciert – einen nicht zu verleugnenden Teil ihrer Wirksamkeit und Präsenz ausmachen.


On some drawings by Nigel Hall

By Jeremy Gaines

“para: fr. Gk 1a: beside, alongside; b: parallel; c: parasitic; d: associated in a subsidiary capacity; e: closely resembling the true form; 2a isomeric with, polymeric with, or otherwise closely related to”

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Mass., 1986


One reading has it that in the beginning was the word, and the word, a horizontal progression of letters, thus designated a point. Another reading has it that the beginning is marked by a letter, alif/aleph, which is a vertical stroke/line. Both proposals can claim validity. For when it came to charting our world, or rather the Egyptian and Mesopotamian worlds, to plotting ground, establishing ownership, and thus codifying social structure, both points and lines were necessary for positioning. Perhaps this is reflected obliquely in the lines and dots of written signification invented to record claims staked to ownership, starting with cuneiform.

It was Euclid who gave this fundamental system for measuring the earth, namely geometry, a systematic form and he started with the shortest of distances between Points A and B. His definitions run: “A point is that which has no part. A line is breadthless length. The ends of a line are points. A straight line is a line which lies evenly with the points on itself. A surface is that which has length and breadth only. The edges of a surface are lines.” All thought of dimensions, and in fact mapping of the mind/the cerebral cortex using modern visualization techniques, still relies on these principles.[1]

Approximately 2,250 years later after the first written pronouncements on beginnings, the line had assumed a very different function in the art of the painted as opposed to the written page. In post-War art the line had ceased to connect two points and instead acted as a divider, not in the sense that a horizon separates heaven from earth, or that an edge divides black from white, but at a complex existential level. The vertical line typical of many paintings of Barnett Newman, for example, is widely interpreted to signify the border between life and death, between being and nothingness. The line becomes a cut, an incision in the surface fabric of the world. This signifying quality is indirectly criticized only a few years later by Roy Lichtenstein’s insistence on the line merely as outline, as delimitation for a grid of dots, dots that in unjoined manner denote space.

By contrast, in the domain of the written word as art, the beauty (of poetry or prose writing) on a page stems from the fact that although our eyes move in a straight line from left to right (or right to left, or up and down, depending on the culture), our mind in interpreting the words thus scanned, need not. In other words, the content and the form are not intrinsically linked in literature. A book has as beginning and end two covers, and not the first and last words or the first/last lines in it. This is potentially all the more the case in poetry, where the line often has no end or is no end, but continues on the next level up/down. Likewise, the line may not mark a beginning, but actually starts one level before/above. Or its end may mark a break, or cessation, something pointed up by the dots that serve as punctuation. Only in one instance has content become form and vice versa, namely in the Concrete Poetry promulgated in Central Europe at roughly the same time as art informel.

Suffice it to conclude here that the vertical structure of the poem may conceal a synchrony as much as it exemplifies a diachronic progression. Within the lines, what we read by way of content often serves to interrupt or rupture the lines, creating unseen blanks and empty spaces in order to create meaning, if we are to believe Wolfgang Iser, for one. The associations between words enable us to jump from one line to one much further on or back again, to playfully engage with the matrix, as we (or the poem) generate multiple layers of meaning. The lines may be parallel, the meaning in one may parallel that in another parallel, or equally they may be parallax and mark subtle shifts in content.


The line as a quantity of measurement and a trace of existence, on the one hand, and the poetry of written language, on the other, have been interlinked in a unique way by English sculptor Nigel Hall – who at one point in his career produced a body of some 45 ‘line drawings’ so-called. Andrew Lambirth has pointed out that these line drawings “relate closely to diagonal linear sculptures made in earlier years.”[2] Despite such a linkage or lineage, I wish to discuss these drawings here as art works in their own right and not as subordinate to Nigel Hall’s sculptures. After all, they were produced at a time when an injury to his hand prevented him from making sculptures, so we can safely assume that they have a non-derivative status.

