Fine Art

Complex 1101

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    AfterGlow: Lisa Von Hoffner

     

    The works of Lisa Von Hoffner enter the discourse of fine art by producing a very conflicted notion of space, or rather, they gain their critical purchase by playing with affective delights, subverting bodily pleasures and upending historical references. But how do these seemingly impassable contradictions show themselves in her work? The first, and perhaps most obvious way, is evidenced in how Von Hoffner collides motifs from Opt-Art, the Light and Space movement and Neo-Geo with figurative elements from the baroque period, mainstream illustration and what one might refer to as a 'glitzy' Vegas aesthetic. The second critical element in Von Hoffner's project is that it provides us with a sense of aesthetic distance about themes that have held a place of prominence in the western canon for centuries, such as the idealization of beauty, proportion and mathematical design. This can be seen in the many ways that her figures are 'posed' in various states of undress, moving through her circular framing devices like so many archetypal muses spotlite on stage, and in particular, on a highly artificial stage that reveals the conventions behind the scopophelic impulse. Third, the gestures and compositional choices Von Hoffner makes aim at a critique of pop aesthetics and the drive toward the commodification of form, and especially of forms that are both naturalistic and abstract. Her work does this by exploring the hermeneutics of desire, the encircling of visual entrainment, and the rhetorical use of adornment. In other words, Hoffner's pieces address the idea of style-as-such, or the codification of genres, schools of thought and even certain rendering techniques, ultimately creating a panoply of visual paradoxes that issue from a sense of unlimited permissions. 

    But whether Hoffner's figures are given to us in the act of applying makeup, pealing off their clothes, wandering through virtual environments, or simply challenging the politics of presentment, all of Von Hoffner's images ask questions of us. This is because they are engaged in a dialectics of revealing and concealing, of shimmering surfaces and artificial inlays, of radical abstraction and uneasy realism, where we are left to decode the implicit connections between dissonant categories of form. And the proliferation of these hybrid constructs, which even extends to how Von Hoffner has reformatted the gallery benches, all seam to beg the question: has digital realism subsumed naturalism, and is this condition progressive to the point of erasing the corporeal realities of the body, not to mention the use of more traditional pictorial techniques associated with the conventions of painterly embodiment? 

     

     

    As a response to this much larger set of issues we can say that Von Hoffner's interventions appear to lean in the direction of a kind of self-reflexive repose that makes us stand back to examine the uses and abuses of the figure as both a sign and symbol. This is not only because her format of choice is that of a circle, which is a hermetic allusion to the ouroboros, to cyclical entrapment, to self-devouring tendencies, and to what Freud called the dialectic relationship between repetition and compulsion. And, this isn't just because Von Hoffner often adorns her exhibits with faux teardrops and neon encasements that recall the lurid draw of red light districts the world over, not to mention the pain and alienation suffered therein. And, it's not just because Von Hoffner uses arrow-like geometries to point our attention skyward as well as toward the floor below, ultimately equating the space of the gallery with a kind of materialist purgatory built on examining the drives that circumscribe the libidinal motivations associated with pictorial representation and the re-appropriation of bodies, desires and the dialectics of display. Of course, Von Hoffner's work provides us with a foray into all of these realms of experience, but what is unique to her project is that she does this by playing with so many in-between states where the entire exhibition space is equally activated and wholly resplendent with dancing points of light, feverish chromatic intensities and skin, skin and more skin. 

    And yet, throughout all of these pictorial passions, the real question put forward to us by Von Hoffner's project has to do with understanding the growing levels of abstraction that the female body is subjected to in the early twenty-first century. This is perhaps most directly on display in Hoffner's abstract works which function like glowing gold and silver surfaces, or even as broken mirrors and interlocking puzzle pieces, all of which allow us to reflect on the condition of the artwork in terms of what Melanie Klein referred to as the function of the 'partial object'. And in Von Hoffner's work these partial objects are spread out everywhere, on the floor, leaning against the wall, and even staged within the trappings of theater decor. But more importantly, these material referents point to their psychological correlaries, which is to say, to the piecemeal construction of the psyche as a metaphor for objects relations that include the self, the other and expropriation of intersubjective relations. 

     

     

    Not only that but the halation of glowing neon lights, which attends the abstract works as well as the figurative pieces, only points to the further fetishization of art and the body in the early 21st century. Of course, all of this makes us think that when we enter an exhibition by Von Hoffner that we too are slowly becoming subjects of the 'geometric condition' and the sense of values accorded to capitalist measures, which are anything but equatible. That is because her paintings comment as much on the return to figuration today as they do the neo-aestheticism of the late eighties and 'the return of beauty' in the early nineties, when art became an industry of projected future earnings marketed to the collector class as a way to diversify their portfolio options. In fact, one could say that Von Hoffner's paintings offer us a kind of immanent critique of those commercial conventions as well as the more traditional themes that have dominated figurative painting for the last few hundred years. 

