Where the Light Is in the Imagination (2013), an oil-and-oilstick work on paper, depicts a black interior in which little white helicopters the size of insects fly at different heights; they are connected to one another by white strings, which together form the outline of a seemingly 3-D shape that, like an M.C. Escher picture, could not exist in real space. A lamp hangs from the string of one helicopter and shines on a tablecloth covering a table without legs, as if the cloth were floating in space. The Pollination of the Highest Corners (2013) depicts a long, dramatically lit hallway leading to a doorway that seems to dissolve in white light. Ladders lean against the dark walls and suited men tinker with the ceiling. A blossoming tree branch lies in the foreground as if in a different time and space. These are just some of the odd situations in Swiss artist Sandra Boeschenstein’s recent show, “In the Earth’s Own Shadow,” which featured 39 black-and-white works on paper (some with red marks or stamps) from 2007 to 2013.
The show focused on eight new works (most about 28 by 40 inches) in which Boeschenstein experiments with a process wherein she rolls black oil paint over a layer of white oilstick; she creates the drawings by etching the finest of lines into the top layer. The combination of quick and rough paint application and the painstaking precision of the linear work produces a surreal effect by enhancing the ambiguity of the pictorial space.
Era at Breakfast (2013) also shows a dark interior. On the back wall is a large frame that reveals another room; the frame can’t be a doorway because its bottom is well above the floor. Is it a mirror? A painting? Strings from the top corners of the frame stretch into the middle ground and are attached to the floor by the noses of miniature airplanes. Nearby, a suitcase sits on top of four revolvers, while another stands upright with four revolvers sticking out of it.
Boeschenstein’s drawings recall the scenarios of early 20th-century expressionist films, where angles were manipulated and chiaroscuro used to establish psychological tension. But her bizarre arrangements of everyday objects and absurd, dreamlike spaces make these drawings difficult to categorize. Her poetic titles give the impression of particular meaning but, according to the artist, she is juxtaposing text and image with the intention of creating moments of perplexity for the viewer to ponder, not explanations.
The items represented in Boeschenstein’s drawings derive from her environment. On her travels or daily walks she keeps mental notes on various quotidian things that strike her in powerful, visceral ways. She calls upon these memories as others might use clip art. Thus a loaf of bread, an airplane or a cow become mere building blocks, like the found objects a sculptor might use to create a composition. The bread no longer signifies food, but instead might serve as a support for a painting or as a pattern on a dress. The new relationships established between familiar items offer us the chance to lose ourselves in these works and act as coproducers, shaping our own new visions of reality.