A single originating principle underlies them all. In each drawing, the first point of a paragraph is connected with the last, whereby the diagonals shift as Hall works his way through a page, clearly reading left to right, from short diagonals that are steep to long and narrow version, or, in some cases to long and steep lines, and then moves on to the next page. To make the drawings, in most instances Hall places a sheet of paper under the chosen piece of prose or poem, with carbon paper interleaved, and draws a line with a used-up biro. This has the advantage of leaving the written page untainted (unless the paper is soft) and upholds the sovereign status of the original work. Hall then continues the tracing process using the next page of the book, but the same sheet of paper onto which the carbon color is transferred, until the result has the density he seeks – this process may be achieved after three pages (Drawing no. 1110) or after many more pages (Drawing, no. 1109).[3]

These carbon-copy “line drawings” attest to a distanced reflection of reading that runs in the Western tradition from left to right. These drawings usually take up only the left side of the sheet and are sized 23.5 x 23.5cm although a very few are centered the way poems are occasionally centered on a page. There is, however, one crucial variant: considerably larger sheets (126 x 122 cm), derived from the smaller cousins by projecting the latter’s images, tracing them in pencil, and then drawing them in charcoal. There is a greater distance between the outcome here and its origins, a greater degree of abstraction, as the drawings are now square, a format unlike that of most books – and the outer four corners thus references the original written pages far less.[4] Moreover, unlike the thoroughbred carbon copies, the method of transposition using charcoal leads to smudging, attesting to the process of copying while at the same time lending greater depth to the lines.Hall himself comments that the charcoal serves to give “a spatial ground and grid in which the most precise forms can live; it gives them breathing space and a bite into the potential illusionary space of the paper.”[5]

The effort of the copyist gives rise in Hall’s line drawings to structures that are matrices (places or points of origin), maps not of the reading process in perceptual terms,[6] but of the printed page that enables signification. Nigel Hall directly relates this two-dimensional grid to his sculptural oeuvre and at the same time pin-points the structural principle behind his act as copyist. For the traces are not merely true copies of the lines of words, but in the process highlight specific semantic units, namely paragraphs. He says: “Now my work strongly emphasizes the vertical and horizontal coordinates. The byproduct of the two is the diagonal, and the diagonal occurs a great deal in my work. So I started to consider how I could re-invent or re-explore the diagonal, and devised this method of connecting the first and last point of each paragraph. The result is a number of diagonals of varying lengths and angles, and overlaying page after page gave a reinterpretation of the structure. It is not a method I think has any great depth, but what it does is release an image from those books that has some relationship to them.”[7]

At the formal level this is where the Hall drawings go further than the literature from which they take their cue. For the diagonals connect. They forge links where the written word left it to us as readers to do the work of connection. Thus, they serve as short-cuts from beginning to end in the sense that the ladders do in a board game of snakes and ladders. They likewise demarcate inter-relation through formal repetition of angles or progressive widening of angles. They substitute for hatching as they create depth – is the diagonal in front of/before or behind the one or other line. The use of diagonals returns the geometry to the act or reading and of writing, for the image is one of a zigzag, as with a pencil or crayon wandering from side to side down a page. This is, of course, the form chosen by Cy Twombly in his famous 24 short pieces, sheets featuring one or more expressive, whereby the forms the line evokes evolve differently in each case.

By contrast, Hall’s line drawings are more stringently geometrical and less expressive, for they are always straight- and thus hard-edged. Yet this is not to detract from their expressive properties. Each drawing sets a specific expressive tone through the discordant repetition of diagonals (a reflection of the random nature of the length of the last line of a paragraph, as this formal property is rarely linked to content) and line lengths or through the gradual transition from lesser dense to more dense sections. In fact, each drawing evidences movement through the transitions it depicts or the changes in the acuteness of the angles of the diagonals. In this regard, while words create rhythms at a variety of levels, particularly in poetry, in the Hall drawings there is more emphasis on discordance (as there is on being dragged to the end or bottom of the page).

The density itself evidently reflects the density of the number of pages read, meaning that again the drawings function as a diametrical opposite to the process of reading – the more we read, the more we quantitatively know, the more our minds ‘expand’, whereas in the line drawing the more pages that have traced, the denser the experience. In Hall’s line drawings the more pages are read and traced, the greater the number of ends and beginnings of lines are tracked, the more concentrated our visual experience becomes. In this respect, the drawings symbolize what the process of reading can potentially achieve in qualitative terms.

