The Last Word
An essay on the Critical Paintings of Michael Endlicher

Whoever has the last word has decided the argument in their favour. Once the last word has been uttered, everything is settled. Nothing further needs to be said or discussed. Out of an underlying sense of contentment, because everything that needed to be said has been said. Or out of a sense of despair because it proves impossible to say. We cannot tell. In either case, it was the last word. It remains to be seen if it will hold on to that position. With the passage of time, in the course of history, which tends to find words of its own.

“The painting always has the last word.” This sentence underpins one of Michael Endlicher’s paintings. And its paradoxical quality exerts a quiet fascination. The last word – so apodeictically ascribed to the painting – has itself been transmuted into a painting of words. The author of the above sentence, Roland Barthes, is not revealed. The sentence does not represent a quotation. Rather, the words are found, in written and unaffiliated form, and then put to pictorial use. Motivated by much more than a mere fascination with the magic of final words, Michael Endlicher uses words, specifically words arranged into sentences, as basic building blocks for his paintings. No words - no picture. But the words, too, depend on the picture. Without it, the words would never expose themselves in this form, nor be able to manifest themselves as painting. In addition, Endlicher is highly discriminating when it comes to selecting the kind of sentences that he turns into a picture. More often than not, the words formerly belonged to others, to art critics and theorists, to philosophers, and cultural historians, and were originally used in a different context to reflect on art or painting. Originating in art discourse they now find their way back into art by the most direct route: explicit, copied, painted, and written down. The individual sentences have been removed from their former, literal, context and from the texts in which they were embedded. They are transformed into pictures, set in paint, disassembled into painted letters. The typeface informs the picture and the picture forms the basis of the typeface. The language of art is reflected in the sign-language of theory. The sign-language of art is reflected in the language of theory. Art brackets the statement. The process of mutual reflection between the two elements is also process of reflective disassociation. In allowing words to express themselves in pictorial terms, Endlicher compels them to adopt an unfamiliar language, wherein words need to assert themselves as pictures, without the comforting setting of theory. Instead, words are exposed to a new, a different kind of regard, while remaining true to themselves. Endlicher’s paintings inhabit a structure of  repetition, something once read or found is inscribed and introduced into the painting using fresh characters. “I should also point out that many authors have plagiarised this attempt, for one could get the impression that I myself am a copyist/plagiarist whenever I consider myself to be writing on the subject of art.” ["Ich glaube noch darauf hinweisen zu müssen, dass viele Schriftsteller diesen Versuch abgeschrieben haben, denn man könnte glauben, dass ich sie selber abschreibe, wenn ich über die Kunst zu denken schreibe."]

