Breathing in and out
Roland Scotti / 2020
– – – Art is a universe—and like every cosmos, the artistic world of Nesa Gschwend can only be described approximately. In her work, manual, philosophical, socio-political, and aesthetic processes, findings of form, and creations of meaning are so closely intertwined that any verbalization is virtually bound to fail. Within the framework of the publication Memories of Textiles, I would like to touch on just four of the concepts that confront me when seeing the artist’s works: bodies, com- munication, information, and identity.
In the artist’s oeuvre, bodies—her own as well as those of others—become an instru- ment, a medium, and a mediator of a ‘mes- sage’. The interaction of form and content, the aesthetic decision begins even before a work is first created, in the mind and in the hands, in the movement of limbs, in the in- terplay of gesture and facial expression, in the merging of acting and thinking—no matter whether the artist works alone or whether many interact in a participative performance. It continues with the concrete movement, the respective action with and in materials.
The touching and being touched connected with this can easily be described as the ‘raw material’ of Nesa Gschwend’s art. This is shown directly in the use of endogenic starting ma- terials such as hair from her head, but also in the reuse of things close to the body, in other words, the substances, the textiles that form something like an individual’s second skin, not always, but nevertheless reasonably of- ten. The corporeal is present in the obvious manual character of the works—which is not just exclusively handcraft, but instead a generator of valuable content that points beyond pure essence, beyond pleasing dec- oration. By means of handcraft, of working hand-in-hand, which is always an exchange of gestures, of feelings, of nonverbal con- tents, Nesa Gschwend creates a basis for reflecting on questions—for instance, in the endless series ‘Human’, but also in the ‘Relations’—that are substantial and, in the best sense, palpable in the pictures, in the objects, such as: What does it actually mean to be a human being?
Communication, cooperation, and—ex- pressed in modern terms—participation are an essential element in Nesa Gschwend’s artistic work. Even if we are currently look- ing at a work that the artist produced in the studio entirely on her own, entirely for herself, we do not see anything that is self-centred or hermetic. The motoric, dynamic quality, the at times expressive appearance of the hair drawings, the fabric assemblages, become part of a choreography of pictures and ob- jects in which production and reception sup- plement one another—are literally involved in a dialogue that interprets what is visible de facto layer by layer, image by image.
When the things are not—as in the series of works ‘Living Fabrics’—created during a participatory action, they must nonetheless be understood as an explicit invitation to us, the ostensibly uninvolved viewers. Nesa Gschwend’s works are almost appeals: We should participate in both the physical and intellectual processes that gave rise to specifically this work that we are standing in front of. To roughly understand the works, we must become part of the staging; we should thus activate, bring to life, all of our senses, if possible, even many of our sensitivities, and, above all, also our knowledge. What I mean with knowledge here is not so much the learned and the handed down, repetitive knowledge, but rather an essential experience that could also be described with the term self-awareness: I am myself an object of intu- ition and thought. (Immanuel Kant, Lectures on Metaphysics).
This self-knowledge comes about through information. Even though this term sounds too much like newspapers, politics, and ‘fait divers’, like computers and technology, or simply like boredom, distance, and coolness, I believe that the works of Nesa Gschwend not only actually penetrate the micro- and mac- ro-structure of information, but are even first made possible as a result of information. And, at the same time, the works transform infor- mation not only into visual spaces, into aes- thetic symbols; it seems that the works also inform their recipients, thus us—entirely in the sense of Vilèm Flusser. The artist’s works form the ‘you’ to our relatively open ‘I’—and thus facilitate extensive self-examination, even self-construction. By fraying, decon- structing, collaging, assembling, connecting, weaving, or conserving in wax or lacquer what she has collected and preserved, brought with her and found, Nesa Gschwend makes it pos- sible for all those who contemplate her works to reconstruct, even first shape their respec- tive identities to some extent. With the eye, we ‘breathe’ in the stories and history that are latently brought up and imparted in the materials and substances. And by conversing about specifically those works, we ‘breathe’ the information out again in a form that we ourselves have augmented. The artist’s works truly go ‘under our skin’.
The works arise from an accumulation of in- formation, from combining and processing information; at the same time, they trans- form everyday, seemingly trivial information into visual poems, optical novels, occasionally even into historical excursuses. The tapestries, the fabric drawings, the metaphorical find- ings of form—no matter from which series of works—become imaginary maps, topologi- cal arrangements, by means of which anyone and everyone can find their own location. This simple complexity or even multi-layered and interwoven clarity is related in a self-evident way to the working materials mentioned: One need only think of how much information about an individual and his or her lifestyle is stored in hair: and one naturally suspects that an incredible amount of our personal biographies and behaviours, and even of our individual thoughts and dreams is stored in our bedding, clothing, and handtowels.
This recognition of strangers’ lifelines, which could also be our own, always resonates when one thinks of Nesa Gschwend’s works. The beautiful thing about this is that we require hardly any knowledge a priori, any facts in order to do so—we intuitively recognize and experience the anthropological memory, the anthropomorphic essence when in dialogue with the works of Nesa Gschwend: The existential quality is simply there, it is simply so, since even though hair and clothes do not make people, they are triggers and bearers of economic, social, and—as is naturally particularly significant for us—cultural at- titudes and stories. This fundamental, some would perhaps also say ‘old’ knowledge is just not concealed in the works of Nesa Gschwend, but instead preserved, elevated, and always present.
We sense the individual memories that— thanks to Nesa Gschwend’s artistic interven- tion— have been transformed into traces of a collective memory in and with the fabrics. What the artist ultimately configures in individual works, work series, spatial combina- tions, and exhibitions are multidimensional stages on which not only the works, but also the viewers become actors. They can take on the most diverse roles—and thus ‘try out’ and explore their bodies, actions, sensitivities, experience, and human existence. As Nesa Gschwend noted in a statement about the ‘Living Fabrics’: ‘Birth, love, companionship, joy, but also pain, illness, death, and grief’ are stored in the fabrics. And like every memory, the artworks share this information so that we, in steps that are necessary for under- standing, can experience the freedom to access our creativity, determine the ‘message’ of the works ourselves—and this might be the most important thing—design our identity, which is more than merely a mirror image, ourselves. – – –