Whitehot Magazine

Immanence, charisma and the category mistake

Marlon Kroll, Butterfly, 2019, coloured pencil on gessoed muslin over panel, 15 x 12.

Marlon Kroll: Sunrise It Crystallize

Parisian Laundry

July 11 - Aug. 10, 2019

By JAMES D. CAMPBELL, July 2019 

'Immanence is the very vertigo of philosophy.'

-- Gilles Deleuze [1]

Marlon Kroll is the Crown Prince of the category mistake. The subversive chameleons that he presents here have the semblance of oil paintings but they belong to a different, if related, category. They are actually comprised of thousands upon thousands of lines rendered in colour pencils and with awesome technical fidelity. Beyond that, their contents are also not what they initially seem to be. For instance, what appears to us as being at one moment an apple morphs into a butterfly with virtual simultaneity.

Kroll is a brilliant scavenger and his inventory is vast. His wayward ontology of traces brings human finitude to the fore with objects that are seemingly at odds with human handling but which are in fact the living articulation of same. Yet it is this relationship between objects and being that emerges in the foreground here as first level perceptual information.

Kroll’s works invoke literal, physiological and cognitive illusions, but it is in the latter category -- where eye and mind make unconscious inferences in tandem – that his work rules and in ways undreamt of by Hermann Helmholtz . [2] Cognitive illusions issue from interaction with sundry assumptions about the world, leading to "unconscious inferences", and are classified as ambiguous illusions, distorting illusions, paradox illusions, or fiction illusions.

Marlon Kroll, Blue Bells, 2019, coloured pencil on gessoed muslin over panel, 15 x 12.

Ambiguity, distortion, paradox, fiction all figure in Kroll’s work. These subversive surfaces are synonymous with their depths and their depths, surfaces. Beneath the scrim of what is consensually understood as the Real are fundamentally unruly, ambiguous images that stagger our attention across, in and through the full array of the sumptuous surface pencil renderings. In the process, they induce a reappraisal of just what it is that we are looking at. Escher and Magritte are Kroll’s unlikely compatriots.

These works seem to be different things at one and the same time. In a sense, they are like anamorphic polyprisms and uncanny ones to boot, such is their power to be two things at once. Kroll targets our assumptive contexts. His work has subversive underpinnings and a dangerous perceptual edge. It is a prism that shows us the splintering of our own reflections staring right back at us in a very feral and predatory way. The level of subterfuge here is high. It is as though Kroll is building something like a refractive anamorphic viewer akin to a 17th century optical toy [3]

Marlon Kroll, Shift, 2019, coloured pencil on gessoed muslin over panel, 15 x 12.

Works like Shift (2019) and Blue bells (2019) possess a quiet glamour – can glamour really be quiet, though? -- plus an innate charisma somewhat at odds with their low-key but admittedly sensuous surfaces. Their glamour is seductive precisely because it is neither plangent nor hallucinatory in its clarity. The minutely worked surface is like a slice of silly putty shaved very thin but which the optic has no trouble easily sinking into. 

There is very little apparent difference between ‘abstraction’ here and a work of representation like Dawn Bell (2019) a hand reaching down clasping a huge bell. Similarly Butterfly (2019) seemingly ironically pairs Warhol with Daniel Buren. Kroll generates narrative through exploring relationships with objects. The body is always already implicated. The plane of immanence takes shape beneath the surface of things. 

Marlon Kroll, Dawn Bell, 2019, coloured pencil on gessoed muslin over panel, 15 x 12.

‘Plane of immanence’ is a central concept in the philosophy of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. He borrowed it from Spinoza’s discussion of the world as being an attribute of one substance; namely, God. Immanence signifies "existing or remaining within" and this is pertinent. Immanence is life. Inside Kroll’s remarkable work, there is a plane of immanence that always already includes life (and death), stasis and restlessness, truth and falsehood. This plane is a pure immanence, a phenomenal embeddedness in the shape of things, a smooth space without segmentation. In his final essay entitled Immanence: A Life, Deleuze writes: "It is only when immanence is no longer immanence to anything other than itself that we can speak of a plane of immanence."[4] Such is resonant for Kroll’s work in all media. Christian Kerslake said: “I would suggest that two features -- one formal, the other ontological -- are pre-eminent. Formally, a philosophy of immanence is a philosophy that does not appeal to anything outside the terms and relations constructed and accounted for by that philosophy.” [5] Similarly, Kroll unfurls a world the terms and relations of which have been set by him according to research, practice and some tenets of institutional critique.

The exhibition hall replete with Kroll’s handiwork is truly a world unto itself. It is full of yellow noise that aids and abets Kroll’s successful attempt to elude taxonomy. There is also a very louche side of things that the artist is neither ashamed of nor apologetic for. Consider the glass panel installation smeared with butter impasto-like, and the fleeting shadows and relentless drone of flying insects, the body parts that poke out of the pencil works, the wayward Hall of Mirrors tilt and tenor of the objects. All these cast an exhilarating dark shadow over the proceedings.

As Tatum Dooley noted:

“I think of all the things Kroll’s work are a metaphor for: words that sound the same but mean different things, doppelgängers, production lines that pump out the same product on repeat. The repetition alerts us to the absurdity of a shape in the same way that words lose their meanings when said over and over again. Kroll’s paintings are both serious and fun. It just depends how you look at them.” [6] 

This is not to suggest Kroll is a solipsist or narcissist intent on building a closed system. His work destroys the standard hierarchy of categories – and stands apart. Yellow noise, optical toys, charisma, immanence, and the thematic use of category mistakes -- to name but a few of the radiant nodes of his subversive endeavour -- keeps things open and fluid, keeps viewers happily on their toes. WM


1. This remark was first made in 1968 in LʼIdée dʼexpression dans la philosophie de Spinoza, translated by M. Joughin as Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, (New York, Zone Books, 1992, p. 180, was later paraphrased in 1991 in What is Philosophy?, trans. G. Burchell and H. Tomlinson, (Verso, London, 1994), p. 48. 

2. Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz (August 31, 1821 – September 8, 1894) was a famous German physician and physicist responsible for seminal contributions in the sciences. He is noted for his mathematics of the eye, theories of vision, so forth. 

3. See J.-F. Niceron’s great work on the mathematics of anamorphism, La Perspective Curieuse (1638).

4. Gilles Deleuze, Pure Immanence: Essays on A Life. 2nd ed. (New York: Zone Books, 2005), p.27 

5. Christian Kerslake,  The vertigo of philosophy: Deleuze and the problem of immanence in Radical Philosophy no. 113, May/June 2002.

6. Tatum Dooley, “Kroll exhibition text”, Parisian Laundry, 2019.

Thumbnail photo credit: Maxime Brouillet.


James D. Campbell

James D. Campbell is a curator and writer on art based in Montreal. The author of over 150 books and catalogues on art, he contributes essays and reviews to Frieze, Border Crossings and other publications.

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