Translated by Michael Münchow
Flashback. Summer 2001. For the opening of the exhibition, 'Erinnerte Bilder', at the picturesque North-German castle, a drummer sits pounding a wild jazz rhythm on his pots and pans. The location is Salzau around seven miles from Kiel. This is where the Baltic Sea Jazz Festival is held every year. The driving force behind the Landeskulturzentrum Salzau is up to date, and so also art exhibitions of international stature are put on show. A number of pornographic motifs and sky images hang on the back wall in one of the ballrooms. They have been subjected to a reworking through a printing process including beautiful glowing colour tones and varnish. The images catch your attention. Naughty, intrusively sensual and yet aloof and ethereal. The motifs as such are not new. Old porn mags and romantic cloud formations are familiar to any nostalgic. But there is no sense of dusty attics or items from a flea market pertaining to these pictures. They seem as heavy as lead and yet delicate like Japanese lacquer works. They are made by Eva Schlegel, born in Tirol in 1960, now living in Vienna where she is also professor at the Academy of Arts. Your curiosity is caught. This is new. Or rather: These works appear solid, proper, real, and not like the majority of photographic works easily overlooked and passed by. The works possess a weight even if their size is limited. They are present in space as something other than transient images. They don't just reflect on the retina, but strike deeper. A gut feeling. The body.
The drummer keeps steaming behind his pots and pans. Right across in front of me, a beautiful woman is standing with wild growing hair swaying to the cool groove of the music. The artist Eva Schlegel. A moment later, she lights a large Havanna cigar. Elegant and powerful. Classic, harmonic, and surprising. Just like her pictures. It seems as if there is a natural agreement between the person and the space of the pictures. Something emerges without effort, before you are aware of what it is. The story or motif yields to the work. Matter and aesthetics convince. Then thoughts are affixed. Meanings. There is something to go for. Not the quick release of pornography or the clouds' eternal drift across the sky. Something deeper. Not the American surface of "What you see is what you get", but rather an enigma. Yes, we can see what we get. Peak and drive. But do we actually reach it? This is not pornography. The image is blurred and out of focus. The reception is crackling. Like the translation from one state to another. Nor do the cloud formations convey the massage clearly. We are in a no man's land and have been so for quite a while in recent art history. Suggestions, fragments, and recollections. Vague ideas about anonymity and personality. About roads that must intersect to create a field of tension for the viewer. No doubt Sigmund Freud did not live in vain. Eva Schlegel's work hovers within psychological spaces. But expressed within the concrete. Extremely physical in their presence. The pictures' form of appearance.
Summer 2005. Eva Schlegel has worked in the area for a long while. Between understanding, apparition, and concealment. Between delimitations and infinity. The choice of material is exquisite. Perfected colour photos. The silk print, which also Andy Warhol, the master of repetition, turned into his trademark, is used on lead and glass, creating pictures of extraordinary density. The material seems to overrule any subject matter through its mere presence. Varnish is applied in many layers providing a sensibility and transparency that help keeping the work afloat. Although the motifs are thus often fleeting and out of focus, they are never dissolved and inaccurate. Abstraction is kept on a short lead. It is not a play of contingencies that govern Eva Schlegel's artistic oeuvre. Monochrome soft colours convey a sense of painterly process within the photography. Eva Schlegel's pictures seem to emerge as painterly statements. Layer upon layer. Pigments, screen effects, and pixels live their own life in the sugar clear varnish or in the emulsion of the photograph. There is eroticism and sexuality in the works, even when they portray mountains and dressed people or strange stereo types from fashion. But the corporeal is not nurtured by the motifs; these are merely contributing factors to prevent your loosing interest when glaring into these material and yet smooth pictorial caves. The eye is teased, but it is the whole body that senses the pictures, as though it emitted a heavy, sedating scent. The unfocused aspect of Eva Schlegel also contains a narcotic element. A trip into some reality other than the clear and distinct one which most people delude themselves into thinking they normally occupy. The photographic pictures of these last few years show that Eva Schlegel questions our perception of the world rather than the existence of the picture. And that the world, as in the days of Friedrich Nietzsche, is still deep. Despite our vast knowledge and technological gains we are still facing an enigma when we contemplate a good work of art.
Images from recollection are many and ambiguous. It is easy to draw a parallel between Eva Schlegel's work and Gerhard Richter's photo-realist paintings based on both personal and anonymous pictures as, for instance, his famous picture of Onkel Rudi wearing a German uniform or of mountain formations or other landscapes. For both artists, the works are drawn within a network of meanings. And yet you never find an unequivocal key to reading. The viewer is freed from the pain of the memory, although it is suggested by the motif. Eva Schlegel's pictures from found negatives thus tell one story when wearing the glasses of literary research and quite another if you let the colour, the photographic technique, the choice of materials, and the visual impulses govern your experience. The exploration of identity is transformed into a melancholic déjà vue. We all contain such images hidden on the hard disk of our heart or brain. We partake in a European serial that is about an exploration of the self. Eva Schlegel offers us a look into the depths of the soul through our shared heritage, whether that is colour fashion magazine records of the day, or the repressed family album, or something quite different like alpine landscapes, postcards, etc. The immediate insight is one of looking into a mirror as we try to fathom the depths that Eva Schlegel's art designate. The recollection is razor sharp. Its image is out of focus. But open. Exposed. Here and now.