Soap Bubble Thinking
Syntax is a faculty of the soul.
The estimated 137 series of paintings, which Dokoupil has created since the late seventies until today, differ from each other in everything that constitutes a painting, such as in artistic approach, attitude and ambition, in painterly diagrammatics, pictorial logic of sensation, varying implicit concept of art, polyphonic non-composition and much more. Accordingly, the series also vary in their amount of individual paintings. There are pictorial inventions that materialized in only a few paintings, sometimes in only one, but also extensive series that have developed over a long period of time and thus have manifested in different forms within their framework of invention and their method of realization. For instance the Candle Paintings, out of which Dokoupil always gets new aspects and amazing variations, and especially the Soap Bubble Paintings, on which he has been working for over twenty years and which he has currently developed into a new stunning presence are an excellent example of Dokoupil's endless journey into the unknown and the unforeseen.
Herein he is, above all, an inventor of a technique for creating images, an image scientist, specifically an alchemist of (im)possible images. The Soap Bubble Paintings are the result of many years of continuously varied experiments that are based on refined experimental set-ups of chemical compounds. The aim is to develop a method for the creation of original paintings, the beautiful paradox of a technologically mediated production of paintings that are not reproducible. Besides, the Soap Bubble Paintings do not consist of painted bubbles. Dokoupil does not paint soap bubbles, but he creates abstract paintings with real soap bubbles. Using metal bubble wands, he makes large soap bubbles, which he pulls over the canvas in a way that makes them burst and leave colorful traces with a surprising formative tendency. These traces consist of soap-lye enriched with pigments, which accumulate in the form of two molecular layers inside and outside of a thin dipolar film of water, forming a membrane that results in a mostly spherical bubble — a soap bubble. The special mixture of soap-lye and pigments remains Dokoupil's secret. I only know that among other things, so-called pearl-luster pigments are involved, which in a complicated process have been coated with metal platelets, and also a soap that is no longer manufactured.
In this regard Dokoupil's soap bubble technique involves what the romantic naturalist Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge called the „formative tendency of substances.“1 From experiments with chemical compounds he won the insight that there is a tendency of the substances to autonomously develop images in the form of multicolored pictorial structures. The formation of the image coincides with the formation of colors: "Chemistry produces pictures."2 he said, and went so far as to speak of the "painterly masterpiece of Chemistry."3
A certain life of its own also exists in the soap bubbles, which form the pictorial structures in the Soap Bubble Paintings. Dokoupil has developed a method of creating images by their own accord, as he lets the self-will of the chemical processes (occurring as the bubbles burst) have its own way. It has always interested him to refrain from individual expression, personal perspective and apparent authenticity of the artistic subject within the framework of his concept of non-identical painting. Regarding the Soap Bubble Paintings this is part of his composed decomposition, whereby the constellations of soap bubble traces on canvas first of all become a painting. In this way, Dokoupil stages dynamic areas of tension
between chemistry and art, between non-subjective gestures and scientific methods, between calculated spontaneity and a calculation that is undermining itself, between flat formality and spatial illusion and between dissolution of forms and shaping of forms — a painterly thinking through sensations, creating possible third terms beyond binary codes, like form and content. The Soap Bubble Paintings are due to this logic of sensation that spreads in the form of endless patterns, oscillating between being formless and becoming form — an informal thinking in soap bubbles on canvas.
Dokoupil's soap bubble thinking cons the stereotypes and codes of compositional patterns, however, without yielding to the "conformism of destructions."4 Soap bubble thinking
is always in search of a fascinating dissonant harmony and of a calculated non-calculated composition, obtained from an exceedance of the aesthetic with aesthetic means, beginning again and again with each single painting. Dokoupil's logic of soap bubble sensations turns compositions "gauche," thereby creating unique non-compositions—
formless soap bubbles becoming form as an abstract painting. There is always a little "gaucherie" in intelligence, as Roland Barthes remarked.5
The results are impressive and in fact exactly what is at issue for Dokoupil, namely fascination that finds its fulfillment in the enthusiasm of the viewer. The material event of the
Soap Bubble Paintings is pure fascination — they are fascinating beings of sensation. Their complexity also lies in the fact that Dokoupil displaces the chemically induced colorfulness of the bubbles on the canvas in a way that makes them polyphonically appealing, with their colors changing with different incidences of light and visual angles. In mere passing, a matte and linear beige-gray turns into a shiny green metallic surface, a white bubble turns into a purple bubble with three-dimensional illusion, a cold blue turns into a warm phosphorescent
turquoise. The colors are not only shimmering and not only doing so in complementary colors, but they sometimes change completely, including the composition, atmosphere, possible associations, basically the entire painting. A soap bubble painting is many paintings, a poly-phonic non-identical composition, inviting the viewer into a visual polylogue.
