Ulrike Heydenreich at Thomas Barry Fine Arts (review ARTFORUM 6/2005)

Patricia Briggs

In her exhibition “Preparatory Objects” Ulrike Heydenreich employed the tools and practices of physical science in an attempt to untangle the chaos of sensory phenomena and understand the human subject’s drive to explore new frontiers.

Heydenreich’s portable drawing devices, diagrams of future inventions, and images inspired by navigational equipment are at once art object with metaphorical significances and utilitarian tools designed to prepare the artist for expeditions to unknown territory.

The two drawing devices at the center of the show are elaborately extended drawing boards designed to facilitate observation and mapping, enabling the artist to locate herself both conceptually and physically. Heydenreich understands the external world as a mysterious and shifting terrain within which our position is correspondingly unstable; hence her interest in the technologies of direction finding and course plotting, however imprecise their operation.

Panorama Drawing Device (Compact) (all works 2005), wraps around the artist’s body, enabling her to draw panoramic views that truly embrace the peculiarities of human perception. Much larger (approximately 9 feet across) but still portable, Panorama Drawing Device (Gazebo) is an observation tent made of metal tubing and sturdy canvas and fitted with clear vinyl windows. Its perimeter boasts a tilted drawing surface, again constructed to encircle the artist. Taking her place within these lovingly crafted apparatuses and working with the concentration of a scientist collecting data, Heydenreich renders radial views of her surroundings. In Gazebo, a stunning curved graphite drawing of a mountain range rests unfinished on the drawing surface. In the spaces left blank, the artist has begun to sketch the interior of the gallery and the objects on view in her exhibition. Made from a profoundly embodied perspective, one from which vision is understood as fundamentally corporeal, Heydenreich’s drawn images paradoxically often appear distorted because of their unusual faithfulness to the realities of perception.

The sea – specifically our imperfect ability to navigate it – is also a persistent theme in Heydenreich’s work. The “Oceanscape” series, comprises five photographs printed on glass plates, each of which pictures the shifting surface of the ocean. The artist transforms these somewhat unremarkable images into powerfully multivalent sculptures through an inventive use of transparency and light. Each sheet framed and protected by grey felt and white muslin blanket rests on the gallery floor and leans against the wall. The image fixed on the glass casts a shadow on its backing which, surprisingly, reads as the dark silhouette of a mountain range. Transparency and shadow thus function to make physical opposites visually equal.

The theme of nautical travel is taken up again in True North, a large muslin quilt embroidered with the image of a face of a compass, the latest of a series in which the comfort of home is connected to it’s polar opposites – adventure into the unknown. Here Heydenreich is interested in imperfections and inconsistencies of the kind represented by the divergence of “magnetic north” (the naturally vacillating point in the earth’s magnetic field that attracts the compass’s needle) from the “true north” (an artificially stable cartographic approximation). The nonconcurrence of these points makes plotting coordinates a doubly complicated task. Here, as elsewhere in Heydenreich’s work, it is the figure of the explorer and the possibility of new discoveries that best represent the complexity of our interaction with the world.