At the associative level, the line drawings have something whimsical about them. The drawing centered on a page has something of a kanji character and Chinese calligraphy about it. There is likewise the random aspect conjuring images of Mikado sticks or a conifer seen side on, like iron filings attracted to magnets (here perhaps there is a link to the metal properties of graphite). What do not emerge are networks of meaning, such as those intimated, for example, in the line drawings of Hanns Schimanky, where a grid of hand-drawn straight lines and a few squiggles create a landscape of fields and hedges. Instead the angular motion of the diagonals draws the eyes either upward or downward in one direction, either a ladder to the left or a sense of falling downward, whereby in the latter there would quite literally be no uplifting movement.

Over and above the formal properties of the lines themselves, there is a substantive level to the drawings where their titles are not just numbers but include names. For in certain cases Hall wants us to know what books he read/carbon-copied, and thus highlights their status as ‘copies’, encouraging us to wonder how they were created and essentially commemorating the words behind the lines. His choices in this regard are illuminating, for they point up three main fields of the literary word: (decidedly profane) prose, (Modernist mythological) poetry, and Far Eastern (philosophical) aphorisms, where the boundaries between poetry and prose in the Western sense may be blurred. First of all there are the drawings reflecting Hall’s reading of Cormac McCarthy’s award-winning novel Suttree, published in 1979, in which the protagonist renounces a life of privilege to live on the margins of society among outcasts in Tennessee. The novel stands out not only for the registers of language used, and the emphasis on dialogue, but as Richard Davenport wrote in the National Review, the reader is “won over … to Cormac McCarthy’s radically original way with tone and his sense of the aloneness of people in their individuality. At the heart of Suttree there is a strange sense of transformation and rebirth in which the protagonist wanders in a forest, sees visions, and emerges as a stranger to all that was before familiar.” This could easily be read as a discussion of the process of ‘copying’ that Hall deploys.

Now it may be serendipity that the same month saw Hall reading the poetry of Hart Crane, that elusive New York poet so prototypically a Modernist alongside Pound and Eliot. The poem taken for the drawing is from the volume The Bridge and is entitled “Atlantis”, and in it Crane digs deep in mythology in evoking images of the Brooklyn Bridge that are redolent of the upward/downward motion of the line drawings and of the changes in density they reveal: “Through the bound cable strands, the arching path/ Upwards, veering with light, the flight of strings,-/ Taut miles of shuttling moonlight syncopate /The whispered rush, telepathy of wires.”[8] Here, Crane starts with the lines of the bridge in order to start to create a dense weave of mythical allusions.

Last but not least, there is the Tao Teh Ching by Lao Tzu. In the opening pages of that work there we find dialectical aphorisms that could be applied equally as the principle behind the philosophical principle underlying the ‘line drawings’. In the very first section of the work we read: “Thirty spokes join together in the hub. / It is because of what is not there that the cart is useful. / Clay is formed into a vessel. It is because of its emptiness that the vessel is useful. / Cut doors and windows to make a room./ It is because of its emptiness that the room is useful.“ Hall’s line drawings are beautiful because of what it not there in what they ‘copy’. In this regard, they subvert the very notion of carbon-copying and open up a domain where the issue of copying becomes the subject. The ‘line drawings’ are copies only in the sense that they reflect what it was that they trace. Irrespective of whether the word or the letter was in the beginning, what comes next is creating a copy of it in our own minds. Here, Hall’s drawings become para-graphics, in all meanings of the word: they exist alongside the original, closely resemble aspects of the true form, are subsidiary to it, and yet go beyond it.

[1] Not surprisingly, the first visualizations, as typified by cave art in Lascaux, likewise rely on lines for representation.

[2] Quoted from Nigel Hall, catalog, [Annely Juda Fina Art, 2000] unpaginated.

