Classification of Werkstattwoche in regard to artistic tendencies
By Andrea Griess
[This essay is linked to the post of ‘Our Houses’ – visit it here]
Dear visitors of Internationale Werkstattwoche,
my task is to classify the many works presented in the exhibition in terms of art history and, above all, to relate them to the previously announced theme of DIGNITY.
Classification of Werkstattwoche in regard to artistic tendencies
As we have already heard, 18 artists from 7 nations have gathered in Lüben for the 16th international Werkstattwoche. For 10 days, artists from different cultures worked on a joint artistic project on the subject of DIGNITY.
The final presentation shows a variety of perspectives on this topic and an artistically differentiated examination of DIGNITY.
For now, I will largely omit social and moral aspects of DIGNITY in my classification, although these are of importance in individual works and were always present, especially in private exchanges, during the recreation breaks in the courtyard of Lübener Tenne. The format of a workshop week with international artists alone offers a wide range of opportunities for intensive political, social and ideological discourse.
My gaze falls primarily on the apparently culture-independent parallels that are shown in concrete, dignified artistic activity.
Everyone involved was visibly moved by the question of how the fine arts can transform DIGNITY into analogue, virtual or even moving images.
Above all, the search for a “DIGNIFIED artwork” and the choice of a suitable “DIGNIFIED working technique” have determined the artistic work process.
All artists have found their working topic in Lüben, in the Lüben landscape, on the Lüben farms, in the cowshed and in dialogue with the Lüben citizens. A look back at the history of art shows that the questions about DIGNIFIED pictorial themes and DIGNIFIED working techniques have always been of central importance as well as having been subject to constant change.
Let’s take a look at the development of DIGNIFIED pictorial themes over the past 500 years. Classic image subjects such as portrait art, landscape painting, still lifes, etc. were not always equally recognized as great art. In the strict academic ranking system, a distinction was made between animate and inanimate motifs, resulting in morally valuable and morally less valuable pictorial themes. The history painting was number 1 in the ranking system, followed by portraits and genre paintings (painted depictions of an everyday scene) at number 2 and 3, animal pieces and landscape paintings took places 4 and 5. The still life was hardly recognized in this academic ranking.
Effigies were measured by how close they were to the portrayed living human being.
In the modern age, at the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century, the generally accepted canon was broken up. Existing ideals and religious values are increasingly being called into question, and scientific findings are also changing the way we see the world. This period of upheaval does not pass by art either, the artistic view of possible subjects that are worthy of depiction changes.
For example there is a growing interest in the small and insignificant. Since the 1960s, with the entry of consumer world-inspired Pop Art, even banal consumer items have become “DIGNIFIED art subjects”.
But still the recreation of an image is essential.
With the development and increasing commonness of photography since the middle of the 19th century, artists found new tasks that went beyond pure depiction. In order to express growing individualism, artists primarily use forms of abstraction and non-representational 1forms of expression.
In all media, individual experiences and perceptions of the everyday environment expand the canon of images depicted in artworks.
As the evaluation of a subject or image DIGNIEFIED enough to get depicted in an artwork changes, so does the use of tools and artistic techniques. The art historian Monika Wagner has written an important work on the change of the material in art as part of her teaching activities at the University of Hamburg. In the publication “The Material of Art – Another History of Modernity”(1) Wagner shows impressively how the understanding of art changes through the use of new, unusual materials.
Above all in sculptural and object-like forms, materials that are remote from art and initially not very dignified, such as earth, fat, industrial waste and plastic, are finding their way into the art context. Surely you remember the Fettecke by Josef Beuys (from the 1960s) and the associated misunderstandings “Is this art or can it be thrown on the garbage heap?”.
New art forms such as object art and installations increasingly rely on “physical materiality” in their works. In an artistic context, materials such as blood or earth are a carrier of meaning for a wide range of feelings, a storehouse of memories.
In painting the color itself, the “primal substance of painting”, is elevated to an independent artistic theme.
It is interesting that with the current increasing mediatization of everyday life (keyword: artificial intelligence), a counter-movement is also emerging that, after questioning optically conveyed experiences, is rehabilitating the sense of touch, for which there are not as many commercial media offers as there are for eyes and ears.