The Soap Bubble Paintings are clearly designed as strict non-figurative abstractions, but they are also open to the entire universe of associations, which is suggested by the phenomenon of the bubble with its complex colors and formal structures on the canvas, which depend on the incidence of light. The universe of associations includes constellations of synapses that the soap bubble thinking has left behind, colorful underwater worlds, planetary flurry, micro- and macrocosmic structures, faces that appear briefly and then disappear, glass spheres in which one likes to imagine the future and of course any imaginable bubble, starting from the bubble of love in Hieronymus Bosch's painting "The Garden of Earthly Delights" (1485-1510) to protective covers of any kind, the bag of waters and other shared interior spaces and associated elemental senses of home, origin, the sensation of birth and the reinvention of life that is called love. Besides, the molecular composition of the soap bubbles' membranes is similar to biomembranes, which is why a quasi organic quality is rightly attributed to soap bubbles, which also immediately suggests itself regarding corresponding associations and feelings in an actual physical way. Since the soap bubble was invented about 5000 years ago by the Sumerians, it is of course one of the most popular visualizations of the universe — imagined as an infinite space of transcendence in immanence. From this point of view, the Soap Bubble Paintings sometimes have the hint of a cold distant gaze, considering the ontological indifference, the indifference of being.
But as much as these paintings are able to evoke all this, they also withdraw from all that again, letting it appear and disappear. In the end they are nothing more and nothing less than non-autonomous abstract paintings that are not connectable to the symbolic order. However, this does not alter their fascination, on the contrary, their fascination exudes precisely from this oscillation between distinct abstraction and evoked association. What accounts for this fascination, is the moment in which that what we see, looks at us. "The image makes an image (fait image) by resembling a gaze."6 This is exactly what happens here: the visible presents itself as seeing; an image is looking at us and develops a pull
into the imaginary. "They invite you to dream" as a mother standing in front of a soap bubble painting with her daughter told me with a dreamy look. They invite you to trust in a state of slightly enraptured absence, this absentminded mood that is called lost in thought — a latent existential attitude, of which Jean-Paul Sartre said: "Man is like leaking gas, aspiring towards the imaginary."
The Soap Bubble Paintings have a great attraction especially for children, and exceedingly for the child in all of us, evoking memories of the fascinated being-in-the-world of childhood. For example, the experience of skipping stones that create circular waves by bouncing off the surface of water or the event of floating soap bubbles, which contain our breath for a short afterlife outside our body, letting a part of us float in the space of (im)possibilities in the form of fragile, ultra-thin, colorful globes that are the "medium of a surprising soul expansion."7 Peter Sloterdijk describes it very aptly: "In enthusiastic solidarity with his iridescent globes, the experimenting player plunges into the open space and transforms
the zone between the eye and the object into an animated sphere."8
In moments of their fascination, the Soap Bubble Paintings are able to evoke memories of this animated sphere that shines into our childhood, akin to what the late Walter Benjamin referred to as aura in the Arcades Project, namely the memory of a lost human touch. But like all possible associations, this auratic experience would not exist without the simple presence of these paintings as mere images, traced back to the fact of a self-standing, non-figurative abstract non-composition without reference, consisting of traces of burst soap bubble molecules. Yet the more consistently Dokoupil has focused on the material presence of painting within the frame of an imaginary rectangle, the more of a deframing
happens nevertheless — a deframing opening up a threshold: There is more than what there is. "Art wants to create the finite that restores the infinite."9 Art creates intense, inspiring levels of composition, passing on beings of sensation that the viewer is invited to adopt and to take elsewhere. This is exactly what works in the Soap Bubble Paintings. With the help of candid viewers, the paintings open up their gaze and develop an animated zone between the traces of burst soap bubbles and our eyes, transferring their gaze — the material event of painting as a being of sensation: a transcendence within the immanence of painting.
