Since the late 1970s, Charles Gaines is highly regarded as an important figure of conceptual art. In his drawings, works on paper and photographs he continually investigates how rule-based processes and systems construct the experiences of aesthetics, politics and language. By employing multi-layered practices, including images, texts and grids, as well as working in a serial character, Gaines examines image structures and critically questions forms of representation. His formal and at times mathematic methods are often ruptured by mysterious and illogical elements and thus explore what constitutes the rational and the irrational, the objective and the subjective.
In his exhibition with Galerie Max Hetzler, Gaines presents eight new works from his ongoing series Numbers and Trees that he initially began in 1985. In these, Gaines transcribes the universal motif of the tree into a system of numbers plotted onto a grid. For each work, the artist mounts an acrylic box – screened with grids – onto a drawing of a tree, deriving from a photo taken at the Tiergarten in the centre of Berlin. He then paints another tree silhouette directly onto the acrylic surface. The painted tree is formed by coloured and numbered squares, starting from the centre of the trunk with the number zero and branching outward in numeric order. As the series continues, each preceding tree, characterised by a different hue, appears on the following work, creating a conglomeration of layered colours and forms. Breaking down the distinctive shape of each tree into an order of numbers, squares and colours, Gaines alienates the visual perception of this ordinary object and questions the perceptual knowledge of what a certain form means.
Another work on view is the multimedia installation Sound Text, 2015, depicting the first two of four parts of the series. In Sound Text #1 and Sound Text #2, Gaines applies political writings by American abolitionist Frederick Douglass and Chinese philosopher Confucius to early 20th Century American song melodies using a musical transcription system. Each part of Sound Text consists of a triptych that is composed of two framed drawings and one monitor. While the drawings show the piano score made up of the original melody line with the substituted political text underneath, the political text is scrolled in succession on each monitor, accompanied by the respective orchestrated sound track.