ON THE PLEASANT OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE US TURN OUR HEADS
by Andreas Bee
text for the exhibition catalogue ANIMA, Städtische Galerie Villingen - Schwenningen, February 2007
I so fear the words people say.
They put it all with such nous
The one's a dog, the other a house,
The beginning this, the end that way.
Let us not yet speak of art, let us limit ourselves initially to the experience that shapes can be the expression and medium of specific energies.
Let us recollect that what is truly astonishing about images is their ability to trigger emotional-corporeal responses. So let us concentrate on those strange and not seldom surprising and in the final instance completely unpredictable forces that an image can exude.
Let us call to mind that all those people who make images actually reside in an ostensibly inverted world while still engaged in the act of making, a world in which all form becomes content, and all purported content becomes merely a matter of form.
Last but not least let us remember that personal experiences are primarily linked to images, and then we can perhaps justifiably claim that from the standpoint of the person who works with words most memories are silent precisely because they mainly consist of images. So anyone speaking about images must be clear that he is speaking and thus selecting, and that the form of language is only one of the many sides to what we call truth.
I am worried by their meanings, a playful scornful lot,
They know all that was and what they seek;
They marvel at no mountain peak;
Likening their gardens and homes to God.
By finding words for images we add something. We add language. So we invariably find ourselves asking: Is it even possible to capture in words a deep knowledge grounded in experience and derived from a close occupation with works of art? The relationship of word to image remains complex, for just as darkness cannot be adequately described as the absence of light, so, too, no image can simply be construed as the opposite of the word, but only as being different, as being something that obeys laws of its own, laws that become apparent only in the act of viewing. Thus, in order to experience the specific uniqueness of an image we require a kind of knowledge that recognizes and preserves the specialty of that work in the act of beholding it, an approach that does not attempt to explain the image and strip it of its secrets. For what essentially constitutes an image is precisely not that which can be grasped in words, but that which initially reveals itself to our sense for auratic traces.
I want constantly to warn and ward off: Stay away.
I like so much to hear objects sing and play.
Once you all touch them, they go rigid and still.
With all objects all they've done is : Kill.
Nevertheless, and for all the warning given by the young Rilke, we should not allow ourselves to be deterred from at least trying to describe something of what we can experience in Sabine Finkenauer's pictorial spaces. Because these pictures seem to exert a soft, but emphatic attraction on us, a force that encourages us to bid farewell to our own reality and enter the realm of art thus opening up before us. What entices us is that taste of the world with which we were probably familiar back in kindergarten. Finkenauer's images open a channel into that age when wishes and dreams still stood by our side. They exude an atmosphere that attests to a lighter and easier life. If we wish to enter that world more deeply, then we need to find a way of penetrating it. Anyone embarking on this adventure should not forget that you do not just enter the work once, but have to cross the existent or imaginary space of the image twice. Otherwise you will be lost, like that Chinese art lover who immersed himself so deeply in a painted landscape that nothing has been heard of him since. Only if you enter the image and then leave it again can you take the experience made in that artificial world back into your own world and speak of what you saw and felt. The same applies to the artist, who, as long as he works, exists within the image and must not get lost in it like that painter Frenhofer in Balzac's famous novella, who likewise immerses himself so obsessively in an image that he eventually gets lost and thus is no longer able to return to that other world of flesh and blood whence he came.
So let us imagine that we enter the room of art like a burglar who came in through the bathroom window. The moment we cross the threshold, and thus change sides, the frame disappears for the first time. Once we are in the image, we may forget for a while whence we came. Indeed, for a short time we want to merge (and not just by virtue of our eyes) with that artistic sphere that for a while seems so real. Yet as a rule we cannot tarry here for long. The construct is usually too unstable. Sooner or later, reality will call us back. We climb back out of the window through which we entered. And now the frame disappears for the second time as we exit the artificial world and re-enter the real world.
A more or less clear and sometimes decidedly diffuse memory of what you experienced within the pictorial space remains constantly lodged in your memory. It enables you even under the tougher and more stable conditions of a world defined by the causalities of general action and behavior to recall, for example, the resonance of that space created by the clothing pictures, which, when held up to reality, seems like the miraculous relics of a legend of salvation that can now only be vaguely reconstructed. This can definitely be felt for a long time after vacating that pictorial space, but there is no real explanation for it. The world to which Sabine Finkenauer's pictures attest is far more accessible via stories than via classical reason and argument.
If, as Boris Groys once put it, the textual commentaries protectively shroud the artworks like clothes, then in the context of Sabine Finkenauer's girl, forest, tree and architectural images, the clothing pictures can be compared with parts of a narrative in which the narrator essays to describe the overarching whole by pointing to the constellation of the individual elements. You can possibly sense an ideal image in the network of references, but no one can really want that ideal to become reality, as the image would be as dense as any black hole, and would consume all light.
Without doubt, Sabine Finkenauer's series of images of girls is among those of her works that stay lodged in our minds for longest. Whether the paintings, and they bear titles such as "Princess", "Sleeper", "Girl in the Woods", "Girl with Door", "Girl with Wall" or simply "Long Hair", speak of more than just that fragile existence behind the sound-absorbing veil of the curtain behind which we dream, depends on what the observer brings to bear by way of personal inclinations. Are the girls animated beings woven from the finest of fabrics, phantasmagoric reflections of a coarser parallel world? Are the tectonics of their bodies, which seems so massive and block-like, really solid? Is the pictorial space felt to be filled or empty? What about the "climate" in the scenes? Finkenauer's images have an agreeable ambivalence to them; they seem to be proof of the existence of that sense for the possible which Robert Musil derived from the existence of our sense for reality. Like all those with the gift of the former sense, Finkenauer wants to have the woods, where the beholder who only has a sense for reality only sees trees. But the woods, or so Robert Musil writes, is something which it is hard to describe, whereas trees signify so many meters of solid timber of a certain quality.
On viewing Sabine Finkenauer's images anyone who gives the sense for the possible a chance will feel like the traveler approaching the magnetic mountain from the Oriental tale. Once you are in the vicinity of that mountain, you are inevitably attracted to it and remain stuck there for a long time. Captivated in this manner, you will invariably find that you ask yourself: How can it be that these images are so attractive and unmistakable? What lends them this magic power, irrespective of whether they show gardens, flowers, trees, girls clothes, dolls or interiors? Perhaps there is a single word to say it all simply: Anima. Do we today still understand what the word means?
Once, the soul was that "breath of life" that God blew into Adam's nose. Others understood it to be the power that combines, for perception and imagination do not bounce around in us like the Greeks in the Trojan Horse, they are bound together by the power of our soul to form cognition and insight. The soul is thus a unity of cognitive elements. Soul can also be construed as something that drives nature onward. Grasped in this way, everything that lives has a soul, even plants and animals. Soul is the underlying principle that forms each body which expresses itself in an artwork.
Be that as it may. If what Heinz von Foerster once said is true, namely that the listener and not the speaker decides the meaning of an utterance, then each speaker can only ever hope that the other person understands a little bit of what he believes he has said.
Such problems seem completely foreign to Sabine Finkenauer's pictures. They give the impression of being completely oblivious to all this. Only now and again we can intimate that something like a soft smile drifts across their surfaces. And then we may be forgiven suspecting that they have a certain joy in turning our heads.