Ulrich Loock
Closeness/Distance

By painting, Herbert Brandl can make something that does not otherwise exist. By painting, he can adopt and relate to one another different distances to one and the same thing.
Denys Zacharopoulos has said, "Brandl simultaneously mobilises the two greatest metaphysics of painting I know, and breaks their unity. On the one hand there is the metaphysics of the microcosm-Seurat. We see reality so close up we see every dot in it. You get closer to the world than your own glasses. On the other side there is Yves Klein, where everything is blue. The world is blue."
Painting is the only practice that makes it possible to resolve the irreconcilability that separates one distance from another. Brandl formulates the fault lines between analytical science and comprehensive spirituality of which Zacharopoulos speaks, as the difference between the materiality and tangibility of a thing, of its temporal and spatial immediacy, and its transition into an image as a form of existence. The image pushes things into the distance, offers a large overview and a comprehensive context of things; it is the realm of visuality and disembodies what it offers for view-for Guy Debord the image is an intensified form of the commodity character of things, whose exchange value is replaced by the spectacle of imaginary satisfaction.
Brandl's paintings concern the question how the distance to things can be overcome, how it is possible to bring things close and deal with them. That is his desire: its distance makes something desirable for its closeness. But that also means the distance cannot be bridged, cannot be eliminated. The distance of things has to be preserved; it even has to be increased, since otherwise its closeness loses its power to attract. Only from the greatest distance is it worthwhile to implement a closeness. Hence Brandl turns to things that have not yet been processed but rather already exist or have grown or come into being: things from nature They are things that are inherently undefined and unachievable, in terms of space and time: namely, the highest mountains, landscapes between water and land, between brightness and darkness, a waterfall, wind, fog. They are ungraspable places that attract those who are not satisfied with the socially and practically assigned place; places of ecstasy, echoing the subject's difficult-to-describe moods and sensations.
The closeness of things and places that Brandl seeks is not the same closeness with which the commodities of consumer society impose themselves it is a closeness that is opposed to the latter. It is a different closeness, which is, however, inevitably-as its opposition implies-shaped by the unwelcome availability of everything at all times. Brandl says of the mountains he paints: "If it didn't have any personal meaning in my life I probably wouldn't tackle it so apprehensively. It comes from a nameless sensation, a field of sensations. It is rooted in my personal history, it is painting as I got to know it as a child.
"The desire for the closeness of things is based in his memory, and his memory leads him to a past time and lost place. Hence the sought-after closeness itself is impregnated with its unattainability, just as much as distance is Moreover, however, in a further complication of the conditions with which Brandl sees himself confronted, he cannot overlook the fact that the highest mountains and the most inaccessible landscapes have lang since experienced their industrial exploitation in mass-produced images. He takes their interchangeability into account by modeling his paintings on illustrations from calendars and mountaineering magazines (but also on his own photographs, like those he took in the riparian forests near Vienna). In addition to their opposition to the universal availability of commodities (imposed closeness), his paintings also have to oppose the tourist fetishes of distance.
The search for a conjunction of closeness and distance is a reaction to the efficiency of their appropriation as commodities, which no longer permits a romantic project of devotion to the numinous, to the dissolution of the subject in the perception of comprehensive and intangible nature. Closeness and distance-unattainable as nature and memory and yet omnipresent in the form of commodities and images-agree with, condition, and motivate each other. For Brandl, therefore, the point cannot be to eliminate their difference but rather to bring them into play with each other in such a way that each is intensified at the same time. Closeness is determined by distance, and distance by closeness.