journeys into space

On Roland Geissel's Spatial Drawings
by Johannes Kögler

On Roland Geissel's Spatial Drawings

Asked what a Spatial Drawing is, Roland Geissel once said, 'A Spatial Drawing is the interior of a Melusine'. A simple answer, which immediately begs the question, what is a Melusine? It also makes clear that the Spatial Drawings, created in various locations since the year 2000, should be viewed and understood in the light of the Melusines, a series of works begun earlier and developed further in parallel to the Spatial Drawings. The relationship between the Melusines and the Spatial Drawings is however more complex than this statement suggests. The artistic responses to questions of space, plasticity and volume, of outside and in, of sculpture and painting, are various and unique in each different group of works, even when they address the same subject. A further level is added by the photographs, which document the Spatial Drawings, but may be viewed as independent works in their own right. In short all three series of works - Melusines, Spatial Drawings, photographs - revolve around the same creative questions, yet address them in varying ways, exclusive to the respective media.


In the light of the statement quoted at the start, before examining the Spatial Drawings we have to turn to the Melusines, a series begun in 1997.2 Melusine is the collective title of all works belonging to a group whose design always follows the same basic principles, leading however to a unique result each time. The Melusines are corporeal objects, occupying the borderlands between painting and sculpture. Their bodies consist essentially of a solid wooden block; an approximate but not geometrically regular parallelepiped (a solid shape bounded by six parallelograms, opposite pairs being identical and parallel). The wooden body is not entirely visible as it is coated with a thick, smooth layer of wax, itself partly over-painted with oil paint.
Each visible plane of a Melusine is divided by two pairs of straight lines, perpendicular to each other, into nine equally sized sections. Considered spatially, the parallelepiped is partitioned into twenty-seven units by three pairs of parallel planes. Each of these imagined units - of which a maximum of three sides are visible - is assigned colouration. It is no coincidence that this description of the rules governing the Melusines' design employs the language of geometry. The principle behind the Melusines is simple; it can be understood easily and described in detail, and it might seem unnecessary to execute it visually. However it is only responsible for one part of what ultimately characterizes the Melusines' visual presence and makes each one different. Not determined by the geometric grid are the surfaces' colouration and their visible materiality, and equally the selection of the initial material, the wooden block, which disrupts the otherwise smooth geometry of the parallelepiped and introduces an element of the accidental, along with a historical dimension. Indeed these are not precisely-sawn wooden parallelepipeds, but sections from joists which once held up roofs or timber-framed houses, now serving a different purpose, used as objets trouvé. The wooden blocks' forms are thus inherently irregular, approximating that of a parallelepiped, but often deviating from this exact geometric form. They are then contrasted with the purely geometric division procedure. The sections of planes, or segments of the body, are subsequently defined by colouration and materiality and formed into units. The Melusines' ultimate visual presence can only be engendered through the sum of all these design elements. Thus the harshness of the geometric, systematic principle is broken by the irregularity of the wooden body, and by the sensual impression of paint and material, without a contradiction arising. Instead the various aspects of each object succeed in building a convincing unity.

Spatial Drawings

If a Melusine is a compact object seen at various angles from the outside, with a Spatial Drawing the situation is reversed. A Spatial Drawing can only be seen from within. Because of this, the subject/object relationship is radically altered, as the viewer now moves within the work, and although still perceiving it as foreign body, is also simultaneously part of it. Our perception of architecture - in the widest sense - is fundamentally is different from our perception of sculpture or of an object. Architecture is sometimes described as human beings' third skin. It belongs so unquestionably to the immediate reality of our lives that we rarely consider what conditions our perception of it. With its largely rectilinear construction, architecture is bound up with the basic conditions of our existence; we ourselves build a vertical as a result of gravity, positioning ourselves and moving across the surface or through the space, as if in an imaginary co-ordinate system, always bound to the floor. When we are inside, the floor forms the surface on which we move, the walls the boundaries of the space we have to move through, and the ceiling its upper limit, not intended to be touched or walked on. These basic functions and constraints of floor, wall and ceiling are mostly reflected in the varying decoration of these spatial boundaries. At this point already Geissel's Spatial Drawings convey an impression which departs radically from our everyday experience, as the six planes of the interior are involved equally in the design: the same design procedures used for the Melusines being used for the Spatial Drawings (or paintings). The space is subjected to division and design which are determined purely by system, based on a notion rooted in Concrete Art.