[3] The process is reminiscent in a sense of the cross-hatched repetition of Alighiero e Boetti’s biro-drawn commissioned artworks, whereby the principle of aleatory iteration is less pronounced, as the randomness is the product of the underlying writing, which is itself not random.

[4] Perhaps there are overtones of concrete poetry to be discerned in this abstraction.

[5] Quoted from Nigel Hall, catalog, [Annely Juda Fina Art, 2000] unpaginated.

[6] In this regard they are unlike the Eye-Tracker prints prepared by Frankfurt-based artist Jochem Hendricks, who uses a copying machine to record the movements of his eyes while reading and then plot/print these lines onto paper.

[7] Nigel Hall in conversation with Rolf Lauter, in the present volume, p. XXX

[8] Quoted from Hart Crane, Collected Poems, ed. Brom Weber, (New York: Liveright, 1966), p. 103. The lines of the bridge of course fascinated artists and the general public in the first half of the 20th century, as witnessed by Andreas Feininger’s renowned photographs.

Nigel Hall – Das zeichnerische Werk

Von Nadine Pohl-Schneider

Aus dem Stimmungsgehalt einer Landschaft, ihrer atmosphärischen Situation und den eigenen Erinnerungen schafft Nigel Hall neben seinen sensiblen Skulpturen auch Zeichnungen, mit denen er nach seinen eigenen Worten versucht, „eine neue Sprache zu schaffen, die den Raum entwickelt.“

Die Zeichnungen bewegen sich dabei zwischen konkretem Naturbild und Abstraktion. Die Besonderheit ihres bildnerischen Ausdrucks liegt vor allem in ihrer formalen Reduktion und geometrischen Klarheit. In diesen Arbeiten, die von der unlösbaren Dialektik von sensueller und mentaler Erfahrung von Wirklichkeit geprägt sind, versucht Hall durch die reduzierten Formulierungen die komplexe Struktur von Wirklichkeit und ihrer Erfahrung dem Betrachter unmittelbar vor Augen zu stellen, frei von Nacherzählung undVerunstaltung: als reine, elementare Form.

Stille und Einheit sind zentrale Begriffe für sein gesamtes Werk, das dem Betrachter neben dem sinnlichen auch einen geistigen Raum zu eröffnen vermag.

Bekannt wurde Nigel Hall in den siebziger Jahren durch seine fast schwerelos erscheinenden, sehr feingliedrigen Wandskulpturen, die mit ihren kantigen geometrischen Formen ohne scheinbaren Anfang und Ende zusammen mit ihren Schatten die Leere der Wandfläche in einen imaginativen Raum verwandeln.

Obgleich er im Verlauf seines Schaffens seinen Arbeiten durch die Wahl der Materialien mehr Masse und Gewicht zugestand und so die Eigenwirkung der Objekte stärker im Vordergrund stand, verfolgte er auch mit seinen ab 1986 aus Bronze und Stahl entstandenen Bodenarbeiten das gestalterische Prinzip von Transparenz und Zwischenraum, mit dem sich bei der Bodenskulptur noch weitaus mehr Raum einfangen sowie sicht- und spürbar machen ließ.

Auch hier bediente er sich kantiger, linearer Formen, die als Balken den Raum aufteilen, ihn geometrisch und perspektivisch gliedern und in ihren Zwischenräumen materialisieren.

Erstmals aber verwendet er in dieser Zeit auch geschlossene eckige, aber vor allem runde Formen. Die Kreisform beginnt zum wichtigsten Bestandteil seiner künstlerischen Arbeit zu werden und tritt ins Zentrum seiner Erforschung und Eroberung des Raumes, gerade und kantige Formen dienen nunmehr der Stabilisierung und Differenzierung.

So folgt die stete Reduktion der Materialien und Formen bis zu dem Punkt, an welchem sich beide zu substantiellen und energetischen Grundfiguren von Ereignissen in Raum und Zeit verdichten. Dabei gewinnen zum einen der Rückgriff auf natürliche Materialien und zum anderen das verstärkte Aufgreifen der immanenten Energie und Dynamik der Kreisform mehr und mehr Raum und dies nicht nur im bildnerischen, sondern verstärkt auch im zeichnerischen Werk Nigel Halls.

