Push’n Pull – Hans Hoffmann and July Talk. What the hell is Painting and Beyond?
In relation to the exhibition „The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World“ (2015) Peter Schjeldahl writes about an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, that it seems like „a futile effort to try to shoehorn painting back into a museum culture that has come to favor installation, performance, and conceptual and digital work.“ He ends his review by stating that „painting bleeds but can not heal“. So now, in his narrative, painting has become a wounded body that does not heal...a leaking body, leaking fluids...blood and milk. We thereby seem to be catapulted back in the Nineties, when global borders and axes of power shifted while body fluids re-entered the white cube through abject art.
study, 2015. Oil on canvas, 20 x 20 cm
This text is written partially in response to a question posed to me at a recent talk:
PAINT? With a genormous capital P? YOU MEAN LIKE THIS?? Weirdest doll in Weimar. 2014, 30 cm x 40 cm, oil on canvas. Or like DER MALER, which I have not been able to find a full version of, where a super silly Ben Becker grunts and groans as he, in persiflage of our more romantic imagination of the PAIN of giving birth to a MASTERPIECE must look like for REAL PAINTERS? And would you have asked a German young GUY the same question? (Interior scroll, no, monologue...)
I studied painting in New York. Mostly our classes were based on some version of the original Bauhaus introductory courses. Painting was taught as a series of technical and formal exercises, to which one usually found ones-self attaching some sort of personal content. One of my professors from over 20 years ago, Robert Berlind, who recently passed away, was fond of saying: „The way to paint is to paint. The way to start painting is to paint. There is no other way.“ He painted landscapes for his entire adult life, over forty years of green variations. So, there was no conceivable outside to painting for a painter in his mind. I left New York City after being based there for 11 years, in early 2002.
I had opened my first and last show in Manhattan on September 3rd, 2001 at Denise Bibro Gallery in 2001. Then I watched the scenery before my kitchen window in Brooklyn change, as the World Trade Center was erased, 8 days later. We could smell the cloud hovering over the cityscape for weeks, as we walked past photocopied images of people who had disappeared taped to the walls in the subway...
Suddenly, the milk cartons had nationalist slogans on them: „United we Stand“.... and such. So I painted that.
And then I left for Berlin.
dolls, dolls, dolls (in Weimar) 80 x 60 cm, 2014
dolls, dolls, dolls (in Weimar) 2014 80 cm x 80 cm, oil on canvas.
Bunkerfon, 2017. Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 cm
Like so many of the students I later had the privilege to teach and mentor at Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, and the University of the Arts, Berlin, many of whom had been politically active in their own countries before coming to Germany, I had already had my doubts about a life plan based on Robert Berlind‘s, as much as I respect him and his work. Forty years of green while the world was falling apart. I just couldn‘t do it.
Elkins describes the shock of the slow pace experienced by scholars encountering materiality in an artist studio work. He says:
"Art historians who are new to the studio can find their minds racing like the engines of cars stuck in ice.“
„Slowness is painful. It follows that the experience causes anguish: nothing, it seems, is being learned, and no thought can find expression without being dragged through a purgatory of recalcitrant materials.
Studio art can become a kind of chronic, low level pain, where the mind is continuously chafing against something it can not have. Academic thinking – the running equations, the scintillating conversations – aim to be as free of that pain as possible.“
Instead of striving as far away from this moment of academic frustration, it is as if we artists who looking for painting AND BEYONDwere willfully placed ourselves in revisiting this moment of a mind racing while being stuck in ice and over again when we work as artistic researchers. We search for this material resistance of a painterly artistic practice that Elkins calls "pain". We need it and want it.
Painting locates the person doing the mark making in the here and now and then transmits that physical embodied here and now in the form of a mark into the future, it becomes an actively created trace of a person engaging in a conversation on painting that is at least 30 000 years old.
Above, walking paths, some of which have become roads, on the island of Crete. Below, walkway on the former border between East and West in Berlin at Alexanderufer, from the Frauenklinik to Futurium We inscribed ourselves into memory and space in Walking from Weimar to Berlin, walking 267 km in 6 days in 2015.
