In Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse, the titular edifice represents a site of desire that may only be reached with great difficulty. For the protagonists, caught in a web of social and family conventions, the lighthouse engenders projections in their stream of consciousness –while its beam is only able to capture fragments of life in a house on the British coast, the title implying both direction and a homage. If Manuela Leinhoß and Ivan Seal have chosen this text as the fulcrum of their joint exhibition, it is founded on a desire to provide the evident formal and content-related proximity of their work with an open and flexible structure, “an island where we can meet.”
She asked him what his father’s books were about. “Subject and object and the nature of reality, ” Andrew had said. And when she said, Heavens, she had no notion of what that meant. „Think of a kitchen table then, ” he told her, “when you’re not there.”
Just as Woolf’s novel is a kind of chamber piece (the plot unfolds almost entirely within and around the house, or within the protagonists’ own heads), the motifs in Ivan Seal’s paintings and Manuela Leinhoß’s sculptures and installations likewise derive from the domestic realm. Vessels, furniture, fabrics, and carpets nevertheless lead a life of their own in both of their work, literally animated and possessing inherent potential for further growth. For example, the extra-long shower curtain, reminiscent of the flyaway of a bridal veil, the light switch that merges with a spherical loudspeaker to become a hybrid creature, or the leathery-looking papier-mâché skin permeated by the fine veins of leaves that wraps around a metal frame with a suitcase handle. With many of Leinhoß’s objects, it remains open as to whether they are in the process of becoming or falling apart, precise geometric structures contrast with soft textiles, fragile vibrant surfaces with lacquered metal supports.
Seal likewise places the objects he depicts – anthropomorphic vessels, bric-a-brac figurines, bouquets of flowers, and also a skull guarded by a small dog – on plinths, pedestals, shelves, and more recently cat trees. Against pastel sfumato backgrounds, the impasto oil paint generates a pronounced sculptural effect – swatches of color, streaks, and globs of paint crowd together on a ship setting sail, holding on with difficulty, about to fall overboard.
Paint is the real protagonist in Ivan Seal’s paintings, seeming to repeatedly state: I too can also become something completely different! Meanwhile the fingerprints around the edge of some paintings represent both a signature (“Seal fecit”) and a negation of illusion.
So with the house empty and the doors locked and the mattresses rolled round, those stray airs, advance guards of great armies, blustered in, brushed bare boards, nibbled and fanned, met nothing in bedroom or drawing-room that wholly resisted them but only hangings that flapped, wood that creaked, the bare legs of tables, saucepans and china already furred, tarnished, cracked.
The idiosyncratic transformed into the eerie is yet another element linking the work of Manuela Leinhoß and Ivan Seal. In both it is snapshots, fragments, or substitutes for a greater but ambiguous narrative that are condensed into sometimes grotesque imagery: putti dancing on top of an impressionistically painted urn, a (death?) bell hanging from a cross positioned diagonally across the image, a piece of fabric hovering over a carpet and frozen in motion, and a chair that welcomes potential users with a hostile set of spikes.
One painting features a tower-like construction, surreal miniature architecture decorated in a harlequin pattern, a hybrid viewing platform, bunker, and dwelling – a possible meeting point, a lookout post, or a loophole to another reality? Something only the artists and the cats know.
[…] and all sorts of waifs and strays of things besides. A washerwoman with her basket; a rook; a red-hot poker; the purples and grey-greens of flowers: some common feeling which held the whole together.
Text: Bettina Klein
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, London 2004, p. 31
Ibid., p. 151
Ibid., p. 2214