WALL, PAPER, HERSTORIES by Dr. A. Berecz, 2023

The title of Nicola Ginzel’s project, How Do You Restructure Form?, is a question that addresses the reader directly and prompts many others. Is restructuring the same as reconstructing, or, rather differently, does it bring about the undoing of form? Is it a translation of something into another material? If so, is it about the layered connections of matter and memory, process and materials? And, maybe most importantly, what is the form that needs restructuring and why?

In spring 2020, the Brooklyn-based artist traveled for a residency to Vienna, where her father grew up. A homecoming of sorts marked by recurrent pandemic lockdowns and forced solitude, her stay evolved into a four-month-long daily rubbing of the exterior footprint of the Palais Equitable in the city’s historic center. By using red carbon paper, she recorded the base of the building and the adjacent ground thus transcribing the construction that also houses a 15th century tree trunk riddled with nails. The nail tree talisman, known as the Stock-im-Eisen, is one of the rare surviving examples of the medieval practice of pounding nails into a tree for healing, good luck and protection. Encased in glass like a relic, the talisman is placed in a niche on the corner of the Palais Equitable that was built in 1891 as the European headquarter of the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States.

An early monument of global capitalism and its myth of perpetual market growth, the edifice is a modern landmark of the imperial city, and by the enclosure of the nail tree, it is also a vessel of pre-modern rituals. The life insurance company and the nail tree both address the human need for identity and protection, but Ginzel’s daily work was not only rooted in their shared affinity. The building, where her grandfather once had his office, was promised, but failed to become Ginzel’s paternal inheritance, and thus, it is part of her personal history. The Palais Equitable, a site of old and new belief systems, sacred and profane rituals, personal hopes and collective aspirations is a lieu de mémoire–as the French historian Pierre Nora calls locations of communal memory. For Ginzel, it became a workplace and a site to remember broken promises and her paternal ancestry.

Crouching on the sidewalk in the early morning hours to perform what was both a physical activity and spiritual labor, Ginzel rubbed stones, corners, sidewalks, and ornamental metal grilles. Her daily work was repetitive, laborious and meditative—akin to ancestral clearing—a frequent theme in the artist’s oeuvre. As she wrote in spring 2023, “trained as a printmaker and working in mixed media, my artworks are based in ritual and process. (...) I often see myself as an ‘artist as shaman’ attempting to change the trajectory or energy of the thing that I materially transform.” Ginzel's method defies the customary vocabulary of art and craft: her conceptually informed yet thoroughly materially grounded work moves freely among procedures such as drawing, collage, frottage, painting, construction, and performance.

How Do You Restructure Form? is rooted in the ritual labor of architectural frottage and the subsequent transformation of nearly two hundred red carbon marked papers of varying size, weight and texture through extended time and in varied media. In her Vienna studio, and later on the Bowery, in New York’s Chinatown, in a former clinic of osteopathic medicine, Ginzel worked on the dated and carefully ordered rubbed papers with a wide array of materials. She cut and rearranged them; marked them with graphite, pastel and gel medium; stained and painted them with espresso, gum arabic, turmeric, acrylic, watercolor, iodine mixed with dry pigment and ink; stitched them with wool; scraped, shaved and sliced them; and occasionally superimposed them with the dyed and painted remains of her late father’s pajama. By treating the surface of the papers as walls and palimpsests, and by combining and sequencing them as building blocks or construction materials, she created a large and strictly structured series that consists of sixty-five works–the shoji paper-based chapter is one of them.

Divided into subsequences based on their formal characteristics and materials, each chapter in How Do You Restructure Form? provides fragmented narratives that demonstrate the disappearance or subsistence of ornamental and architectural forms. Like fractals, individual works and chapters reiterate and modify, expose and erase their base structure, the linear network of red carbon rubbings. In some works, the Palais Equitable remains visible, in others, it is buried under multiple modifications. Ginzel records, then both repeats and erases the archival trace of the building, while she does the same to the paper itself. Like the map-like images of the late 19th century Viennese edifice, the structure and the topological continuity of the paper which is both a ground and surface in Ginzel’s hand is destroyed and then reconstituted.

Broken diagrams, symbolic maps and fragmented palimpsests, Ginzel’s project evokes the Freudian Wunderblock: it records and erases, remembers and cancels the handmade marks, building and the presence of their maker. Similar to a novel or a musical composition, How Do You Restructure Form? is an orchestrated multi-part structure that brings into play the ambiguities of memory work, the issues of locational identity, and the tensions of the elective affinities in familial relations that form and deform human beings. How Do You Restructure Form? is a question that despite its specificity can resonate with every viewer who ever pondered how things and people survive being alive.