    In this way, Von Hoffner's work points to how the body is perhaps more deeply encoded and overcoded with sign systems, markers, tags, etc., than at any other time in history, and that one of the best ways to understand this phenomenon is through the historical conventions associated with figurative painting. This is because, we are all, in one way or another, constantly inserting our own image into social networks of every imaginable kind, be they work related, for dating, for documenting our day, our likes, our dislikes, our chat room appearances, our blogs, etc. We are all becoming curators of our own image as an object of our personal history, which we paint in rather broad strokes by transforming the record of our lived experiences into the digital footprint of our lives. Rendering a likeness is now a real-time event just as using a filter or making a few adjustments to the image has become a post-painterly practice. Thus, we can say that if the age of mechanical reprodcution allowed the image to become a 'carbon copy' of its former self, engendering a loss of aura, than Von Hoffner's work functions as a paradoxical attempt to bring the singualrity of the image back to a place of prominance by embracing technology, ultimatley juxtaposing what Walter Benjamin would have called an outmoded meduim with the most advanced techniques of the digital age. Only the form of the auratic that Hoffner's work addresses is not just specific to our time but it is transhistorical in the sense that her work embraces thinking about how the female form has often been depicted emerging from a lumnious ether, from disrobed and otherwise disarmed subject positions, or simply how the feminine body has acted as a palette and a surface for so many patriarchial projections.

     

     

    Consequently, we can say that Hoffner's work serves to underscore the fact that the phantasmic construction of femininity has always been subject to the dictates of the virtual since time immemorial, only now it is circulated at a much more rapid pace with variations on every size, type and body shape. In fact, it was Lacan who highlighted the variegated ways that the construction of 'the feminine' consisted of the greatest possible repressions precisely because femininity was the subject of greater symbolic investitures, and it is exactly these kinds of cultural constructs that clearly make up Von Hoffner's appointed target(s). In this way, her works provide us with a space in which to examine notions like allure, glamour, beauty and different types of bodies in a pluralistic context that feels both cross-cultural and meta-historical. 

    While other artists like Kehinde Wiley have done something similar inasmuch as Wiley's images make connections between the implicit language of hand gestures in Renaissance painting and the explicit character or throwing up 'gang signs' today, Hoffner's work goes a step further in its continuity with images that are both past and present. Her work actively seeks out and engages with a more far-reaching set of connections between the body socius, the designs of beautification, and the process of subjectivation. This is because, in adopting motifs from different genres of fine art, and mixing them with a kind of iconography that echoes the recent proliferation of nudes in the work of other contemporary artists like John Currin, Lisa Yuskavage and Jenny Saville, Hoffner is actively producing a series of radical displacements between real and fictional experiences. And, it is this kind of aesthetic intervention that points to the growing problem of evidencing greater and greater degrees of remove from embodied exchange with each passing generation. 

     

     

    Removed from what exactly is the obvious question here but the answer isn't so easy. Removed from real life participation, from authentic relations, or from the idea of presence as the possibility of genuine connection? Perhaps? Or, from self-alienation, aesthetic expectations, and the conflagration of community as 'living' otherwise than what we see projected at us in print, film and commericals? Perhaps. Or, from the endless series of negotiations we call 'living in the real world', in 'real-time' or simply co-habitating as the act of sharing real space together? Perhaps indeed! But all we can really say is that at least this much is clear about Hoffner's work. These are undoubtably the valences around which her imagery operates inasmuch as as the very degree of artifice in Von Hoffner's pieces also suggests that the real remove she is playing at in her work is that of sensate being subtracted from the figurative idioms and the abstract motifs of contemporary life. In other words, Von Hoffner's work adresses the many ways in which we can live at a remove from ourselves as we become subjects of display in the era of remediation, avatars, and so many virtual or 'cosmetic' selves. And of course, her work points to the fact that these kinds of systemic changes in the culture of connectivity are not without an attending loss of dignity, especially when we begin to think about what should be seen and what should remain unseen. The dyads of the personal and the impersonal, the public and the private, the accessible and the inaccessible are now inscribed in what can only be called a permeable barrier that grows ever thinner in the era of big data.  

