Monitor magazine interview 2012 by Anna Yudina
In 2011, Eske Rex’s Drawing Machine occupied the entire basement floor of the Mindcraft space in Milan. A showcase for the long-lasting dialog between design and craft in Denmark, for the last two years Mindcraft has been curated by Cecilie Manz who chose to center the exhibition concept on quality, materiality and functionality – a statement, which, in her opinion, sums up the essence of Danish-ness in design. The Drawing Machine presented itself as a somewhat rustic device consisting of two wooden structures, each supporting a pendulum with stone weights, set in motion by hand. The pendulums were connected to a ballpoint pen through «drawing arms»; their motion translated into the pen’s circular movements across a vast spread of paper.
This was definitely a story of functionality – dealt with in a manner that is as direct as can be. A cup or a chair can (should) be functional because we use them for specific tasks, but the Machine was simply about functioning. About defining the proportions of the device and adjusting the weights, smartly hooked on the side of the supporting frame for instant availability. About pushing the pendulums so that their coordinated movement will produce a drawing. About transmitting an effort from man to mechanism to pen. Apparently, this attitude towards function comes from an interest in natural forces that galvanize the object with dynamics and tension, and in different kinds of reproducing natural phenomena. This year, Manz suggested Eske Rex to explore the theme of gravity. The new Mindcraft exhibition was laid out along two parallel walls, and Rex had to provide a connection between them. In search for a minimalist solution, the artist turned to magnetic power, which held in suspension a thread stretched across the room and terminated by a wooden trumpet nearly touching the opposite wall. At the beginning, you were only impressed by the thinness and length of the thing that stretched across a 5-6 m span, and only then you realized that it actually floated in the air, leaving a gap between the object and the wall – a connection that turned out to be a non-connection.
Eske Rex has placed himself between three fields: art, design and architecture (he studied both art and design). Add to this an experience in carpentry – hence the interest in scale and construction. «Not that I am trying to connect them all; that’s just the way I am,» says Rex who needs an outlet for experimenting somewhere on the border between the functional and the unrestricted by pragmatic concerns; between designing precisely calculated structures and working with the forces he can only control to a certain extent. «Nature comes in here. A swinging pendulum can do something I could not have done even if I were a skilled draftsman or a computer geek; the nature still does it better. And then, it has this fantastic poetic feel: you can work, and think, and sketch, and build – and then you launch it and just see it happen. No two drawings will be the same; the machine will always work differently depending on how you start it, or how much weight you apply to the pendulum.»
The «end product» of the Machine may be the drawing but the star of the show is obviously the device that has produced it. «When you exhibit drawings alone, there is always this question of where they come from; it is clear that these forms are not created by a computer, but one also feels that they are not hand drawn. To me, the Drawing Machine is both a tool and a moving sculpture, an installation in space. When it’s not on show I use it for making further experiments.» While the greyscale Fibonacci series deals with interference patterns whose complexity increases the longer the machine works on them, the new set of drawings explores colour gradients. Rex relates these experiments to Joseph Albers’ investigations into the nature of colour and movement. Then again, large-scale drawings become a spatial experience, which varies with the distance between the viewer and the artwork, revealing its finesse as you get closer. And from here, there is just one step to researching into the possibilities of cooperation between art and architecture. What would Eske Rex do if commissioned to create some site-specific art for an architectural project? – He would prefer to be there from the start instead of designing an art piece for an already completed space. He needs «to play with the program, to work together with architects on the dimensions of the space and the way it is developed…» This will be a kind of incorporated art, maybe with a specific function, «because art can really be functional. It can show the way, or make a space stronger.»
Eske Rex. Photo by Berit Von Enoch, 2011