Dr. Ágnes Berecz, PhD

teaches History of Art and Design, Pratt Institute, focusing on transnational exchanges and collaborative, multimedia practices in postwar and contemporary art

Nicola Ginzel at 86 Bowery, April 2024

Nicola Ginzel offers us a question: How Do You Restructure Form?
Upon a paper substrate appearing deceptively fragile yet remarkably robust Form is generated through Structure recorded and absorbed by the willful How of haptic labor in intense frottage. Ethereal traces of architecture forged in history accumulate in complex palimpsests. Myriad oxide embossments compound into image. There is an evocation of the Shroud of Turin or Veil of Veronica. Ultimately an apparition arises that presents the potential as portal into another consciousness. At times an elaborate amalgam of materiality and content, at other times a lean vector with ovum/egg poised as in a tantric reveal. Manifested is a profound synthesis of intention and intuition, seemingly ordained rather than simply wrought.

Andrew Ginzel (Indefinitely related)

Post-Classical:  Nicola Ginzel’s Obscure Objects of Desire  by Lilly Wei, 2013

Nicola Ginzel sees significance—aesthetic and otherwise—in bits and pieces that others overlook or matter-of-factly discard. And while she is certainly not the only artist who pounces on found objects and re-cycles them, her interpretations and responses are more autobiographical than most, the works invested with idiosyncratic, diaristic, even talismanic import. It’s also a rescue mission “to extend the life of things on their way to being destroyed,” she said. Or more accurately, Ginzel wants to focus awareness on the things that comprise daily life and experience; she wants a “slowing down,” so we are more present and in the present. “People tell me,” she said, “that after they see my work, they look at ordinary things differently.”

Thus, she randomly collects the detritus of our urban existence in her daily comings and goings: wrappers, plastic bags, boxes, even food, shards of soap, and much more. She also saves receipts, her own and others, a custom form, phone cards, a swatch of fabric, but nothing intrinsically valuable. It’s up to her to give them value. From the mass-produced and damaged, from the ephemeral, Ginzel—who thinks of herself as a mixed media artist but whom I think of as a mixed media poet or just simply a sorceress—creates delicate, hand-made and very beautiful objects that suggest reliquaries, amulets and archeological fragments, distillates of memories and feelings.

What catches Ginzel’s eye could be anything: an ordinary plastic shopping bag, for instance, that she gilded with 23k gold, resplendently transformed as if by the mythic touch of King Midas. Or a Wendy’s chicken wrapper—if you can believe that’s what it is. Ginzel applied a first layer of gold leaf to the wrapper, then carefully embroidered it until it resembled richly textured brocade, a remnant of a medieval tapestry perhaps, framed, floating in a white field. It is this kind of transformation that she is after, that changes the commonplace into something ravishing.

The earliest series that she showed me in her Williamsburg studio in December was a line of little objects hung on the wall, called, appropriately enough, “Gold Line.” The tiny sculptures—charming, improvised—are impossible to identity, their original semblance gently overwhelmed by Ginzel’s magic, by her solicitude. Spoiler alert: one little jewel of a piece is half a lemon rind, the interior scooped out, dried and dipped in wax.

Ginzel labors intensively over her miniatures, stitching, painting, frottaging, collaging, applying pastels, pencil and so on, whatever the work might require, all techniques that deliberately avoid new technologies. Her very intuitive practice requires great attentiveness, an unmediated collaboration between mind, hand and material. The constant solacing repetition of touch also bespeaks of love and healing, warming the work with their invisible presence.

The recent series are flat, a form of relief. She still thinks of them as objects, as sculptures and makes them in series, even if they are intended to be individual works when completed, repeating the essential motif. That motif, that found object, is less hidden in the current work, although clues were always present as to content. But in the end, it never really mattered to Ginzel if the identity of her materials were ambiguous or if it was easily decoded. One sequence was inspired by a small soap box which she flattened, embroidered, and used as a template to make rubbings from. Afterwards, she re-embroidered them, altering the composition, adding more layers of meaning, adding energy. Essentially, her work is based on the human factor, in some ways a branch of “philosophical anthropology,” or equivalent to a “shamanistic” ritual, Ginzel explained, its visual language both rare and ecumenical, her offerings something to be shared.

Lilly Wei is a New York-based art critic and independent curator who focuses on contemporary art.