    Even so, it is not without the use of a deft had and a committed conceptual comport that Hoffner plays our own presuppositions about figurative art against the implications of viewership, visual consumption and the new world of self-documentation. We live in an age of instantaneous portraiture practices, and Von Hoffner's project acts like a status update between the aesthetic discourses of so many futures that are now long past and our present obsessions with the cult of the self, celebutants and the idea of being famous for being famous. Von Hoffner's paintings do this ever so effortlessly, without her work falling prey to becoming raunchy or risqué, which is what allows us to say that she is an emerging artist who is on par with the best working figurative painters in the world today. Not only that, but it is only a matter of time before her confrontation with the cultural imaginary and its symbolic textures will garner Von Hoffner's work a wider audience as well as greater recognition amongst her peers. 

     

     

    Afterall, her images engender a sense of devotion from those who love painting that sits at the crossroads of craft, concept and complexity. That is really what it means to be a devotee of the painted image, and of the spectacular images of the body served up by 'culture' at large from one epoch to the next. We are lucky to have Von Hoffner's works as an ongoing catalog of such changes, of the pressures not only of culturally constructed identities but also of the kind of performativity that gender roles prescribe as a language of presentation and desire. And for that, we owe Von Hoffner a gift of thanks for making the otherwise irrepressible into something wholly re-presentational, and by proxy, into a way of thinking about the relations of the self as a series of di-critical operations in image production. This is, without a doubt, the very condition that circumscribes all human relations because we are dialogic beings, and the way Von Hoffner captures that fact in her reflected and refracted surfaces provides a moment of dialectic contradiction that allows us to think through the implications of visibility in all of its manifest forms. That is the singular achievement of her oeuvre so far, to have given us a picture of pictorial ideation as a suture that combines the logics of representation and abstraction in equal measure, which is a defining theme of living in an era of permeable memes. 

     

    Not only that but the halation of glowing neon lights, which attends the abstract works as well as the figurative pieces, only points to the further fetishization of art and the body in the early 21st century. Of course, all of this makes us think that when we enter an exhibition by Von Hoffner that we too are slowly becoming subjects of the 'geometric condition' and the sense of values accorded to capitalist measures, which are anything but equatible. That is because her paintings comment as much on the return to figuration today as they do the neo-aestheticism of the late eighties and 'the return of beauty' in the early nineties, when art became an industry of projected future earnings marketed to the collector class as a way to diversify their portfolio options. In fact, one could say that Von Hoffner's paintings offer us a kind of immanent critique of those commercial conventions as well as the more traditional themes that have dominated figurative painting for the last few hundred years. 

    In this way, Von Hoffner's work points to how the body is perhaps more deeply encoded and overcoded with sign systems, markers, tags, etc., than at any other time in history, and that one of the best ways to understand this phenomenon is through the historical conventions associated with figurative painting. This is because, we are all, in one way or another, constantly inserting our own image into social networks of every imaginable kind, be they work related, for dating, for documenting our day, our likes, our dislikes, our chat room appearances, our blogs, etc. We are all becoming curators of our own image as an object of our personal history, which we paint in rather broad strokes by transforming the record of our lived experiences into the digital footprint of our lives. Rendering a likeness is now a real-time event just as using a filter or making a few adjustments to the image has become a post-painterly practice. Thus, we can say that if the age of mechanical reprodcution allowed the image to become a 'carbon copy' of its former self, engendering a loss of aura, than Von Hoffner's work functions as a paradoxical attempt to bring the singualrity of the image back to a place of prominance by embracing technology, ultimatley juxtaposing what Walter Benjamin would have called an outmoded meduim with the most advanced techniques of the digital age. Only the form of the auratic that Hoffner's work addresses is not just specific to our time but it is transhistorical in the sense that her work embraces thinking about how the female form has often been depicted emerging from a lumnious ether, from disrobed and otherwise disarmed subject positions, or simply how the feminine body has acted as a palette and a surface for so many patriarchial projections.

     

     

    Consequently, we can say that Hoffner's work serves to underscore the fact that the phantasmic construction of femininity has always been subject to the dictates of the virtual since time immemorial, only now it is circulated at a much more rapid pace with variations on every size, type and body shape. In fact, it was Lacan who highlighted the variegated ways that the construction of 'the feminine' consisted of the greatest possible repressions precisely because femininity was the subject of greater symbolic investitures, and it is exactly these kinds of cultural constructs that clearly make up Von Hoffner's appointed target(s). In this way, her works provide us with a space in which to examine notions like allure, glamour, beauty and different types of bodies in a pluralistic context that feels both cross-cultural and meta-historical. 

