One might be surprised to learn that the source material for Jorinde Voigt’s 2011 Gardens of Pleasure—a series of five lithographs with ink additions published by Helga Maria Klosterfelde Edition—is in fact 17th-century Chinese erotic art. The artist has removed elements from the Chinese paintings, stripping them of their context and placing them within a fictive environment. The series remarks upon visual perception and memory while the artist’s practice reveals how a contemporary artist might be influenced by the flood of data that the internet and image databases provide.
The five prints together document the artist’s act of viewing reproductions of Chinese paintings in the 2011 exhibition catalogue The Chinese Garden of Lust – Erotic Art from the Bertholet Collection. Each time the artist looked at an image, she focused on a singular element and transferred its silhouette to her composition. If she viewed a component more than once during these glimpses, she repeated it for every time she glanced at it. Although she may have drawn elements from multiple paintings (as indicated in the titles), Voigt combined them in one composition.
The resulting shapes are organized by color across the five prints. The first print consists of three glances and focuses on all the green elements that Voigt saw. The second represents nine views of all the black elements, the next six views of skin-toned elements, and so on. Some of the elements, such as the black hair and red sashes are readily identifiable, while others are more ambiguous once removed from their original context. The erotic quality of the paintings is all but eliminated in the prints.
The artist has annotated these shapes by hand with imagined directional notations and data on the fictive rotation of each object, locating them in a space of the her own fabrication. Voigt’s previous large-scale drawings utilized algorithms devised by the artist to map data from unrelated and diverse sources onto the same plane, creating a network of information that appears dependent, yet contingent. Many critics have compared these drawings to the graphic scores created by avant-garde composers such as John Cage and György Ligeti. Both Voigt’s creation of links between unrelated data and her use of diverse source material, including not only Chinese art but also botany and Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse, appear influenced by the accessibility of the internet, where a huge amount of data can be discovered and extracted from its original context, bound together to create apparent correlations or interesting confluences.
Voigt’s prints also replicate the act of viewing required by her own large-scale drawings, as their scale (and that of much of the artwork produced for gallery presentation today) is so massive that it cannot be digested by the human eye in one glance, but rather in bits and pieces as the viewer adjusts their position in relation to the artwork, moving forward, then backward, traversing the gallery floor. By parsing out certain details from an entire composition, she also mimics the way that the mind latches on certain aspects of memories (often tied to a specific object, smell, or taste) while the full context is eventually forgotten.