Seine Zeichnungen begreift Hall nicht als Studien für seine skulpturalen Darstellungen, gerade nicht als Handzeichnungen, die nur Studie, Skizze, Entwurf oder Vorzeichnung sein sollen und der Vorbereitung eines Gemäldes oder Bildwerks dienen. Sondern als eigenständige Formulierungen , die in der Folge des im 16. Jahrhundert entwickelten Verständnisses als selbständiges Kunstwerk verstanden werden. Hall versteht die Zeichnungen als Experimentierfeld – „befreit von den Gesetzen der Physik, die ein Bildhauer befolgen muss.“

Dabei kommt die Bildsprache der Zeichnungen der der Skulptur sehr nahe. Wie die Skulptur auf die Wand, auf eine weiße Fläche trifft, so trifft das Schwarz der Kohle auf das Weiß des Papiers und entspricht bis zu einem gewissen Grad einer skulpturalen Konstruktion.

Hall trägt bei einer Zeichnung so viele Bleistiftlinien auf, bis er ihren für die Zeichnung richtigen Platz gefunden hat. Früher entstandene Linien werden ausradiert.

Das tiefe Schwarz in den Zeichnungen erreicht er durch mehrmaliges Auftragen von Kohle. Diesen Prozess wiederholt er so oft, bis das für ihn richtige Schwarz gefunden ist. Dabei auftretender Kohlestaub wird abgeschüttelt und das Ergebnis fixiert. Wo der Staub auf ausradierte Stellen trifft, bleibt er haften und es wird ein wenig Extraschwarz aufgenommen.

So scheinen bei den „Kreiszeichnungen“, die in der Ausstellung vertreten sind, die Kreise gleichsam von oben in die Bildfläche zu gleiten. Die beim Abschütteln in den Zeichnungen als Schattenlinien haften gebliebenenKohlespuren unterstützen den Eindruck des freien Falls. Doch fallen die Kreise nicht weiter, sondern scheinen in der Bildfläche verspannt und erwecken den Eindruck, sich zu drehen.

Den gezirkelten Kohlekreisen ist freihändig jeweils ein unregelmäßiger Innenkreis eingemalt, der den Kreisringen durch das Spiel von Licht und Schatten Plastizität verleiht. Wo das Schwarz der Kohle auf das Weiß des Innenkreises trifft, scheinen sich die Zeichnungen mit Energie aufzuladen und den Blick des Betrachters – ähnlich wie bei seinen Skulpturen – nach innen in die Tiefe zu leiten.

Der Kreis, das wohl wichtigste und am weitesten verbreitete geometrische Symbol, dessen Form auch durch das Erscheinungsbild von Sonne und Mond vorgegeben ist, ist nach Spekulationen der platonischen und neuplatonischen Philosophen die vollkommenste Form. Am Kreis ist weder Anfang noch Ende, weder Richtung noch Orientierung. Er ist Sehnsuchts- und Wunschform der menschlichen Fantasie, dass sich alles zu einem Ganzen schließt und Anfang und Ende immer eins werden. In mystischen Systemen wird Gott als Kreis mit allgegenwärtigem Zentrum paraphrasiert, um Vollkommenheit, Grenzenlosigkeit und das Absolute in menschlichen Begriffen anzudeuten.

Bei den Zeichnungen Nigel Halls leitet der Kreis, der auch Metapher und Abstraktionsform des Auges ist, den Blick des Betrachters in den Raum, fängt undkreist ihn ein, bannt und fokussiert ihn, lässt für einen Moment sichtbare Realität und metaphysische Imagination verschmelzen.

Mit der „Idealform“ Form des Kreises deckt Nigel Hall in seinen hier vorliegenden Zeichnungen – jenseits der vordergründigen Abbildung und Präsentation von sichtbaren Dingen, frei von Nacherzählungen, subjektiver Verzerrung und Beliebigkeit – fundamentale Aspekte der Wirklichkeit auf: Licht und Schatten, Enge und Weite, Anfang und Ende, Raum und Zeit.