    While other artists like Kehinde Wiley have done something similar inasmuch as Wiley's images make connections between the implicit language of hand gestures in Renaissance painting and the explicit character or throwing up 'gang signs' today, Hoffner's work goes a step further in its continuity with images that are both past and present. Her work actively seeks out and engages with a more far-reaching set of connections between the body socius, the designs of beautification, and the process of subjectivation. This is because, in adopting motifs from different genres of fine art, and mixing them with a kind of iconography that echoes the recent proliferation of nudes in the work of other contemporary artists like John Currin, Lisa Yuskavage and Jenny Saville, Hoffner is actively producing a series of radical displacements between real and fictional experiences. And, it is this kind of aesthetic intervention that points to the growing problem of evidencing greater and greater degrees of remove from embodied exchange with each passing generation. 

    Removed from what exactly is the obvious question here but the answer isn't so easy. Removed from real life participation, from authentic relations, or from the idea of presence as the possibility of genuine connection? Perhaps? Or, from self-alienation, aesthetic expectations, and the conflagration of community as 'living' otherwise than what we see projected at us in print, film and commericals? Perhaps. Or, from the endless series of negotiations we call 'living in the real world', in 'real-time' or simply co-habitating as the act of sharing real space together? Perhaps indeed! But all we can really say is that at least this much is clear about Hoffner's work. These are undoubtably the valences around which her imagery operates inasmuch as as the very degree of artifice in Von Hoffner's pieces also suggests that the real remove she is playing at in her work is that of sensate being subtracted from the figurative idioms and the abstract motifs of contemporary life. In other words, Von Hoffner's work adresses the many ways in which we can live at a remove from ourselves as we become subjects of display in the era of remediation, avatars, and so many virtual or 'cosmetic' selves. And of course, her work points to the fact that these kinds of systemic changes in the culture of connectivity are not without an attending loss of dignity, especially when we begin to think about what should be seen and what should remain unseen. The dyads of the personal and the impersonal, the public and the private, the accessible and the inaccessible are now inscribed in what can only be called a permeable barrier that grows ever thinner in the era of big data.  

    Even so, it is not without the use of a deft had and a committed conceptual comport that Hoffner plays our own presuppositions about figurative art against the implications of viewership, visual consumption and the new world of self-documentation. We live in an age of instantaneous portraiture practices, and Von Hoffner's project acts like a status update between the aesthetic discourses of so many futures that are now long past and our present obsessions with the cult of the self, celebutants and the idea of being famous for being famous. Von Hoffner's paintings do this ever so effortlessly, without her work falling prey to becoming raunchy or risqué, which is what allows us to say that she is an emerging artist who is on par with the best working figurative painters in the world today. Not only that, but it is only a matter of time before her confrontation with the cultural imaginary and its symbolic textures will garner Von Hoffner's work a wider audience as well as greater recognition amongst her peers. 

     

    Afterall, her images engender a sense of devotion from those who love painting that sits at the crossroads of craft, concept and complexity. That is really what it means to be a devotee of the painted image, and of the spectacular images of the body served up by 'culture' at large from one epoch to the next. We are lucky to have Von Hoffner's works as an ongoing catalog of such changes, of the pressures not only of culturally constructed identities but also of the kind of performativity that gender roles prescribe as a language of presentation and desire. And for that, we owe Von Hoffner a gift of thanks for making the otherwise irrepressible into something wholly re-presentational, and by proxy, into a way of thinking about the relations of the self as a series of di-critical operations in image production. This is, without a doubt, the very condition that circumscribes all human relations because we are dialogic beings, and the way Von Hoffner captures that fact in her reflected and refracted surfaces provides a moment of dialectic contradiction that allows us to think through the implications of visibility in all of its manifest forms. That is the singular achievement of her oeuvre so far, to have given us a picture of pictorial ideation as a suture that combines the logics of representation and abstraction in equal measure, which is a defining theme of living in an era of permeable memes. 

     

     

    Bio: Lisa Von Hoffner is a contemporary figurative painter from Philadelphia. She received her BFA in painting from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2009 and her MFA in painting at Arizona State University in 2016. In 2015 she was selected to partake in an artist-in-residence program in Joutsa, Finland where she invoked the richness of contemporary Finnish art to edify her work. Lisa has exhibited extensively in the States and abroad while maintaining representation under Beacon Arts Gallery in Stone Harbor, NJ. Lisa was recently selected as one of only 40 artists out of nearly 1,000 applicants to be published in the New American Paintings MFA Annual.

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