Ferdinand Ullrich


Loose Ends

In the kitchen of Bente Stokke’s studio in Berlin-Kreuzberg is a large bundle of string and cords of different origins. A variety of materials has been brought together here: the remains of hemp and plastic ropes, cables and threads, yarns and rubber bands. These are all items that were found on the beach or by the wayside or given to the artist as gifts from all over the world. Hopelessly knotted together into a sphere with a diameter of over a metre; the ball now weighs 80 kg and has been growing continually over many years. Loose ends, the title of the work, is a search for the similarities of form in our world, a search that is goes beyond any kind of purpose and is, at the same time, a statement about the possibilities of people’s fundamental basic aesthetic relationships.

These threads can be read as drawn lines which reconstitute space in their accumulation: a drawing within the space. Here, the line is not the result of a physical movement by the artist but the product of a manual or industrial process. These lines are, in fact, already there present before the artist subjects them to a process of transformation process – from their mundane utilitarian everyday usage into the aesthetic freedom of the bare form. At the same time, a radical transition occurs, passing from the particular to the general. Concentrated within this abstract spherical form is not just an everyday routine but concurrently also the world we live in, deposited here like sediment – sediment that has been researched, as it were, in an archeological way.

Drawing in Space

It was the sculptor Julio Gonzàlez who introduced his childhood friend Pablo Picasso to steel sculpture in the late 1920s, and thereby heralded the advent of open spatial sculpture. Picasso was fascinated by the idea of “Drawing in Space”. Defying mass and volume, Gonzàlez drew lines of iron through the space between one node and another. They were like imagined lines between stars in the night sky – the lines that do in fact make the constellations visible. In this way, volume was not carried out but described and merely intimated. At the same time, this also makes it possible to endlessly extend the plastic or sculptural idea. It is not the actual mass that is significant but the imagined volume within the empty space, within the “void”.

Drawing with Light

Inspired by Life-photographer Gjon Mili in 1949, Pablo Picasso produced a series of long-exposure photographs onto which he drew, using a light pen in the air. This produced drawings that are visible solely as photographic documentation. Unlike drawing with a pencil on paper, in this case, no lasting, visible, material is placed on the surface and no pencil lines, no steel wire, are applied.

The surrealist Man Ray is considered one of the first person to create this form of “immaterial” drawing in the mid-1930s. The drawing is immaterial because it is not the photograph that constitutes the work but simply the trace of light in the room. The photograph captures the event that came into being as an art action and vanished again as quickly as it appeared. Time, space and material are placed in a hitherto unknown relationship that ultimately reinterprets the idea of artistic sculpture.

Drawing as an Idea

For Bente Stokke, drawing is not a specific artistic technique but a stance and an idea that is primarily performed physically, and thus becomes manifest.

Bente Stokke’s drawings cannot be seen independently of her sculptural work. The two are inextricably linked. Her entire work is, in fact, developed from the spirit of her drawing.

Bente Stokke’s light drawings transcend the genre in many ways. In 1982, her work Timesquare was made by pacing along the outer edges of an imagined square on a field. In a dark night, she tried to trace the lines as precisely as possible without being able to see. She had to rely on her ability to recall and comprehend the idea of the square in physical terms – something she only achieved to a certain extent. She had a light attached to her head, which left a trace of movement on a long exposure. Each of the four lines along the edges were featured in four photos. Observers were then invited to join these four lines up to form a square by association. They have to perform an associative action that the artist had already completed in physical terms.

The visible deviation of the performance from the idea is the content this performative experiment. The abstraction (the square) contrasts with the possibilities of human expression and the manifestations of nature. Acute as one’s sense of direction and physical control may be, the nature of the terrain makes it impossible to actually create a clear expression of the ideal shape, and it is only possible to create a natural image of it.

Second drawings

Time is another idea that Bente Stokke attempts to focus on in a radical but equally experimental way. In her Second drawings series, she produced one ink drawing every second. For this, she used a rapidograph that is primarily used for technical drawings. With the help of a metronome that counted out the seconds she produced 3600 10 x 10 cm format drawings in 60 minutes, mostly just a small point in the middle of the sheet. The choreographic aspect is obvious here. It is not just a matter of producing the “drawing”, but of incorporating into the rhythm of the work process the movement of lifting and placing the sheets on one side. The sheet drawings ultimately pile up on the floor, forming an “ensemble” by lying one on top of the other until they take up the entire space. The floor of the studio space itself becomes a drawing medium itself, and the sheets that pile up on top of each other become a three-dimensional spatial structure, a romantic sea of ice in which the sheets of drawings seem to shift over each other, like ice floes. Loosely placed elastic bands outline the sets of 60 sheets that are produced every minute, like islands.

“Time as a Material”

While the material aspect is fully blanked out
in Timesquare, and is extremely reduced in “Second drawings”, it can also become the actual theme in this case.

In 7 Days, which dates from 1982, she draws with red and green-coloured rice on the floor, using a tapered chute. This device produces a more or less continuous flow. A lattice of overlapping lines emerges. The physical movement within the studio space controls the direction and – depending on the speed of the movement –the density and width of the line on the gallery floor. Every day at 12 noon over a period of 7 days, a new drawing was made, in an attempt to copy the first drawing, then the drawing is re-traced, the rice is swept up, collected, weighed and the process repeated the next day in the described manner as a structure of lines, until it was finally shown in the exhibition Zeit als Material (Time as material). Despite the stoical repetition of the ritual and the identical conditions (quantity, time, space) no identical image was achieved. To the extent that the human body itself was used as an instrument for drawing, its lack of perfection is an expression of deviation from the ideal.