In the first stage of Geissel's encounter with a physical space in which he is planning a Spatial Drawing, he forms an impression of the room on site, and documents it using photography. Using the photographs as templates, a series of designs are produced, which play out various visual possibilities. The first stage of work in situ consists of the exact measurement of the space and the execution of a 'Spatial Drawing' in the narrowest sense; the drawing of six pencil lines, each traversing four of the six planes of the space, two of each of them dividing the room, across each of the three dimensions, into three equal sections. In total each plane is thus divided twice by three, into nine sections (3 x 3 = 9), the space itself divided - in the imagination - by three by three by three into twenty-seven segments (3 x 3 x 3 = 27). The drafting of this genuine 'Spatial Drawing' is the decisive first step in the execution of the work. It transposes the division procedure underlying the Melusines into a specific spatial situation. Just as important for the later perception of the space is the second stage, the execution of the painting. The limits of the areas to be painted are determined by the drawing; as with the Melusines, a further regulation applies: that each of the twenty-six spatial segments which border a plane - on one, two or three sides - is allotted a colour. The assignment of the initial colour takes place on the basis of the design sketches, which represent a pool of possibilities. How many colours will finally be used, and whether one particular sketch will be followed completely, is still open at this point. These decisions are taken only during the working process, intuitively, in dialogue with the space.

The finished Spatial Drawing enables very different impressions and experiences: first and foremost the astonishing experience of entering a room where the floor is included in the total design of the room, treated no differently. Walking through the space, it now seems to contain highly diverse zones, depending on our location and angle of view, and a new spatial awareness each time. As well as the almost physically perceived sensations of the various locations within the room, there are the various impressions perceived by the eye: from every point, in every direction one looks, the variously assigned planes form a different image, a new formation, which can only be perceived as a whole through temporal progression. It can also be observed that through the Spatial Drawing particularities and irregularities of a room come more strongly to the fore.

Photographic works

As the Spatial Drawings are site-specific and have so far been temporary, documentation is necessary. However the photos Roland Geissel takes, on 5 x 4” film, using a large-format camera, transcend the purely documentary function and assume the nature of works themselves. Geissel chooses specific positions to place the camera, thus achieving a sense of objectification: on the one hand frontal views in which the surface of the film is aligned parallel to the wall it faces, with the vanishing point exactly at its centre; on the other hand diagonal perspectives from the four corners of the room. The picture's frame is determined while photographing; the images are not subsequently cropped, neither does any other manipulation take place.

The photographs do not only succeed in translating the space via perspective onto the two-dimensional plane of film, much more than this they lead to an alteration in our perception. Our spatial perception as a whole shifts towards the visualization of flatter, graphic formations seen in the background, and optical effects are created which evoke a space other than the real one; new, unreal spaces are created.
In this way the photographic works create a unique, independent reality, unrelated to our memories of the respective Spatial Drawings or their reference to them. Equally the photographic works lie in the borderland between documentary/referential and autonomous work. This is entirely deliberate, as Geissel is interested in the links between his various groups of works - Melusines, Spatial Drawings, photographic works - and makes this a subject of his exhibitions.


The Spatial Drawings assimilate the viewer more powerfully than many pieces of art, even larger format works; although they stand in opposition to the viewer; they also surround us from all sides, taking us right inside them. Certain critical characteristics are further specific to Roland Geissel's Spatial Drawings:

The Spatial Drawings do not simulate anything, they do not create an illusion; in the manner of Concrete Art they consist of 'only' what the viewer sees in front of their eyes.

The Spatial Drawings alter a very particular site or space for a particular period. Thus no space is anonymous or interchangeable; it possesses specific characteristics (dimensions, proportions, doors, windows, other fittings) and a specific history - a before and an after. A Spatial Drawing changes our perception of each individual space, as well as our perception of our selves in the space and, maybe, as a sustained consequence, our perception of spaces altogether.

The individuality of each of the spaces is thus paradoxically emphasized in that the systematic dividing procedure, applied identically to each space, always leads to a different result and allows the peculiarities of a space to manifest themselves all the more clearly. The colouration of each Spatial Drawing is wholly individual and not subject to any predetermined procedure. The inclusion of the floor in the design and execution of the Spatial Drawings is critical because it is so radical and so consistently deployed: ultimately it is only this which fully transforms each space from an object to be used - even an exhibition space is defined first and foremost through its use - into an artistic space.

Finally we return to the opening quotation: 'A Spatial Drawing is the interior of a Melusine.' Entering a Spatial Drawing we suddenly experience something we once perceived from the outside as a solid, from within. The Spatial Drawing thus genuinely enables us to enter and walk through a sculpture. If, when we view a Melusine we are looking from the outside at an object much smaller than we are, when entering a Spatial Drawing we become part of a whole which is larger than ourselves. The subject/object relationship changes dramatically, and with it our self-perception in relation to the work of art.