„A space which has become active, blossoming, ripening, withering away. (…) Space, if properly understood, comprises a vast play of apertures, circular movements, interrelations and mutual penetrations.“
André Masson, „Digressions on space“
There is no doubt that Heike Jeschonnek’s pictorial space questions the viewer about „positioning“, i.e. the proper positioning of the world, the individual, and one’s own artistic place. Therefore, it is no wonder that the contemporary artist composes pictorial spaces and spatial orders as theatrical stages and visual scenery for profound existential events. Yet we are filled with awe to see how these parallel worlds and sensitive landscapes of the soul appear as borderline areas, as ultimate limits that transcend and open up spatial depth. This art enthrals the viewer, as overlapping pictorial levels become intertwined and reveal substantially new open spaces in Jeschonnek’s crisp play with foregrounds and backgrounds.
This quest for content in carefully arranged spaces blends with a continuous re-shuffling of positions within one’s own history and current events. It is based on Heike’s masterly display of the wax-scratching technique, which brings her art close to drawing, reflecting a delicate and exquisite artisanship with paraffin and oil applied to paper or canvas. During the creative process, the artist spreads and takes off wax in permanent repetition. It is a highly sophisticated procedure. The pictorial event unfolds, thus revealing personal wounds and sore spots, cut with a sharp blade into the cooling material, inscribing minutely detailed, floral patterns and mosaics into the surface. Afterwards, she seals the cuts and some sparsely added colour pigments with soothing, comforting strokes of a wax brush. This results in a white, foggy, transparent impression of the picture, despite the clearly distinguishable, sharp contrast between hard and soft.
With this technique, Jeschonnek has found a medium which is totally her own, while bringing a distinctive, literally fabulous cipher code to perfection in an utterly contemporary fashion. It is fabulous storytelling on a factual base, as Christoph Tannert quite aptly put it. A critique of our time with contemporary means, exacerbating facts, frustration and scepticism into surreal, strangely distorted realms, thus revealing untold truths that come from deeper, hidden layers. Brutally honest, yet somehow watered down. The narrative subject and the texture are intimately intertwined. It is an almost “poetic” way of painting, which illustrates a consistent parallel between narrative levels and a multi-layered structure in a striking, yet deeply convincing way.
Let us get right into the middle of things. In her work “1Q84” (p. 5), Heike Jeschonnek draws on the novel written under the same title by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. She adopts his carefully enacted parallel worlds into her own artistic focus. With a single glance, the painter transports us into a multi-faceted, eerie pictorial experience, where two dimly lit moons, positioned in the upper half of the picture, announce the transition from one world into the other. The division of the picture into four zones embodies synchronicity in a strikingly explicit way. At the same time, the viewer’s glance is guided from the sky through the skyline of Berlin, including the famous Oberbaum Bridge, over the seamlessly black Spree River, which can be deciphered as the mythological Styx River, separating underworld from this world, arriving finally at the portentous event, which unfolds in the foreground. The authentic scenery of a youth club and a festive party with ships equipped with swimming pools, clubs and trendy beach zones has been transformed into a grotesque fairy-tale: wolves are mauling a girl, while other characters indulge in the joys of bathing, openly uninvolved and relaxed. Nobody cares here about anyone else – they all appear to be floating in the water-lily pond, which is pervaded by strange plants and appears idyllic only at first glance.
Generally, the profound encounter between humans and animals plays an important role in Jeschonnek’s work. Whether it is in works like “Homage to Wolfgang Tillmans” (p. 33), “Stranded”(p. 33) or in the latest wax pictures referring to Joseph Beuys (p. 19)’ famous action with a coyote – unfailingly, this group of works focuses on the highly fragile dialogue between man and animal. Heike embeds these problematic domestication attempts in fantastic environments, which repeatedly unhinge the positioning of the characters. So the viewer is confronted with space apertures that constitute a new sense. Flowery tile ornaments, on which Beuys’ coyote seems to float, are reaching forward like tendrils from an uncertain background. A “Goose whisperer” (p. 21) kneels down in front of the basin rim of an artificial water surface. We recognize the cultural incrustation that has taken the place of a free space that allows options for development. In addition, we see how contemporary art uses the old directional sense of pictorial depth as a narrative medium of its own. For the attempt to drink liquor with a dog (“Herr Lehmann”, p. 20), placed in a hall-like superstructure, leads to the pure nothingness of central perspective, treading through an almost endless, stony ground.
