Step through the doors of the large, bright Kunsthalle Lingen – and into a visually stunning world. Where once rail engines were maintained or repaired and the Kunstverein now resides you’re greeted by a striking dividing wall from which a monumental pattern confronts you, courtesy of Thomas Bayrle. Bayrle has created an homage to the paintings of his fellow artist Michel Majerus (who died in a plane crash in 2002) in the shape of a wild and vibrant wallpaper pattern. Bayrle, who for many years taught at Frankfurt’s Städel Academy and last year caused such a stir at Documenta 13 with his superstructures and engines that rotated around themselves or inside themselves, has opted to vary his customary approach. Usually, he gives his themes a new speed of their own, leaves them to respond to themselves, and at the end captures it all by bringing the theme up against itself at the next-highest level of the structure. Be it shoes, buttons or camels, be it workers, cups or shoes, be it airplanes, soldiers or Maos or Willy Brandts – always the one image rubs shoulders with the next, duplicates it, expands and multiplies, until so many of the forever identical symbols have accumulated that the surface becomes too small for them, the eye is overwhelmed and your storage system inundated. And now it’s Majerus’ painterly gesture that Bayrle liberates – compressing it using the principle of identical repetition in patterns – and gives a lease of life in digital space.

Wherever you look, patterns are presented reflecting on their diverse, aesthetic and cultural linkages, and in all their visual glory: Be it next door where Margriet Krijtenburg adds a pattern to colorful paper handbags to unsettling effect, or architect Jürgen Mayer H. who covers an entire wall with data protection patterns in which the real space gets hidden behind camouflage, or designer Jan Kath who partially erases, reshapes or overwrites traditional carpet patterns, as good as deconstructing Orientalism and tradition.

“Das Muster, das verbindet – The Pattern that Connects” is the title chosen for the intriguing exhibition that Meike Behm, Director of Kunstverein Lingen has curated together with Annette Tietenberg, who lectures in “Contemporary Art” at HBK Braunschweig and whose articles Stylepark readers are no doubt familiar with. Irrespective of what patterns are on display, the show proves impressively the great variety of ways in which artists, designers and architects are realizing the principle of reused patterns as a counter-model to creating intercultural limits. It also sheds light on the function of regionally-influenced patterns against the background of cross-border identity formation, and visualizes in general how patterns act as a medium of cultural transfer.

That was not always the case. Modernism loved things in unadulterated white. But if we get born in a clinic, must we then also live in a clinic, asked Robert Musil, author of the “Man Without Qualities”, back then with caustic irony. The most trenchant critic of the “ornament epidemic” that was so widespread particularly in the 19th century and a man with a prophetic thirst for simplicity, Viennese architect and journalist Adolf Loos considered ornaments not only a crime, but above all a matter of cultural regression. He considered the additional work stages required in industrial production processes to manufacture decorative items as a complete waste – of material, time and human labor. Loos hated everything and anything that smacked of décor and idyll with a vengeance. Even if all that was involved was to eat a piece of gingerbread, he chose a piece “that was utterly smooth and not a piece shaped liked a heart or a baby or a knight on horseback,” eschewing any gingerbread that “was coated in ornaments”.

While there is no gingerbread on show in Kunsthalle Lingen, the exhibition succeeds in presenting the omnipresence of patterns and their bedazzling function as ornaments in many different ways and prompts us to ask how their meaning has changed. Moreover, it is still relatively rare for an exhibition to overcome the still firmly cemented lines dividing art, architecture and design – and it does so with verve and instead of following well-trodden paths, devotes itself with great zest and curiosity to tracing evident links between the disciplines and cultures.

What Loos could not have guessed at the beginning of the 20th century was that the dynamism of capitalism has long since led to a return of patterns. There’s hardly a field today in which they are not to be found. Instead of following the “less is more” principle, the logic of the global economy goes for “more is more”. Which, when the talk turns to sustainability, prompts the one or other to consider patterns a repeat of the objectionable wish for surfeit and waste.

The exhibition counters this with a hypothesis that sounds as simple as it is convincing, and which can be tested on every single item on show. Patterns, or so visitors swiftly realize, are indeed much more than simply add-on frills. Since they often rest on a long-standing tradition, they forge a close link to the world and history. In patterns, the limelight is taken neither by artistic expression or the presence of the object the artist has created. On the contrary, patterns are part of a culture and a lineage. Meaning they’re already there and don’t need to be invented. And because it’s rarely known who created them, they can be used leisurely and a respectful game with the givens can commence.

