Gerd Zillner – Daniel Hafner's drawings


Key features of Daniel Hafner’s artistic work are the high degree of reflection, the examination of work processes, and a great interest in the intersections of technical apparatus and processes and artistic modes of working. All of these characteristics are found in a series of drawings on show at the exhibition “Daniel Hafner. Reflecting on all things merely experienced” at the Kiesler Foundation Vienna.1

Daniel Hafner’s large-format drawing “Travelling Waves” confronts the viewer with a puzzle. Its lines seem to have an inherently confusing aspect that begs closer analysis. At first glance, the lines appear unremarkable, simply obeying computer-generated patterns and arrangements. On closer scrutiny – at second glance, as it were – we also begin to see certain gestic aspects that identify the line pattern as a drawing, as a “trace” of the artist. The question, then, is what makes the lines special, and this puzzle is solved when you become familiar with the complexity of their making.

The starting point for the process of making “Travelling Waves” is Daniel Hafner’s drawing on a graphics pad. The artist makes deliberate use of a set-up that creates lines that give the computer relatively little information for further processing. They contain information about dynamics and scale, but reveal no other details regarding other key characteristics of the drawing such as the drawing implement, pressure, the angle of the pen to the pad or, for example, stroke execution. Although drawn by hand, the lines exist in digital form and are thus available for any kind of digital processing.
In order to understand the subsequent work process, attention must be drawn at this point to Daniel Hafner’s great interest in visualising sound waves as lines. Sound recordings and line drawings have great formal similarities in the digital sphere and can be generated or manipulated in a comparable manner.2

Daniel Hafner takes advantage of the modes of functioning of tools used in music processing programs in order to manipulate his drawings, for example by duplicating or mirroring the lines in his drawings or modifying their dynamics, for instance by reducing the vertices of the polygonal strokes.
This digital work process returns an (interim) result that is printed on a transparency and projected onto a wall using an overhead projector. Projection adds another characteristic that is crucial with regard to the appearance of the drawing: Daniel Hafner changes the scale. Measuring approx. 138.5 x 271.5cm, the format that the artist has chosen for the work in the exhibition at the Kiesler Foundation Vienna is truly monumental for a drawing.
The final step is tracing, with Daniel Hafner copying the lines projected on the wall in minute detail with a black permanent marker. The computer graphic assumes the characteristic style of a drawing by hand, being called back into the realm of the “hand-made” (Pessler) in the form of a drawing. Even during this final step, Daniel Hafner explores the boundaries of drawing by hand when he uses a pen that only very subtly reveals the drawing to be a “trace” of the artist.

It is precisely this multiple media transfer, the aesthetic “surplus” of the process of making, that is enigmatically ingrained in the mesh of lines of the “Travelling Waves”. The artist’s complex attempt to push the limits of the “hand-made” essence of drawing, and to demonstrate their absurdity, is inherent in the lines of the “Travelling Waves”. As mentioned at the beginning, at second glance the viewer discerns a fascinating tension when he becomes aware of the deception concerning the nature of the drawing and sets out in search of the solution to this mystery.
Smaller in format, but no less complex in terms of exploring the possibilities of drawing, is another set of sheets from the “Travelling Waves” series. Here again, the drawing on the graphics pad and the subsequent manipulation of the lines on the computer form the starting point for a complex process of reflection. Unlike the large-format work, however, Daniel Hafner performs far less complex manipulations, which are often restricted to merely duplicating lines. These processes remain visible in the final drawing.

But in returning to the analogue sphere, this time Daniel Hafner uses a pencil with a very hard lead (7H), as is used above all for technical drawing. It permits maximum detail, but severely curtails the drawer’s individual style. It is poorly suited to fast, gestic drawing in the sense of artistic work, for a pencil of this hardness would damage the paper rather than produce a dynamic line. 

One notion that preceded these drawing experiments for Daniel Hafner was the question of what would happen if a quickly drawn line were traced with a drawing implement intrinsically unsuited to this purpose because of its properties. Although much of the information initially contained in the lines is lost, it does open up some completely new aspects. Daniel Hafner hardly changes the scale in the projection, thus lending the drawings a certain intimate character. Some lines have the appearance of barely decipherable, fancifully delicate writing. With the original dynamism almost completely lost from the drawings, the strokes appear extremely flat, deindividualised even, reminiscent of charts created with technical instruments.
A wholly different, but just as intensive examination of the possibilities of drawing is another series of sheets which Daniel Hafner has captioned “Studies in motion”. These too are tracings. The alienation, however, is created not by means of media transfer and by tracing projected lines, as in “Travelling Waves”. Although the artist uses his own drawings as his source, he no longer uses his hand to draw but rather mounts a leadholder on a strip of aluminium that he attaches to various parts of the body lacking the degree of control and coordination displayed by the hand. Due to this lack of coordination or, to put it differently, due to the lack of manual command in wielding the pencil, Daniel Hafner puts profoundly gestic meshes of lines on paper, lines that, dynamically, differ completely from the subtle strokes of the hard-lined “Travelling Waves”. They appear anything but “deindividualised”, even though, here again, the complex work process obfuscates their making.

If you ask Daniel Hafner whether his intention is to frustrate those qualities of drawing that were introduced into the art theory discourse as “disegno” in the Renaissance period, and whose aim was the immediate manifestation of the mind by means of drawing, the artist says no – instead it is about the pleasure of unbiased drawing and the visual result of these complex modes of working.

With regard to the quality of draughtsmanship, Daniel Hafner’s “Studies in motion” are reminiscent of a series of drawings that Kiesler created as conceptual sketches and studies for his “Shell Sculptures” in the late 1950s, or some sketches on the “Endless House”, also created in the late 1950s. A number of these studies are on show at the exhibition as quotations from Frederick Kiesler’s estate.

Daniel Hafner reflects on drawing in the medium of drawing itself. Frederick Kiesler does so in writings and poems. The last verse of Kiesler’s famous poem “When I conduct the orchestra of space” precedes this brochure as a teaser. A passage from Frederick Kiesler’s essay “Hazard and the Endless House” rounds off the examination of drawing.
“Drafting is grafting vision on paper with lead, ink, or – or. Blindfolded skating rather than designing, significantly keen, directed by experience and will, and channelling one’s feelings and thoughts, deliberately proud of pruning them to clarity and definition. Chance drawing and sculpting or painting is an ability to let go, to be entirely tool rather than a guide of tools.”3

1 This text is based on conversations between the author and the artist during set-up of the exhibition. For a fundamental analysis of Daniel Hafner’s drawing process, cf. Monika Pessler, “Travelling Waves”, in: Daniel Hafner and Monika Pessler [ed.]: Daniel Hafner Dialogue(s). Reflecting on all things merely experienced, Vienna 2012, p. 45ff.; concerning the occupation with drawing, cf. the introduction and various essays in: Friedrich Teja Bach and Wolfram Pichler [ed.]: Öffnungen. Zur Theorie und Geschichte der Zeichnung, Munich 2009 and Matthias Haldemann, Kunsthaus Zug [ed.]: “Linea. Vom Umriss zur Aktion. Die Kunst der Linie zwischen Antike und Gegenwart” (= catalogue of the exhibition of the same name at Kunsthaus Zug, 21 Nov. 2010 to 27 March 2011), Ostfildern 2010. 
2 Cf. Monika Pessler: “Travelling Waves”, 2012, p. 45 (German text supplement: p. 10).
3 Frederick Kiesler, “Hazard and the Endless House”, in: Art News, Vol. 59, No. 7 (November 1960), p. 48.
Translation by Richard Watts