It is as fundamental as walking, whereby the body, often in groups and repeatedly, when the same path is walked over and over again, through gravity inscribes itself into the ground it is walking on.
I founded my own artspace arttransponder.net with colleagues in Berlin in 2005 and funded projects that dealt with questions of participatory art at the interface to other disciplines until 2009, when I was hired to teach Public Art and New Artistic Strategies for 6 years at Bauhaus-Universität, Weimar.
So what was left of all that painting on canvas at that point? I began experimenting with human milk, making marks. I learned to paint in human milk.
This proved to be difficult and interesting. I was invited to numerous shows and residencies, for example as resident artist at The Drawing Center at University of California in San Diego (funded by DAAD) and as associate at Berlin School of Arts and Science (UDK). I chose to focus my artistic research practice on painting and drawing with human milk as art material and to reconsider what this may mean from the perspective of urbanism and medical history and published numerous texts. My practice based approach meant that I would explore what was possible in terms of production with this unusual material, accompanied by research into a potential discursive context for the work. I reacted to critiques and comments, inviting participation on this level. For example, the critique that the work cheaply exploited the novelty of the weirdness factor, it gained attention because human milk led to all sorts of associations and therefore sidestepped any honest discussion about artistic merit. Künstlerische Qualität, often cited when attempting to push the work of someone particular in - or out, and, it is my experience, seldom precisely contoured when pinned down: "What exactly do you mean by artistic quality - in this case, for example?" Generally, in the best of cases, and in my experience, something "beyond", universal, an artistic quality immediately apparant to all who know anything, some variant of Kantian "interessloses Wohlgefallen" is meant here. Obviously, and in an extremely oversimplified way, human milk, being marked as somehow connected to human biological motherhood (even though biologically male breasts can also produce milk, albeit not very well) it is no longer "interessenlos". Although...ok, here, if interested, please do read my dissertation.
"That question makes my ovaries screech!" 2021. 240 cm x 180 cm handprinted in oil on canvas. Feldfünf, Berlin. Whocares festival.
In 2016, after serious illness I found myself lying flat on my belly, face down, for weeks at a time, immobilized. I began looking for something to do in that position and began carving into linoleum. Linoleum became my new material infatuation. As material it has an equally "low" status in the visual arts as does human milk, but without the weirdness factor. It is usually associated with the production of crafty greeting cards. Basteln, craftd done lovingly in domestic settings not too stressed for time - an obviously gendered setting, not Gestaltung, not Design. I began experimenting with expansion and inks until I figured out how to print large format linoleum cuts in oil on canvas because I hate framing my work and work on canvas in oil is less fragile. I began exploring with self-fictionalization, developing the a narrative around a central figure, Patricia Andersdottir Roth (Precarious Artistic Researcher), and first published and exhibited it in 2018, and then repeatedly, in Mexico and Germany.
I was called to become a 50% Professor of Painting and Participatory Strategies with this work in 2021.
By then, Patricia Andersdottir Roth, (Precarious Artistic Researcher) was so destitute (Title: She was looking for the Monument Against Patriarchy - MAP - when Precarity got in the Way.) and sick of forming work to apply for always too little funding, she embarked on the wild ride that it was to convince the Berlin Senate, that, despite being an artist. she could teach in public school.
I got on the boat. The wagon? After completing 3 Masters degrees (MFA Painting, MS Art History, MA Art in Context) in 6 years and a PhD (in 5 years), and becoming a Professor of Painting, I also, and in parallel, completed teacher education training (zweites Staatsexamen). I sorted my life as a single mother so that I could afford a continuous studio practice with which nobody would be able to interfere. I also found all the intense and draining interaction with about 100 students per week working part time (a lot of care work!) fully satisfied my need for human interaction and participation and returned to painting for long stretches, all by myself, in my studio, working through the ideas I developed for teaching both in higher education and at school.