Here, too, what remains as an end product is the photographic material. The slides of each day’s action are laid one on top of each other, to form a combined, synthetic, and indeed informal, drawing that arose successively in seven stages, and never as a whole.

”1 km”

In 2011 Bente Stokke created a series of drawings that she entitles 1 km. She brings together two standard sizes: the measurement for distance (km) and the standard size for sheets of paper (DIN). She performs the experiment in three figures: the recumbent figure of eight a symbol for eternity, the recumbent oval and the upright oval. She measures these figures to calculate how many times they have to be drawn in an endless loop to attain one thousand metres. A mechanical hand counter helps her count the laps.

The standardised units of measurement form the basis of a meditative experience of endless time and endless lines, so to speak. As a rule, a drawing can only render this as a smaller image. However, the artist is now tracing an endless line that actually is one thousand metres long. The sheet itself measures just 84.1 x 118.9 cm so that the endless and monumental distance can only be represented by means of extreme compression and overlapping.

This great distance is shrunk, made smaller and reduced to a dimension that remains feasible. At the same time, it is a portrayal and also the thing itself, the one kilometre that is actually present in material terms. This immediacy and realism distinguish this work from something that was produced as a map, which only makes sense in a scaled-down form.

This simultaneous evocation of large and small, endless and limited, arises from a draughtsman’s method that reaches beyond the athletic and physical achievement. It is not about effectiveness or originality but about an elementary and exemplary experience.

Endless Space – Endless Time

“To draw is to create space,” says Bente Stokke. Here she proves that even endless space and, within it, endless time can at least be imagined.

In her studio is an oversized drawing completely covered in pencil-drawn lines. There is no free space for the white paper to shine through. The left and right-hand edges have been rolled up, giving the impression that the picture extends beyond the visible space. Reflected light on the graphite causes a slight iridescence. However, the image does not merge into bare, light-extinguishing blackness at all. It is much more a case of discerning structures, movement, and points. They are surrounded by an aura, a slight radiation.

So, it is not difficult to read this monumental image as the night sky. The whole formation is covered by a geometric, circular structure of lines that divides up this complex entity into sections, in a manner reminiscent of cartography.

The drawing challenges us in two ways: physically it is large, a map of the heavens that is not feasible or indeed understandable, yet it evokes an endless magnitude that defies all forms of contemplation, a sheer greatness that can only be experienced in the hight of emphasis or as deepest sinking: a cosmic image.

Point, line, surface, space – this is the formal range. They stand for an experience of endless time within an endless space.


Bente Stokke rose to fame with her large and expansive ash and dust installations. She elicits unimagined aesthetic qualities from this “poor” material; dirt and dust.

The artistic linear aspect seems to play no role. The area that extends into the space is at the forefront, here. The grey in grey, the dull quality of the material, the fleeting and the fragile are what give its its characteristic features.

Nevertheless, also here, a special artistic concept lies within. It is not only the material sub- stance whereby dust and ashes correspond to the graphite that is used for drawing. Further treatments also reveal an artistic approach. Thus, lines are discovered, traced onto the dust-covered glass panes that arose by removing and at the same time wiping the dust away with the drawing finger – a negative drawing that has arisen, not by applying matter, but by erasing it. In this way, objects can be identified, to some extent: a tea, or coffee pot, a stool, a Coke bottle. By removing the substance, the drawing emerges. Furthermore, the medium for the image, the glass, is translucent and transparent. You can see right through the drawing. There is a Before and an After. The drawing exists, as it were, in a void.

Acoustic Drawing

Can one hear drawing? Clearly, one can also emphasise the acoustic quality of the process of drawing. In this case, what always remains in sight is the result, the trace, that may be reduced to a substrate, from whatever kind of pen or pencil is used, be it one’s own body. Since Bente Stokke’s drawing process and drawings also have a performative character, the question is not wholly unjustified. For instance, she experiments with microphones onto which she performs painting movements with her finger to produce corresponding sounds. All that remains is the sound, no visible trace whatsoever.

Here, the whole genre has been fully extended and surpassed, and is presented in its full spectrum before one’s eyes and – in this case – ears. Theodor W. Adorno’s dictum proves apt: “The substantial element of genres and these needs now dissolve and become the element of a free interplay between the genres, “their demarcation lines infringe upon each other.” 1

Drawing is Living Existence

With Bente Stokke, drawing is always also an action and physical movement as the immediate expression of a cerebral movement that does not want to hold onto the classical manifestations of the genre. Instead, the borders are exceeded even though the attempt might fail.

The drawing is more an idea rather than a work that allows itself to be reduced to a material aspect.

Bente Stokke makes something very fundamental clear to us, an anthropological constant. Drawing signifies dissolution. Humans create signs and leave traces. Every drawing delineates an area of power. Drawing is an exemplary process of self-discovery and finding one’s identity – and this is rarely as clearly highlighted as it is in Bente Stokke’s work.

1 Theodor W. Adorno: Die Kunst und die Künste, Akademie der Künste 1967, Berlin, p. 25; Lectures from the series Grenzen und Konvergenzen der Künste, 1965/66 at the Akademie der Künste (12 notes at present).