Encounters with the land
ART WORKS Submission by Susanne Wawra
This is a recent work working larger scale with many images from my archives collaged together. This work is intuitive, since approach the canvas without a plan of what comprises the collage and where images are placed. The intention is to keep the work open and alive by allowing spontaneity, momentum and chance. I intend to forego having one definite focal point, instead I want the viewer's eye to wander and discover.
In the middle there is an image of my grandparents in front of our family home and there are a multitude of childhood images of myself and my sister at play in our yard. There is a kiddie pool in the summertime, we are walking on stilts, riding on bikes. My mother is catching some rays on the grass, my father is standing next to his moped. All is tied together in the circular pattern and the wheels of old farm machinery since my grandparents were farmers, first on their own land and then on the state-owned land in the GDR.
The title “Wenn der weisse Flieder wieder blüht (When the white lilac blooms again)” is taken from a German 1920s song, echoing the German concept of heimat and also projecting a sense of longing. Heimat, literally translated as “homeland”, was an ideological construction that allowed Germans to maintain a sense of community in the face of constant territorial, political, economic and social ruptures. In Germany history, heimat expressed notions of community and belonging to a physical, geographical sense of place. Heimat acquired rich connotations of protectedness, familiarity and order and was employed and appropriated by the GDR regime. (Palmowski, 2009)
The usage of domestic materials als canvas relates to the private sphere and suggests an intimacy. It is a common assumption, that private life in the GDR and state socialism seem to be at odds to the extent that the private person has no legal identity or political standing outside the socialist community. In Paul Betts’ (2013: 5) survey on private life in the GDR, it is examined as a “place of trust”, calmness”, a “counter world to the official one” and a space to pursue "one’s own life”. Interesting to note on the antithesis of state socialism and private life, the German word did not even appear in the official political dictionary of the state. "For its part, the SED devoted a huge amount of state energy into integrating the private individual into the full machinery of GDR state and society, endeavouring to fully fuse I and We.”
Betts, Paul (2013), Within Walls, Private Life in the German Democratic Republic, Oxford University Press.
Palmowski, Jan (2009), Inventing a socialist nation, Heimat and the Politics of everyday life in the GDR, Cambridge University Press.
Susanne Wawra (*1980), Dublin-based artist, explores the intersection between personal autobiography and broader histories. She employs photography, printed matter and documents from her family possessions and from bought abandoned private archives to expand on her background of growing up in East Germany before the fall of the Wall.
Wawra explores how notions of the private and public are impacted by historical events. She uses mundane source material, applying collage techniques to revisit and reimagine the everyday in a tension between fiction and reality. She creates layered mixed-media work combining transfer print and painting. Wawra carves low reliefs in reference to Socialist Realism and reuses and subverts print, sound and video material from the propagandist GDR regime.
In doing so, she questions the reliably of recorded history and the role of memory. Through narrativisation, fabrication and personalisation, Susanne Wawra reinterprets these relationship working towards a broader understanding of formations of selfhood.
[Work 2] Susanne Wawra, Mutter Natur (Mother Nature), 2016, Mixed Media Painting, Oil and Image Transfer on Patterned Fabric, 97 x 100 cm.
Titled Mutter Natur (Mother Nature), this work is a subjective investigation of femininity and nature across three generations with images of my grandmother, mother, sister and myself. It became obscured as its own gestural narrative revealed itself by fragmenting and mystifying the photographs, reflecting my own torn and fraying psychological map of my family’s farming background and the land’s indelible mark on it. As an investigation into the landscape of my birth, it is connecting a macro and micro visual experience and attempts to unify the motifs of nature and femininity.
To the bottom right, there is an image of my grandmother Linda who spent her life working all manner of farming task on her own land. The top panel of the work shows my mother in youth stroking a horse. To the left of the equus head stand six copies of my mother in different opacity from dark to light, from defined to almost inconceivable, into which I read an influence by the Last Supper in which all of the figures are my mother. To the bottom centre my sister is kissing a tree, while to her left, it represents myself as faint onlooker, trying to learn from the strength these three women, from the boldness of the female characters in my family history.
My expressive marks and the imagery form an organic growth with a sense of earthiness creating an intermingling of feminine energies and their relation to flora and fauna. I understand the image of myself on the bottom left as an autonomous entity in itself in this piece, striving to become a more opaque element visually, a more defined and present addition to both the piece itself and to my identity within the context of my history. I am inspired by their energies, each in their own particular way gain from their connection with nature and the land in all its manifestations, somehow knowing that they themselves are also one of nature’s manifestations.
The foundational material of this piece is found fabric with a design print of plants. With this found material, I lay down the seeds of the work and proceed in a organic, generative fashion, in that my mark lives in the moment with no concept and without any ultimate aim for the piece as a whole. Instead, I rely on my natural instincts and my own perception which itself is constantly in flux. I play with the flaws of my own perception, exploring my own unique paralaxical view with reality which is for me both is the ultimate artistic predicament and privilege. This is my attempt at somehow making peace with a wider human predicament which is our own flawed perception of reality, just as the bee momentarily mistakes a vibrant coloured object for a flower.
It is not entirely true that I have no end goal or ultimate idea when I paint. The only goal or telos or ultimate understanding I have of my work is that at some point, I will finish the piece and process itself will be over. This for me is mirroring life itself, as we cannot tell the future, in life we act and think improvisationally, moment to moment, we have no goal or telos or ultimate understanding except we do know that at some point I will ‘finish’ and the process of living itself will be over.