Patterns, or so Annette Tietenberg emphasized in her opening address, “tell a tale of oriental gardens of paradise, of the patterns on animal hides, of compositions, color linkages and arrangements passed down from one generation to the next. The pattern is simply a given in all this. And yet, only by resorting to this familiar given does something unforeseeable and contemporary arise. It is precisely this production model, and it seems to be inherent to patterns, what at present makes them so attractive and fruitful for artistic and design processes.”

This forward-looking reach back into history unearths any manner of things: In their pieces, Bärbel Schlüter and Thomas Mass (both work in situ) consciously reference the venue and the existing architecture. Bärbel Schlüter by transposing the unobtrusive relief ribbon of plaster-made rectangles from the façade of the brick building into the interior, highlighting its presence. Thomas Mass by adding to an existing wall, which we would most probably simply overlook as a normal part of the space, a pattern, painted freehand and consisting of vertical lines of colored ink; the lines grow closer, touch, cross and then move further apart again. In this way, not only does the wall become visible as such, but free patterns and vibrations arise that add a physical and temporal dimension to our perception of the hall. The artist’s act has its roots in a network of lines the course of which no one can predict.

Sebastian Körbs activates the line dividing interior and exterior by gluing a pattern of zeros to one of the windows. Photographer Tine Holterhoff discovers the beauty of essentially banal house and hotel frontages; in her cropped versions of them their structures become incredibly unsettling. And the fashion designers from “c.neeon” make use of local patterns in the stage-like presentations of their fabrics and clothes – for example East Asian weaving techniques.

The Rotterdam designers at “Demakersvan” demonstrate that even dividing fences can be softened by using floral patterns, such that the divisiveness of demarcation is elided. Christine Streuli and Shannon Bool focus on the function of patterns in painting, whereas artist Parastou Farouhar addresses the bitterly political function of patterns in her home country of Iran by covering a wall with paper in a strict black-and-white pattern – it presents scenes of torture and violence and yet still manages to resemble some elegant dance of death. While Martin Schöne manages to penetrate right to our brains; he has developed a patented image-generating process that enables you to visualize brain waves as a formative process, meaning he establishes about as close a link as is possible between “patterns” and how we think and feel.

The show closes with Old Master Victor Vasarely and an edition he created in 1977 for the Rosenthal porcelain manufactory – and it shows him to be the mastermind behind modern patterning, as he was one of the first of the post-War Modernists to blur the divisions between architecture, design and art – in the process relying on patterns from nature, in this case a zebra’s stripes – and thus vividly use the illusion of depth patterns afford.

Which brings us to Anglo-American anthropologist, biologist, cybernetic theorist and philosopher Gregory Bateson, who first coined the phrase the “pattern that connects”. It was he who wrote that: “What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all four of them to me? And me to you? And all the six of us to the amoeba in one direction and to the back-ward schizophrenic in another? … What is the pattern which connects all the living creatures?”

The pattern that connects
Kunstverein Lingen, Kunsthalle
November 2, 2013 thru January 12, 2014

The pattern that connects
by Thomas Wagner
Nov 13, 2013
Artist talk: Bärbel Schlüter together with Annette Tietenberg, explaining her in situ created reflections of façade. Left side: wallpaper by Thomas Bayrle. All photos © Thomas Wagner, Stylepark
Not only Bärbel Schlüter worked in situ, also Thomas Mass on the right side.
What connects mesh wire fence with data privacy protection? What connects abstract with florale patterns? Positions by Demakersv and by Jürgen Mayer H..
Deconstruction of oriental patterns: carpet by Jan Kath, alongside a dish by Victor Vasarely and on the wall an installation by Jürgen Mayer H.
Dunja Evers, Martin Schöne and Thomas Mass sitting on beanbags wearing fragments of the Koran, work by Parastou Farouhar.
A pattern that connects the out- with the inside: The plastered partition, that Bärbel Schlüter brings to the inside.
Work by Thomas Mass.
Artist talk II: Thomas Mass with Annette Tietenberg and Meike Behm.
A stage for fashion patterns: Design by c.neeon behind a wallpaper by Thomas Bayrle.
Built patterns: architectural photos by Tine Holterhoff.
Air of oriental fabric patterns: the installation by c.neeon.
Opposite of harmless: works by Parastou Farouhar focusing the political function of patterns and ornaments.
Parastou Farouhar.
Group photo with artists and curators.
When thoughts and emotions becoming a form: Martin Schöne declares his patented process to visualize the activity of the brain.
Pattern of politics: violence and torture like motives of a death dance.
Politics of the patterns: Actor and victim together create a pattern of power.
How does it look when we are confused or concentrated? Activity of brain, visualized by Martin Schöne.
Confusing game with the perception: two zebras on a dish by Victor Vasarely for Rosenthal.