You can see in the activities of the invited artists that the practical art techniques in particular have expanded enormously since modernity. In addition to various forms of painting and drawing, installations, performative approaches and digital art projects expand the exhibition spectrum of the retrospective.
In the following presentation of the individual artists, I follow my introductory thoughts on a search for DIGNIFIED artwork and DIGNIFIED working techniques.
I’ll start with the initially unfamiliar art forms of INSTALLATION and PERFORMANCE, which are rather young in the context of art history.
An installation is a three-dimensional work of art that usually takes up space and is usually site-specific. The installation reacts to local conditions and interacts with the viewer as part of the work. Performances are often also site-specific artistic actions, usually presented by individual artists.
In her installation, Italian artist Barbara Bernardi shows the diversity of nature in large- format detail shots. Multi-part image projections multiply diverse visual impressions. In the barn where she shows the installation, the viewers hear thoughts from the citizens of Lüben about the DIGNITY of the Lüben landscape. In the walk-in installation, viewers sense that the DIGNITY of nature and its diversity is also essential for Bernardi.
Hassan Sheidaei, born in Iran, in his installation – also in an emptied and darkened barn – presents video and sound recordings of cows. Large-format projections with detailed shots of the animal bodies are shown, and their faces can also be seen for a few seconds. Animal noises fill the room via two free-floating megaphones. By reducing the animal to fragmented detailed views and loop-like listening impressions, Sheidaei approaches the subject of ANIMAL DIGNITY. He involves the viewers directly in his work as they enter the room, move around, take on different perspectives and make the megaphones vibrate.
The German-Dutch installation and performance artist Johannes C. Gérard shows land art and a performance. In his interventions that are close to nature, Gérard uses materials such as stone, wood and ropes, mostly in natural colors. He plays with the appearance of the used materials and, on the other hand, with the context of found and formed materials, e. g. stones from a Lüben building yard. On a deeper philosophical level of interpretation, Gérard incorporates a material symbolism inspired by Buddhism into his work. Weathering processes are also part of the temporary intervention in the natural environment.
In the performance “The plant” the artist acts himself in a fixed setting with table, chair, potted plant, glass of water. Following a strict choreography, Gérard visualizes the DIGNITY of time, silence and loneliness in carefully executed movements.
The works of Ricarda Rommerscheidt also show a strong reference to material and place. In her artworks and objects, she uses found materials such as feathers from an animal carcass, corn residue swept aside, an abandoned hornet’s nest. Rommerscheidt addresses the DIGNITY of those left behind finds. Sometimes these – like the hornet’s nest – are so fragile that a stabilizing crocheted wire mesh had to be added for the object-like presentation. Rommerschmeidt likes to use brown cardboard as a support, which can be easily cut to size and allows a departure from the traditional rectangular picture format. The works are often created directly at the place where they were found.
The traditional genres of landscape, animal pieces and portraiture are still relevant in all art forms and are equally recognized themes of many works of art. The following presentation of the PAINTERS follows this thematic assignment.
I start with the LANDSCAPE:
Elīna Māliņa from Latvia works in direct dialogue with the Lüben landscape. She travels a lot and works in the tradition of plein-air painting with pastels, charcoal and acrylic paints outside the studio in the free air. Māliņa enjoys the stillness of the unexcited landscape and visualizes scenic features in varying light conditions.
In her artworks, Barbara Czarnojahn traces the DIGNITY of a cultural landscape shaped by people. Structured moorland landscapes are shown in atmospherically cold shades of blue. Light reflections on water surfaces and contrasting diffuse shadow effects find their direct correspondence in the picture. A constant parameter in Czarnojahn’s work is painting with self-mixed egg tempera paint.
Dutch artist Leen Kaldenberg uses a light color palette to create tranquil landscapes that he reduces to the essentials in order to capture their essence. In colored sketches a few brushstrokes reminiscent of Japanese ink drawings are sufficient to ewoke the image. In an expansive installation, Kaldenberg presents a panorama with a recognizable deep horizon. The work, which is around eight meters long, is made on paper with pigments gained from Lüben soil and fixed to the outside of a cylindrical metal frame. In the interior of the walk-in installation, Kaldenberg presents visualizations of his breath.
