installation dimensions variable, mixed media, 2013
erstmals gezeigt / first shown: Villa Romana 1905-2013, Das Künstlerhaus in Florenz, curated by Angelika Stepken, Bundeskunsthalle Bonn, 22. November 2013 bis 9. März 2014
dann in / followed by: The Event of a Thread, Global Narratives in Textiles, September 2, 2017 - January 28, 2018, curated by Inka Gressel and Susanne Weiß, a ifa touring exhibition, Kunsthaus Dresden
published in the exhibition newspaper (edited by Inka Gessel and Susanne Weiß)
Angelika Stepken (AS) in conversation with Heide Hinrichs (HH)
AS: The title of your work is Semibody (2013). Even briefly considering what "half a body" could be immediately prompts thoughts of lack, of missing parts, of completion. "Semibody" contains both something separate (an aspect of violence?) and something creating a longing for wholeness. So there is a charge there, a tension. Is your work driven by this title? Or was the title given to the finished material?
HH: I found the title afterwards, after the work had been completed. But I am definitely interested in the boundary between what we can name and what we cannot. How words and concepts allow a something to become a Something, so it undergoes a differentiation, and then it is understood as a whole.
AS: It is another statement that can be understood in different directions: does the title, as part of your sculptural work, mark out limits and expectations? Or do you understand your material creations as being what language has omitted or left undone?
HH: I can't give you an unambiguous answer on that. I think that both play a role. The title always opens up an extra level, it marks out a direction. But at the same time, just as you said, the work often moves outside the linguistic realm, or it puts this border into question. Maybe it's also about enduring and acknowledging this tension.
AS: The title refers to bodies. What you see lying on the ground are open bodies (the cardboard boxes); fragments of bodies or their garments (the feathers); fabric surfaces, whose folds make them seem sculptural; small, upright, conical torsos made of papier-mâché. If you make an inventory of these individual elements, it is clear how they are connected by a highly diverse set of conceptual and material transitions, references and analogies. The large, expansive material is rendered in miniature inside a cardboard box, the papier-mâché icons are the same size as the feathers, but compact, hermetic, weighty. Their craftsmanship contrasts with the industrially-manufactured cardboard box. Mentally, the feathers mutate into tools for writing or drawing; the hands on the projected images are drawn (in), maybe these hands formed the papier-mâché? How do you go from one thing to another? By way of materiality? Or through understanding? Or with conceptions (like knowledge, contradictions)?
HH: The genesis of the piece is a process of finding. In this case, I began with the image of a fortified city that gave me the feeling of having no access, since its architecture was so deeply defensive. At some point, walking through one of the streets, the image became so contorted, it was as if I was walking through myself, without access to myself. The gate of the projection and the cardboard boxes are the remnants of that architecture which became very abstract. As well as going after a particular image, there is also an important role for the presence of materials, and my relationship to them. The materials are just as much something found, and I move them, work on them, until they have a meaning corresponding to the image. So for example in one box there are circles cut out of leather. In another work, these circles are sewn onto material, as eyes. Leather is skin. These eyes would be blind, they could touch.
AS: Your works are all very tactile, and often the individual senses – the eye or the ear, for example – are really brought into the picture. But on the other hand, there is never a subject, a central figure who – as you put it – finds access to themselves. It is more as if you think, understand and shift with your hands, and then the material leaves a trace behind precisely in these varied concerns.
HH: It is all about taking and creating a space where a subject and the world are together, where demarcation is erased and processes of being-within and finding-one's-way are described.
AS: The "Semibodies" are positioned on the ground, almost in positions of defeat. They are fragile objects, not powerful. The loose ordering of the material and the boxes, which are only meant for storage and transportation, also lend the work a temporary quality, as if it was just laid out there to be shown, before being gathered back up and going on its way. The space the work takes up, and which it creates, is not a protective space – on the contrary. The material is not stretched out to form a tent. Evanescence is also reflected in drawing's time-based appearance. What significance does this temporary quality have for you? I can think of other works you've done where the folds in the material embodied options for action: becoming-visible, taking up space, and composing oneself.
HH: I think a lot of things are only revealed in light of the fleeting, or as something fleeting. Here, the surface is like a tableau, which presents the breadth of feelings, of the sensitive, but the articulation only transmits a minimal amount of it. It is an undescribed material, which every interpretation reveals in a different form.
AS: Yes, it is like terrain that has been sketched out suggestively, which evokes the body, open for possible imaginations, exhibiting traces and relics of contact. A kind of archaeology of what is felt, a soft, sunken territory. Where are you while you hold the material in your hands, forming, interlacing, discarding? The question reminds me of Hannah Arendt's reflections on where you are when you think…
HH: Discovery takes place in stages, often in passing or in leaving, in motion. If the picture, which I spoke about earlier, can dissolve itself, then something can emerge that reaches further than the space of described things. At the same time, the departure demands presence.
AS: There is a technical sound in this work which is hardly heard any more: the humming of a projector. When I saw it for the first time, for me it emphasized what is pre-linguistic and unarticulated in this constellation of formed materials. It is a language of gestures, of hands and manipulations, of forming as a kind of formulation, of grasping as an unfinishable process. In many of your works, sense organs are articulated before any meaning is laid down, prior to any alphabetic language. Is that the space of the "Semibodies", of the reduced thinking body, which seeks contact with itself and its own depths?
HH: I think that this space is much more informed and layered than we assume, and it is constantly undergoing a process of change. Meaning emerges here more through action than linguistic description. And then the tension I described earlier comes back.
Angelika Stepken has directed the Villa Romana in Florence since 2006; previously she worked as the director of the Badischer Kunstverein in Karlsruhe. A curator and an author, her recent publications include: Ketty La Rocca, You – Works and Writings 1964–1976, Berlin, 2017; Unmapping the Renaissance (edited with Eva–Maria Troelenberg and Mariechen Danz), Vienna, 2017.