Art discourse is played according to its own rules and is enshrined in a powerful historical tradition of its own. The dynamics of this tradition ensure that there never has been, or will be, what one might refer to as the ‘final’ word. Each era develops its own peculiar language for the purposes of discussing and writing about art. Firmly rooted in respective contemporary dicoursive convention, this language is also deeply indebted to the codes and customs of tradition. Art discourse and the texts it produces in the form of critique or theory reflect a fluid balance of these two forces, engaged in a critical interchange that shifts the focus back and forth between the past and the present. Each individual work, each text on art, is embedded in some narrative - such as those of art history, art theory, philosophy, or social history - and authors freely move through these different dimensions with their expansive views. It is within the precincts of the resulting texts, that Michael Endlicher sets out on his peregrinations and journeys of discovery. He chooses his words with care and finds himself attracted by remarks on art covering a wide spectrum from the ambiguous and borderline comprehensible to remarks that penetrate the painting deeply or, alternatively, far exceed its boundaries. Rather than being merely descriptive in intent, the references underpinning art discourse are designed to establish a sphere of aesthetic and philosophical contemplation. Claiming that they were purely descriptive would also disregard the fact that the process of writing invariably adds something to the subject under discussion, producing something that is new. As such, statements on art offer a focal point for the crystallization of points of view and of the traditions of perception and impression. In the eye of the beholder art becomes transfigured. This moment of redefinition, this configuring gaze, is an integral element of all writing on art, even the most dedicatedly factual description of some work of art. References and cross-references tie the individual painting to a network of art historical relationships and to the code of the language of art theory. It is this language which is instrumental in the establishing of the dominant conventions. While the machinery of art history continues to progress along its own track, it simultaneously informs art discourse. The practice of theory overflows into the practice of art production as such. Once again, we are faced with a relationship defined by mutual reflection.
The work of Michael Endlicher seeks to explore this relationship further, both visibly and literally. During the 90s, the antagonism between art and art discourse reached a point where some would describe “artists of the late 20th century [as] personified recycling plants of art history” ["Künstlerinnen und Künstler im ausgehenden 20. Jahrhundert personifizierte Wiederaufbereitungsanlagen der Kunstgeschichte"] Though this assertion of the supremacy of historical discourse may be overstating the case it also demonstrates the close relationship between the conceptual spheres of art and of art history both on a theoretical and on a practical level. Only radical utopians continue to dream about a kind of art that is able to exist without art discourse, without statements about art, without statements about statements about art, without footnotes. “In such circles, any form of discourse, in oral or written form, on the subject of serious books, or paintings, or pieces of music, is considered illegal prattle.”["In dieser Gesellschaft gilt jedweder Diskurs, sei er mündlich oder schriftlich über ernstzunehmende Bücher oder Gemälde oder Musikstücke als illegales Geschwätz."]

Some of Endlicher’s paintings remind one of archaeological finds, inscribed tablets salvaged from the sediments of material culture, documents that confront us as pictures, pictures that confront us as documents.  Recorded and copied down, the words remind us of something else. They are marked by a sense of immediacy as well as the refusal to reveal their author. Empowered text turned linguistic painting. “Is it possible to conceive of an archive without foundation, without carrier, without substance, without subjektil?” ["Kann man ein Archiv ohne Grundlage, ohne Träger, ohne Substanz, ohne – denken?"]
Subjektil, the old and forgotten/obsolete word for the priming coat beneath the painting as such. Itself a kind of painting, it precedes the painting proper and serves as the material foundation without which the painting could not come into being. Let us apply this trope to the paintings of Michael Endlicher and see what becomes of them. Pictures without the trace of writing, pictures where the symbols do not inscribe themselves onto the ground. Without ground, no paintings. Without inscription, the pictures do not materialize on their ground. The first impression of writing depends on the presence of this (back)ground from which the writing can emerge and on which it can leave a lasting imprint. Similar to the imprint the writing leaves on the perception of the viewer. The overall effect, however, remains volatile, shifting from an initial impression of writing to a subsequent awareness of the interplay between background and lettering.
These markings on the subjektil, the inscription of individual signs – which only the background allows to form into words – appear on the surface as a kind of record, making the words literally legible as pictures. However, the words turned pictures also affect the act of reading itself. As we read, we catch ourselves looking. As we look, we catch ourselves reading. And we are enabled to return to a state where we are no longer forced to decipher the words, where we do not have to give in to the powerful urge of the written character, but instead are able to linger on the level of the pure symbol, prolong the act of regarding the picture. Words turn into picture, and they stay there. Words turned picture, picture turned word. This far from simplicistic relationship challenges the viewer to a game of perception. One in which the painting always has the last word. The last word that can never be spoken.

Abbé de Condillac, De l'art de penser
Marius Babius, Im Zentrum der Peripherie über die Kunstvermittlung und Vermittlungskunst in den 90er Jahren
George Steiner, Von realer Gegenwart
Jacques Derrida, Dem Archiv verschrieben

Elke Krasny, 2003. Art theoretician, artist, exhibition designer, author, and resident of vienna; numerous exhibitions and publications on architecture, cultural history and contemporary art, art participation projects.