Unexplained acts

Each of her pictures grows out of a lengthy making. Heike Jeschonnek works with paraffin and oil on paper. Since late, she has started working on canvas, too, as canvas blends with wax more smoothly, which reduces the risk that the sensitive relief on the surface might break. In simple words, one might call this a wax-scratching technique. Yet Heike Jeschonnek uses her special process in a flexible way. It is an operation of exception-excision, powered by a graphic momentum, in scratching cool wax, executed with sharp objects, preferably knifes ands scalpels. The artist carves profiles and inner linings of her subject-matters into the wax and rubs standard colours into the resulting crevices. At times, she also dyes the wax with pigments. Continuous application and removal of wax is required to create the piece of art.

Every picture enticingly embarks on an audacious undertaking without begging unnecessary favours from the viewer. The motifs will often deal with existential experiences bordering the limits of normalcy. Their pictorial substance draws on a carefully balanced practice of blending rough cuts with smooth brush-strokes and soft colour fillings. Despite crisp contrasts between hard and soft, these paintings generate a gentle, transparent overall impression. At certain points, the artist emphasizes individual spots with oil colours.

Thanks to their delicate equilibrium between knife handling and wound dressing, between stability and fragility, between irritation and melancholy, the viewer is touched by these paintings intimately. According to the individual design, their presence unfolds different levels of efficacy. At times, it is characterised by a condition similar to frosted glass, drowning out all background sounds from everyday life. In other cases they are chiselled by precise participation in contemporary life.

Slowly, in pensive ways, Heike Jeschonnek extracts grains of truth, identity and political relevance from underneath the transparent wax coating of her pictures. Similar to an everyday anthropologist, she scratches, carves and releases all the pent-up pain, the sobering defeats, doubts, fits of rage from underneath the encrusted surface of consumerism. There are floating transitions from reality to mystery.

Whether it is a masked figure on a telescopic platform (Grroße Erwartung, 2011), an invasion from the deep sea by bizarre creatures over Istanbul (Zweifel, 2011), monstrous fly agarics nesting behind architectures (Pilz, 2011), individual figures at “Tatorten” (2011), or a series of pictures created in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, Heike Jeschonnek always draws the viewers into unsolved scenes. Her figurative characters present themselves in existential dilemmas, yet the artist would never, not even for a moment, question the artificiality of art.

Her mindset and way of feeling result from a post-ideological time, which has learned to classify explicit creeds as unsettling and ollective beliefs as dangerous. Even her earlier architectural pictures were rather perceived reality than solid documentation. One could even invert the order of things in saying that Heike Jeschonnek spins a yarn on the basis of facts. This cannot be achieved by trying to address all the evils of this world in simply decrying them in a sensationalist way. Rather, Heike Jeschonnek chooses to transcend reality, moving over to the surreal, where a picture becomes multi-layered and imbued with different meanings. Each layer of wax is nothing else but just one layer of meaning. It is only in this way that the balancing act between facts and fancy can win the viewer’s consent. The more you look at these pictures, the more they will convince you that this experiment has succeeded.

by Christoph Tannert, March 2012
Director of the Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin
translation Johannes Hampel