Unlocking the archive: Jürgen Partenheimer’s encounter with the raven

Words and abstract art work together to show a movement of thought and imagination translated into image at the Contemporary Art Gallery’s latest exhibit, Jürgen Partenheimer: The Archive – The Raven Diaries, running until Nov. 9.
The exhibit features around 20 of the 30 drawings, paintings, and written textual diaries created by Jürgen Partenheimer, Emily Carr University’s most recent Audain
Distinguished Artist-in-Residence.

Since 1980, Partenheimer has had a distinguished artistic career exhibiting his art around the world including Paris, Beijing and São Paulo. However, he created all of the work currently on display during his three-month residency in Vancouver where he took in the sights and sounds of the city and immersed himself into Canadian and First Nations literature for inspiration.

“Whenever I come to another country, I start to read that country’s literature and poetry because I think, particularly poetry, they are the heart of a culture of a country,” says Partenheimer.

The Raven as an occasion to create art in Vancouver

Partenheimer found the Raven Tales, a collection of stories about a powerful and benevolent deity that imparts wisdom through tricks and mischief, to be especially appealing. He recognizes the symbols and morals told in the tales as concepts universally found in many other cultural myths around the world.

Jürgen Partenheimer at his exhibit at the Contemporary Art Gallery.

Jürgen Partenheimer at his exhibit at the Contemporary Art Gallery.

“The Raven stands for the second creator. He’s the trickster, he’s the one who brings culture, and breaks conventions,” Partenheimer says.

“In a sense, that is the position of the artist. He also brings culture to the people. He brings it because of his extraordinary imagination and dreams which he translates into images.”

Partenheimer’s Raven Diaries exhibit consists of abstract drawings and paintings, which are interspersed with written diaries, parables, and short poems, which describe a series of impressions and thoughts. There is a sort of meta-structure: reading becomes a form of identification and imagination, so the text itself can act like a drawing which carries content and relates to the abstractness of the drawings. And what is seen in the exhibit is a dialogue between the two. So although the drawings and diaries are both independent pieces, there is an energy that connects them.

“The exhibit as a whole operates as a body of work. The conversation and dialogue between individual pieces enriches the other,” says Nigel Prince, executive director of the Contemporary Art Gallery.

Prince notes the unique style of Partenheimer’s recent work.

“Jürgen’s work done during his residency is visually very distinctive; it is quite different from drawings and works on paper he has made in the past. Guests and people who know him very well have been surprised, in a good way,” Prince says.

One of the pieces at the Raven Diaries exhibit

One of the pieces at the Raven Diaries exhibit

For Partenheimer, whether one approaches the exhibit on an emotional or intellectual level, what one takes away from the exhibit depends largely on what one brings to the exhibit.

“A farmer who has never been confronted with contemporary art might walk into the exhibit and completely understand, without telling you why. And some professional art lover might think he understands, but really doesn’t understand anything.”

The Raven acts as an occasion for social and cultural change indirectly through tricks on man. Likewise, Partenheimer says his exhibit is about presenting a potential revelation, recognition, and appreciation of something within the guests themselves, rather than about making a direct statement.

“These pieces don’t talk to you. They don’t try to convince you and they don’t try to convey a message. They’re just there,” says Partenheimer. “The concentration and awareness that go into each piece will emanate from it. So if you are able to read or feel these emanations, then there is a lot you can discover. And if not, you will just pass them by and they will leave you alone.”

Attendance is free for both the exhibit and the associated Art Salon discussion on Sept. 27 at 3 p.m. For information about the exhibit, visit www.contemporaryartgallery.ca.

For information regarding the Art Salon discussion, visit www.sfu.ca/continuing-studies/events/2014/09/jurgen-partenheimer.