All this is accomplished and disappointed by the incommensurability and incommunicability of these paintings, because the goal of painting is indeterminate. That is why we will never get to the bottom of its most beautiful results. This is the reason for painting‘s discreteness and the condition of its beauty, assuming that it is a presence of beauty without embellishment. A good painting is characterized by the intensity of a visual presence, a power that deprives the painting of homogeneity by deflecting,
differentiating and rupturing it, a power that enables the painting to dart a gaze of the non-identical at the observer. In this way, visual presence evokes a notion of difference regarding the nameless and the unforeseen. And let us not forget: "Fascination is the gaze of solitude."10 Opening up to this, one ultimately opens up to the inconsistency of anything that is regarded as truth and reality. That is wheremthe existential seriousness of the Soap Bubble Paintings‘ playfulness can be encountered. For an "opening up to contingency can only happen in a playful way, because it is an opening up to a world game that lacks a final determination."11 In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche: "We have art so that we do not perish from the truth." Art that exposes itself to that is a strong game, which in contrast to the frivolous playfulness of a weak game, is characterized by an "amusing, capricious excitement"12 that comes up when a game has found a form that parries the abyss of ontological contingency. Jiří Georg Dokoupil is one of the artists who delight us with pictorial inventions of a strong game and lets us forget the abandonment of game in contemporary art — for moments of an art of parrying.
Melancholy facing a burst soap bubble usually only lasts a second, until the urge to play resumes and a new bubble ascends. Shattered hopes give rise to new attempts. This is what soap bubbles represent, also relating to art, because the effort of a new beginning is intrinsic to art. Art is the childhood of its thinking. To invent different images of difference and thus to claim art is subject to the call for a return to a childhood of thinking via sensations. Initial talking of an eternal new beginning, considering the usual case of failure: That is the beauty of a responsibility of forms, supposing that it is a "non-violent synthesis of the diffuse"13 and that it presents itself as an ability to respond before there is even a question,
as an answer to questions that have not yet been posed. For example, a constellation of burst soap bubble illusions becomes form as a response-able Soap Bubble Painting radiating non-indifference for the other and enabling a miracle of giving — to see, to feel, to face, to think. In this sense, a good painting is a non-indifferent gift. Just like here.
But see for yourself, what Soap Bubble Paintings can do.
Wilfried Dickhoff: „Seifenblasendenken", Teil 2 „Sphären“, veröffentlicht in: "Dokoupil: Soap Bubble Paintings“, Verlag Wilfried Dickhoff, Berlin 2015
1 Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge: Der Bildungstrieb der Stoffe, veranschaulicht in selbstständig gewachsenen Bildern (The formative tendency of substances illustrated by autonomously developed images), Berlin 2014 (first published Oranienburg, 1855).
2 ibid., p. 108. (translated by SE)
3 ibid. (translated by SE)
4 ibid., p. 174.
5 cf.: Roland Barthes: Cy Twombly: Works on Paper, in Roland Barthes: The Responsibility of Forms, (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1985), p. 157-176.
6 Jean-Luc Nancy: The Ground of the Image, (New York, 2005), p. 87.
7 Peter Sloterdijk: Spheres Volume I: Bubbles—Microspherology, (Los Angeles 2011), p. 18.
8 ibid., p. 19.
9 Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari: What is Philosophy?, (New York 1994), p. 197.
10 Maurice Blanchot: The Gaze of Orpheus, (Barrytown, NY, 1981), p. 75.
11 Marcus Steinweg: Inkonsistenzen, unveröffentlichtes Manuskript (Inconsistencies, unpublished manuscript), (Berlin 2014). (translated by SE)
12 Georges Bataille: Spiel und Ernst (Game and Seriousness), in: Das Spielelement der Kultur (The Game Element of Culture), Knut Ebeling, ed., (Berlin 2014), p. 88. (translated by SE)
13 Theodor W. Adorno: Aesthetic Theory, translated by Robert Hullot-Kentor, (London, New York 1997), p. 197