Hanne Darboven at the Talbot Rice Gallery: A Quirk in the System

Talbot Rice Gallery curator Pat Fisher draws out the contradictions in the life and work of Hanne Darboven

Article by Rosie Priest | 28 Jul 2015

Phyllida Barlow started the Edinburgh Art Festival celebration early this year in The Fruitmarket. Talbot Rice Gallery perhaps provides an informal companion, showcasing the work of Hanne Darboven (1941-2009). Like Barlow, Darboven’s rich career was sidelined throughout the 20th century.

"My approach to the exhibition was the Art, her studio and how she worked – and then the woman herself and who she worked with," Talbot Rice Gallery curator Pat Fisher explains, speaking about their showcase of Darboven for the EAF. German artist Darboven recognised herself as a writer more than anything. She followed an internal and deeply personal logic and writing style to question the human construction and experience of time.

There is something to be said about Darboven’s own approach to her work, an eccentric artisan who gave herself a regime by which to produce art. This rigid schedule of practice can be seen reflected in the mathematically placed drawings, with bizarre markings, monastic in their monumental scale. In Life / Living, Talbot Rice Gallery displays 900 sheets of an apparent 3000. This sheer volume of production came from Darboven’s idea of herself as a worker, a labourer, but also from a will to overwhelm and immerse the viewer in her practice: creating wall-like structures out of her own framed pieces.

"By any standards Darboven is a very idiosyncratic artist," continues Fisher. "She is linked, for art historical purposes, to conceptualism or minimalism… In her lifetime she said that she was not a minimal artist, but in fact a maximal artist, she actually liked huge amounts of stuff." This makes for a certain maximal minimalist contradiction in terms. "This dichotomy within her work between an obsession with collecting ephemera and the austerity of the actual art works she displays, I think it is an intriguing mystery. There is something in me that quite likes that mystery."

Part way through my conversation with Pat it becomes clear we’re delving into a complex system of communication. As an artist, Darboven worked towards recording her whole life (and by her whole life, The Skinny literally means every second of her life) through a system of writing without communicating, a life made sense of by unreadable mark making, obsessive collecting and compulsive working. "She used rigid systems in the things she did to formulate her life, but within that rigidity there are wonderful quirks."

This is what resonated with The Skinny from our conversation with Fisher: the artwork is challenging but also the response to a very personal challenge the artist had set herself. Hanne Darboven’s meticulously rigid systems of recording, of writing, of making sense and archiving her day to day life through a subjective form of mark making, makes us think about our own need to parcel up our days and to make sense of them. The work leaves space for personal interpretation, whilst at first glance seeming very impersonal.

Darboven may come across as a monastic and solitary worker. However, contradiction comes again with the exhibition of photographs taken celebrating her relationships with her friends and family, and fellow artisans she sourced materials and objects from during her yearly studio party. Darboven may have valued solitude, but she celebrated her friends. Just as she was a minimalist, but avid collector. Fisher interrupts any confusion: "This is an exhibition that can be quite resistant to interpretation." Simply put: "Darboven was a contrary individual."

Hanne Darboven: accepting anything among everything continues until 3 Oct in Talbot Rice Gallery