Nadja Daehnke – Common Sense: A Sketchbook

common sense: a sketchbook

This exhibition playfully looks at the notion of ‘common sense’ – or indeed, the strangeness of the idea that there might be a sense shared by all. This strangeness is explored in relation to social conventions, language and text and, especially, visual and artistic conventions.

The play around artistic conventions is picked up in references to paint-by-numbers, tracing and ‘how to draw’ exercises – all common ways of creating images, but in the ‘fine art’ tradition considered hobby art, or only ever used ironically. In common sense these hobby exercises sit alongside painted images executed in line with more conventional ‘high art’ expectations. The humour rests partly in juxtaposing ‘hobby art’ with ‘fine art’ approaches in a context where many contemporary artworld cognoscenti have long ago left behind the notion of virtuoso drawing and ‘good’ painting.

If this points to how expectations shape the way art is perceived in different contexts, then this theme is also picked up in terms of wider social expectations. IQ tests, references to the ‘how what why when’ questions that underpin journalism, and the use of colours promoted as ‘universal’ (specifically ‘International Orange’, a colour used globally as the safety colour in aviation) all gently tease about a hope for stability. I have always been obsessed with this dream of stability and fixity – the longing for something that is not contingent – and yet find great amusement in how in the contemporary world we both acknowledge the futility of this, but still cannot help but to fantasize of universals and to speak in universal rules.

Nowhere is this, perhaps, more obvious than in language, and common sense picks up on this. The subjectivity of words such as ‘Our’ becomes foregrounded once the word is stripped of context and displaced onto a somewhat quizzical sculptural shape. Similarly, titles giving the size of the universe and the age of the earth lose all communicative and pedagogic possibility as the sublime vastness of these numbers renders us unable to have any sense of what they actually mean. In another painting, the use of the phonetic ‘TŌŌ MEN’ is both a description of what is seen on the work - an image of two men - but also a play on their exaggerated masculinity, with bulging whey-muscled physique. They are, indeed, too much of a man.

The title of the exhibition mentions a sketchbook as this is how I have conceived of the images – with the play and experimentation a sketchbook encourages. The notion of books is, however, also a wider theme that runs through the exhibition. Many images used originate from encyclopaedias. The notion of an encyclopaedia – a book that, in theory at least, contains all knowledge and thus delimits the world – was a starting point for this series. Whilst Wikipedia is the encyclopaedia de jour, it is precisely the obsolescence of the physical book-encyclopaedia that draws me. It seems an apt metaphor for our futility of searching for what is common in our sense.



Exhibition Catalogue