Jorinde Voigt: Salt, Sugar, Sex (Beobachtungen im Jetzt I), 2015, ink, oil pastel, pastel and pencil on paper, 70⅞ by 55⅛ inches; at Lisson.

Berlin-based artist Jorinde Voigt (b. 1977) once told an interviewer that her work is like music and that “you can enjoy it without being able to read the score.” Given this characterization, it’s not surprising that Voigt, who has played the cello since the age of nine, in 2012 devoted a series of her abstract, diagrammatic drawings to Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas. It’s also not surprising that the colorful shapes composing the works on paper she recently exhibited at Lisson seem to flutter and dance to music—to the rhythm of an imaginary score resounding in the beholder’s mind.

Music allows emotions to grow into structures. It was likely in looking at the combinations of notes on musical staffs that Voigt learned how to organize feelings and fleeting perceptions into rational images. Drawing, her most frequent medium, permits her to do just that. She creates compositions of multicolored structures—sometimes recalling faraway galaxies, sometimes conjuring the cells of organisms—that she considers manifestations of particular thoughts or emotions that arise as she carries out activities like reading a specific passage in a book, listening to a sonata, or observing a natural event, like a bird’s flight. Around these drawn forms, she handwrites signs and notations—networks of lines, arrows and notes (usually in German and translating to phrases such as “direction of rotation” and “speed of rotation per revolution”) that together constitute what she calls a “matrix.” Thus, the visual forms are framed in a rational system, the final works combining the subjective and the objective (or the seemingly objective; while the matrices are meant to categorize the artist’s thoughts and feelings, they are themselves highly personal and largely inscrutable to the viewer). 

Ten drawings on paper, made with pencil, pastel and ink, occupied the gallery’s ground floor—all but one of them from the series “Beobachtungen im Jetzt” (“Observations in the Now,” 2014-15). They are sensual pieces, exuding an optimistic, positive aura. The exhibition—Voigt’s second solo show in Italy, after one at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome in 2013—was titled “Salt, Sugar, Sex,” alluding to bodily elements and functions. 

A group of six of these drawings, hung together on one wall, offered an explosive energy. These roughly 30-by-22-inch works display composed shapes as well as colorful splashes produced by dropping ink onto sheets of paper. The random and unpredictable results are elaborated and codified within the artist’s matrix of notations, which in this case relate to time (one drawing, for instance, reads: “yesterday’∞ / today’∞ / tomorrow’∞”). The curved, delicate shapes in the nearby, larger-scale Salt, Sugar, Sex (Beobachtungen im Jetzt I) and Beobachtungen im Jetzt II (both 2015) resemble female reproductive organs as well as blossoming flowers. The most precious and refined work was the single ground-floor drawing that didn’t belong to the “Beobachtungen im Jetzt” series: Incommunicability IV (2014), an arabesque of forms grown out of measurements of the artist’s body on the paper surface and embellished with white-gold and copper leaf. 

The gallery basement contained a group of sculptures, Sequence of Solidification (2014). Created by dropping hot wax into water, coating the resultant elongated forms in bronze and allowing the surfaces to develop the verdigris patina of oxidation, the pieces evoke animal spines and fossilized organic remains as well as three-dimensional versions of Voigt’s ink splashes. Introducing a heavy, cold note that clashed with the lightness of the other works on view, they suggested the impossibility of solidifying in sculptural form the vaporous matter of emotions.