In the entire composition of the picture, the viewer’s share retains a substantial relevance throughout. Jeschonnek challenges and trains the viewer’s “artistic vision”, as this opposition of figures reminds us dimly of parallel scenes of the Annunciation from the Quattrocento, coercing us suggestively into a clear-cut interpretation: It is exactly here, at this – properly speaking – invisible place where visual axis and the visually parallel communicative attempt cross each other, that the unspeakable is pronounced.
Repeatedly, Jeschonnek transposes us with her figures in such interior worlds and places us in front of theatre-like see-through boxes. We thus become witnesses to questions of identity and positioning. In all this, the artist places the figures deliberately at the edges in order to open up free ground for agitated movements of the inner depths. These surfaces are transformed into active depths, as they offer exits, pave ways, and indicate new perspectives. Where they achieve nothing of the sort, the walls remain closed. There is no escape. We feel
engulfed in the vortex of the ornaments. It is quite revealing to see how the figures are left with uncertain grip on the mosaic floors that
are composed accurately to the finest detail. Quite purposefully, the artist has not embedded them in a formally correct way, leaving them without a firm connection to the ground.
Similarly, such a vague positioning structures those other works that depict how nature reconquers its pristine environment. Together with the figures, the viewer becomes aware of the uncertain paths they tread, quite often balancing (“Going”, p. 74), where you search after your position and your place, but cannot find it perforce (“Girls 4”, p. 65). Moreover, Jeschonnek often composes her narrative worlds out of landscapes and architectures with a perforated ground. Not least because the earth opens up (“Of hunters and gatherers” p. 59), people sink into holes in the ground, while the vegetative world breaks through the asphalt at defined points (“Collapsing new buildings”, p. 41). These oval apertures can also be read as temporary floating islands. Every now and then they may be seen even as time gates, conjuring up the questions of past idylls and present. Her sceneries are then morphed into landscapes of the soul, as the artist deals with a frantic oscillation between interior and exterior worlds.
In all this, Jeschonnek’s art is designed quite deliberately as a quest for vestiges of content and form, as a multi-layered, profound intuitive search and reminiscence, feeling around, exploring and finding. This is also conveyed effortlessly through her hunting scenes and looming crime in everyday life. These too remain mysterious, unsettling, unresolved. The whole array of characters, explicit in those “scenes of the crime” (p. 57), has lost its way, has got stuck in an impenetrable thicket of hazy, fairy-tale thought forests. They are crouching down, hunting, crying out in the shadow of themselves. – What’s exciting is the way in which the characters seem frozen, for the benefit of a narrative transfiguration of the spaces lying behind them. Jeschonnek’s “Forest” (p. 54-55), an unfathomable, exquisitely fine-chiselled space of minute foliage condensed by nature and pictorial power, reports, rather casually, on the transition from the artistic parallelism to mutual penetration. From progressive miniaturization of structure, texture and patterning, back towards their unification and dim dematerialization into empty, lucidly white picture areas. In this way, the pictorial narratives and painted spaces work as a fabulous enlargement, not least because of its critical self-reflective artistic potential.
In this context, an apparent independence of objects needs to be conceived. Along these lines, her series of works “Girls” (p. 64, 65) and “Surrender” (p. 66, 67), created under the influence of the Fukushima disaster and castor transports, mushrooms are disposed of like dissembled elements by men in protective gear, or are mounted as mouthpieces crying out to heaven. In Jeschonnek’s latest works, this trend becomes even more condensed. In concrete terms, the patterns of mosaics, i.e. the proper ground, releases itself from the structured formal framework. In line with this countless colour pigments gush out of a woman’s mouth and flow away on the soil in loose order (p. 5). For exactly this reason, two women pour a flood of pigments out of buckets into the finely delineated frame, which has yet to be completed (p. 10).
Dr. Melanie Klier, August 2013
Klartext Kunst, München
translation Johannes Hampel