Simon Glass


Unpublished Exhibition Catalogue Essay

Therese Bolliger and Robert Walser

"I’m not here to write, I’m here to be mad", said Robert Walser of his internment at the Herisau Sanitorium in Switzerland where he spent the last 23 years of his life. But Walser had written a great deal, had written in a secret pencil method, a microscript of his own invention, one that gave him peace of mind and pleasure. Unlike the child who hides and wishes above all to be found, Walser was hiding, indeed he was doubly hiding, in a place where he truly hoped not to be found. For not only did he hide so much of his later writing, he wrote in a script that lay on the threshold of indecipherability. So obscure was Walser’s script that his friend and literary executor Carl Seelig conceded defeat in attempting to translate it. Only later did the scholar Jochen Greven succeed in interpreting Walser’s special glyph and it was only towards the end of the twentieth century that Werner Morlang and Bernhard Echte transcribed 526 pages of Walser’s abstruse hand.

Artist Therese Bolliger hides in plain sight and speaks a language of materials. The screening material she employs in her two Robert Walser works is one that normally serves as a barrier between the threatening natural world around us and the comforting sanitized worlds of our domestic and cultural environments. As with spoken and written languages, a language of materials – while it talks – must at the same time remain mute, for it cannot say everything it may wish to mean. The screening material brings forth notions of both barrier and threshold. Into this barrier and threshold material Bolliger incises textual quotes creating negative spaces, lacunae, for each word, for each letter. These quotes include the one uttered by Walser above, "I’m not here to write, I’m here to be mad" and another of Walser’s utterances, "How dare you talk to me as if you knew me." Significantly, Bolliger also quotes Walser at length from his "Bleistiftgebiet", or "pencil region", his original indecipherable script. What meaning might escape with these gaps cut into the barrier?

We might ask who it is that is really confined by such a barrier. Are we inside or outside? Are we confined or protected? Further, the indecipherable is always already present. There must always remain some undefined term, obscure referent, or unnamed object, for without some gap, some lacuna, some uncertainty, there will be no room for interpretation. As Walser says in his 1925 novel The Robber, "… there’s always something very refined about uncertainties." Uncertainty, obscurity, lacunae – they are ontological necessities. There is no escape.

Simon Glass, 2015