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Alexandria is the title that Marietta Hoferer gave to one of her new works. She has never been there nor is there any actual relationship between her taped relief and the legendary city, she said, but the name had come up in conversation and it somehow seemed to be the right title. Like the dreamscapes that Italo Calvino conjures in his book, Invisible Cities, Hoferer’s Alexandria is an imagined place. It is a name that inspires memories, dreams, desires, a convergence of visible and invisible patterns and interlocked, ephemeral juxtapositions. At the nexus of the subjective and objecthood, Hoferer’s Alexandria, like all her work of the past several years, is both a relief and a drawing. It is made of tape, square in format and its composition suggests an intricate white-on-white mosaic floor, wall relief or inlaid panel, a game board, architectural plan or minimalist schematic. It is also a superimposition of one thing over another–a history, a thought, a line, a shape, a light, a shadow, a color. Composed of half inch squares, like tessera, each is a 4-tiered stack of successively smaller squares cut from tape that, assembled, forms a grid of solid and space, the light playing off the slight differences in elevations, the whole changing under changing light conditions, animated.

Hoferer works only with tape at this juncture, usually transparent and white tape although white—and even the transparent—has an infinite number of shadings. She first began to work with tape when she came to New York from Germany in 1993, fascinated by the sheer number of available varieties. Before that, she had studied sculpture and drawing and has an M.F.A in sculpture from the Hochschule der Künste Berlin. Her works might be categorized as minimalist, although that only means she prefers to work within certain formal parameters that include linear and geometric configurations, the systemic and serialized and the use of one color and one material. Hoferer’s reductivism, however, is not so much an ideological stance as it is an aesthetic practice. Known for her meticulous, labor–intensive pattern pieces, Hoferer is a virtuoso with tape and the range of effects she can achieve with it is remarkably similar to what can be achieved through drawing and even painting, from varying textures to a sense of dimensionality, to chiaroscuro and subtle coloring, depending upon the kind of tape used and its distinctive properties. Tape might be considered a mediated form of expression, the gesture not as direct from eye to hand to mark but Hoferer believes it is not so different from drawing with a pencil or other implement to make line and shape.

Hoferer’s field is often square, ranging in size from intimate to large-scale installations. Of the half dozen or so works in this exhibition, some are grids and the remainder are variations on a series of horizontal lines that extend the width of the surface. Hoferer’s strategies include, for instance, changing the width of the tape and the interval between tape and ground. For instance, she might make a work banded with tape ½ inch in width, placed with a ¾ inch interval between bands, edged by a penciled line. The graphite would emit a faint glimmer of color (or was it light?) that is hard to pinpoint. Almost subliminally, the lines would add a provisional, transient dazzle to the construct, reminiscent of Agnes Martin’s fine, repetitive markings that capture light and give it definition.

The same composition of horizontal bands might be to altered slightly by layering, overlaying a ¾ inch strip, say, with a ½ inch one, the interval between bands set at 1 inch. Although always white on white, Hoferer’s choice of whites creates an immense difference–if you are attentive–and the lustrous pearl of one band plays against the opaque vanilla of the other as well as the white of the ground.

Yet another construction might be to create three-tiered bands with regular spacings between them, arranged in a grid composition. Since the strips of tape are laid down by hand, there are always slight irregularities in the rectilinearity of the patterns that, in turn, emit a delicate visual vibrato. The white might be warmer, with a hint of yellow. At the edges of the tape, there might appear a flash of violet, yellow’s complementary, but it is so elusive that it might also have been imagined, like the “color” of her thin penciled lines. These variations, however, are not calculated and are more the results of intuition, of choices made in progress.

The pleasure and meaning of Hoferer’s understated, nuanced work is in its details. Altered by light, it is a web of shifting, phenomenal perceptions and intimations that represents a way of seeing art and the world–a way of, in the end, being in the world.

Lilly Wei
New York-based independent curator, essayist and critic
who contributes to many publications in the United States and abroad. She
has written regularly for Art in America since 1982 and is a contributing
editor at ARTnews and Art Asia Pacific.