The Brooklyn-based artist Christine Hiebert is petite, and resembles a dancer. Some of her drawings could be the jottings of a choreographer. Like a dancer, Hiebert explores space in her work, and the possibilities and measurements of the human body in relation to space. Her drawings and wall pieces are traces of this spatial research, and can be suggestive of cryptic handwriting -- they have a very personal touch. Hieberts drawings occasionally refer to architecture, and they also evoke irrational places that we all know. No doubt, her work has a romantic longing and, at the same time, a convincing accuracy and sharpness.
Born in 1960 in Basel, Switzerland, Hiebert studied in Rome, at Philadelphia College and at Swarthmore. She has exhibited her work in Philadelphia, New York and Europe since the mid-1980s, most recently with Margarete Roeder Gallery in SoHo. On Nov. 5, 2004, Hiebert opens "Structure: Pencil Drawings and Tape Drawings" at Gallery Joe in Philadelphia. At present she is preparing a project -- two wall drawings -- for the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, which is slated to go on view in May 2005.
The exhibition In Philadelphia includes three different series of drawings: "Blue Tape Drawings," "Ruler Drawings" and a group of works done in charcoal.
For the "Blue Tape Drawings," Hiebert used blue house-painters tape on paper as if it were charcoal or pencil. She lays down the tape with a certain gestural freedom, so that the blue lines appear light and floating. The drawings have both spontaneity and tension, and a certain angularity. With close examination, the wrinkles of the tape are visible, adding a fine tactile quality to the fresh and vivid character of the work.
Hieberts use of tape is reminiscent of Robert Rymans drawings from the 1960s, though the result is much less Minimal. She gets an amazing range of movement out of the rather dull material. Some lines are thick, and look from afar like brushstrokes. Others are thin, cut with a sharp knife. These drawings are "about figuring out a structure," the artist says. They are all improvised, and can seem like trial runs.
The "Ruler Drawings" are made with a ruler that Hiebert moves across the paper in a random, accidental way. The overlapping pencil lines create an illusion of space and depth, and the edges of the shapes suggest architecture. These drawings are reminiscent of interior views, floor plans and city maps. At the same time, they are very fragile and thin, like spiders silk. With their different layers of graphite and charcoal, the drawings sometimes create the feeling of falling into endless space, as in a dream.
In early 2004, the artist began making a group of works in pencil and charcoal. She went to Spain early in the year and continued the series there during a residency at the Fundacin Valparaiso in Mojcar. The colors of the charcoal -- brown, red and black -- were not chosen to evoke anything of Spain, Hiebert says. The broken lines have a frangible character that recalls Joseph Beuys drawings, though Hiebert never approaches any kind of figuration.
Since she considers them "working drawings" -- "I like people to see them as a process," she says -- these works are not framed but sit on the wall in a group. They document a state of research in the field of drawing and thinking, like walking tours with charcoal and pencil in a huge desert of white paper.
Hieberts work is a mixture of reasoning and intuition. It has a striking sensibility with an experimental touch. For the Munich Pinakothek, she is developing two site-specific wall drawings with blue tape for two curving walls, each 19 feet high and 45 feet long, located at the top of a rotunda -- a fairly complicated bit of architecture. A model of the structure sits in her studio, and she is using it to work out her ideas for the commission. "It is by far the biggest project, the most complex space Ive worked with," the artist admits. "It seems so huge, so outsized, nearly too big."
At the same time, she finds the challenge exciting. "I love to make these really fat lines," she says with enthusiasm. As in the small drawings, her point of reference is the human body. She says that she somehow wants to bring the large architectural space "back to human scale." At first she considered an overall drawing, she says, and now thinks that with the drawing one should recognize that the space on the wall is too big to master. The project has many architectural considerations: a large skylight in the rotunda, and balconies that interrupt the view of the work. But Hiebert likes obstacles.
A wall with obstacles can even be preferable, and can serve as a kind of projection screen for her explorations. "Its better if you cant take in the whole with a single look," she says. "I like requiring the viewer to move." Her drawing reflects playing and thinking, movement itself and the vision of movement. "I like the feeling of hurtling through space," Hiebert says, in regard to the Munich project. After she finishes the presentation, a ball of tape and a memory will be all thats left.
In recent drawings the artist is engaged with the question of designing houses. Not necessarily physical houses, but rather ideas of houses, thoughts about what they might mean for us and how we would like them to be if we were completely free to decide.
Hieberts work has an openness, an awareness, a kind of existential view of human existence. "If a house is the physical place where I live, where I feel at home," she writes, "then my drawings constitute metaphysical houses that allow for the kind of mental living I need to do. That mental living is full of hesitations, fits and starts in my thinking as well as the determination to proceed headlong into something unknown."
BARBARA WEIDLE is an art critic and journalist living in Bonn and Berlin.