Mariarosaria Stigliano from Italy creates mystical landscapes from memory. You’ll find dark forest landscapes with atmospheric light presentations. The artist uses oil paints that can be modified for a long time in the painting process and can be mixed through all layers of paint, so that even after these have hardened, refractions of light give the picture spatial depth.
Also Franziska Eggelmann is interested in fantastic landscapes. Under a water surface that stretches far into the pictorial space, the artist creates a surreal-looking, still untouched, DIGITAL ice landscape as a remote habitat in the depths of the oceans. The reversal of space- creating means under the water surface creates impressive spatial depth in the artwork.
Hiltrud E. Menz creates a series of abstract paintings on the subject of water. Inks in cold blue tones applied to the canvas are applied in uncontrolled ways. In contrast to this field of tension on the restless ground stands the circular form, a protective bubble, which addresses thoughts and questions of DIGNITY.
The painters Tamar Melikishvili, Celia R. Meißner and Natascha Engst-Wrede have dedicated themselves to ANIMAL PIECES:
Georgian artist Tamar Melikishvili has settled in among taxidermy birds presented in a barn. In this calm surroundings, she is completely concentrated on her work. She paints parallel on various oil paintings and shows various facets of reduction. In her working process, she lets herself be carried away by a strongly gestural expression, until she decides to observe closely. By bringing together both forms of expression (the gestural and the precise study), the artist creates authentic images in which the DIGNITY of the motif is shown.
Newcomer artist Celia R. Meißner is interested in keeping cows as livestock. During the pandemic she created daily small-format artworks of cows, which were depicted in an increasingly more abstract and even threedimensional way. In Lüben you can also find the artist in the cowshed. She created a variety of sketches which were formulated in the studio into large-format watercolor studies.
Natascha Engst-Wrede also addresses the issue of treating animals with respect. In her pictures, chickens and cows are lifted onto a pedestal and look down on the viewer. In the working process, the artist initially develops the depictions of animals in a very colorful mood, but subsequently leaves open the relationship between animal narrations and non- representational abstractions.
Painters Yael Tiecher and Maike Remane combine depictions of animals with the human figure.
Israel artist Yael Tiecher has been taking part in the Werkstattwoche for many years and has once again set up her painting studio in the “bee barn”. With powerful, impasto strokes, the painter applies paint in a gestural, expressive manner. Figurines (including depictions of birds) are created with a penetrating gaze and sensitive gestures. The viewer finds it difficult to evade these looks. In dialogue, the viewer feels the vulnerability of those portrayed, other feelings are revealed, creating space for DIGNITY.
Maike Remane senses DIGNITY in the exchange between people, animals and plants. In large-format acrylic paintings, she visualizes the protective hand and touches of figurines depicted across the image. Images move in the field of tension between a non-objective representation and the abstraction of figurative forms. The artist sets up layers of color on top of each other, allowing the viewer to participate in the intimate process of finding images, often in serial works.
The last three artists Vincent Grahn, Bruno Parretti and Michele Pero work with the media PHOTOGRAPHY and digital image processing.
Communication designer Vincent Grahn uses tablet and digital drawings to illustrate proverbs, which on the one hand address the development and on the other hand the loss of DIGNITY. Figurative representations are created from an unusual perspective in comic-like imagery.
In his digitally processed images, the Italian artist Bruno Parretti visualizes dream sequences of fictitious citizens of Lüben. In the overlay process, atmospheric lighting creates mystical scenes in front of the Lübener Tenne.
Italian artist Michele Pero also works as a photographer. In the tradition of the family portrait he developed a concept with a contemporary reference. In a fixed setting, Pero portrays citizens of Lüben in their Sunday clothes in front of their house. For the realization, the photographer uses the wet plate technique from 1851, the beginning of photography. The complex production process of a single image on a coated aluminum plate contrasts with the technical developments in digital photography and image processing. Thus the DIGNITY appears in the conceptual work approach, as well as the decelerated work process.
Three years ago, the artists applied for the art symposium with their own project ideas on the subject of DIGNITY. In the hospitable village of Lüben, they further developed and concretized their projects and filled the project Werkstattwoche with life, to which I now cordially invite you on behalf of the artists and the entire organization team.
Thank you for your attention! Andrea Griess, July 2023
(1) Monika Wagner: DAS MATERIAL DER KUNST Eine andere Geschichte der Moderne, C.H. Beck Vlg., München 2001.