4-1 | Table of Con­tents | http://​dx​.doi​.org/10.17742/IMAGE.scandal.4-1.11 | Schlueter PDF

Andriko Lozowy | Uni­ver­si­ty of Alberta
Ele­na Siemens | Uni­ver­si­ty of Alberta

Lighting Darkness:
In conversation with Artist Daniela Schlüter

The War in Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina took place between March 1992 and Decem­ber 1995. At the time Daniela Schlüter was a teenag­er struck in a deeply vis­cer­al way by the con­flict and the un-deni­able suf­fer­ing tak­ing place. She had already been intro­duced to fine arts and painting––but her human­i­tar­i­an actions dur­ing the War gave her pause to med­i­tate on the effec­tive­ness of art as a medi­um for change. Since 2003 Daniela has been award­ed on numer­ous occa­sions for her prints, mixed media on paper, video and book works. Daniela’s work invites the view­er to immerse them­selves in a frag­men­tary dia­logue between artist and viewer––mediated by the mixed media and paper assem­blages. There is a time­less­ness in Daniela’s work as she cre­ates bal­ance between dis­parate ages, in par­tic­u­lar in the series shown in this issue. Sym­bols, like trees, lad­ders and chro­mo­somes col­lude to pro­duce a cho­rus unhinged from space and time. In ear­ly 2013 Ele­na Siemens and Andriko Lozowy met with Daniela to dis­cuss her work in the con­text of this spe­cial issue––Scan­dals of Hor­ror.

Q: When look­ing at your work, for instance Cassandra’s promise, which hangs at near­ly six feet (182cm) by four feet (121cm)––it is easy to get lost in a kind of med­i­ta­tive state where the eye dwells on cer­tain ele­ments, paus­es and moves on.

A: This is delib­er­ate, your expe­ri­ence as a view­er is an exten­sion of my work as the artist. For me there is no method­olog­i­cal start­ing point, no begin­ning or an end in the jour­ney that one may take. When I am work­ing to cre­ate a piece my efforts are direct­ed all over the plain of art––as a kind of nomadic process. Fore­ground and back­ground are dis­card­ed as rules and instead my effort is con­cen­trat­ed on gen­er­at­ing dia­logue between ele­ments across the plain of art.

Q: Giv­en the notion of a plain of art, where does the moti­va­tion, the inspi­ra­tion to place ele­ments into dia­logue come from?

A: Intu­ition fol­lows metic­u­lous research involv­ing broad and deep read­ing of all man­ner of text, classic’s, myths and leg­ends. Read­ing is fol­lowed by writ­ing, reflec­tion and rumi­na­tion upon the ideas con­veyed. The impe­tus to mark the can­vas or oth­er medi­um comes from direct con­tact with con­tent through research. This direct con­tact is my artic­u­la­tion of the live­li­ness – as though through a kind of fer­men­ta­tion process – the ingre­di­ents must be added first, the research, then the reflec­tive writ­ing – then the bub­bles emerge as the gasses are released and before long – the nomadic plod­ding upon the can­vas as a gen­er­al form can begin. Each ele­ment of the work I cre­ate has a spe­cif­ic mean­ing – the order­ing – the com­po­si­tion emerges from the reflec­tion. Mir­rors are the most obvi­ous point of reflec­tion, but win­dows as well––they pre­fig­ure the look­ing. In some cas­es the fig­ures in the paint­ing emerge as pas­sages, as ways of being looked upon as the viewer.

Q: As an artist eschew­ing the clas­sic tra­di­tion of fore­ground and back­ground in hopes of offer­ing the view­er, the wider socius, some­thing other––why painting?

A: My ques­tion in response is how much can we express through (oral/written) lan­guage?  For some time now I have been guid­ed by the French malaise and in Ger­man Unbe­ha­gen to refer to unease, dis­com­fort – as a means to remind myself that there is a world of the un-said. In this regard I am look­ing to dis­rupt the silence of writ­ten text and take notice of that which resides, per­me­ates and inter­sects between the lines. Malaise can also be thought of as unknow­ing, in oth­er words, the dark side of unease. On the oth­er hand, know­ing means safety––whereas, not know­ing may mean some­thing more mys­te­ri­ous and dark­er. For me, music and visu­al art attend to the reg­is­ters beyond writ­ten or spo­ken text.

Q: Observ­ing your work there seems to be a ten­den­cy towards dark­ness, bold col­or, a refined palate and an over­all aura of intrigue.

A: In terms of dark­ness, in this col­lec­tion for instance I had the good for­tune to work with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to sci­en­tist Paul Cas­sar, who is focused on stem cells. I became keen­ly inter­est­ed in chro­mo­somes as con­tem­po­rary sym­bols for human­i­ty. Chro­mo­somes rep­re­sent genet­ic code, orig­i­na­tion of human­i­ty. Peer­ing through a micro­scope can offer views into a lev­el of know­ing our own being that was pre­vi­ous­ly unimag­in­able. At once there is a tremen­dous pow­er to this mag­ni­fied look­ing, into, upon and with ones own self. Sci­en­tif­ic advance­ment has giv­en us the tools to look deeply at our­selves as indi­vid­u­als and as a species—our field of vision has grown beyond hold­ing mere­ly the man­i­fest­ly mate­r­i­al rep­re­sen­ta­tions of vital­i­ty and life, such as a tree, or a fish, as sym­bols for life. Visu­al­ly, chro­mo­somes have come to appear in my own work and their sym­bol­ic nature is rep­re­sent­ed along­side the tree, the fish and oth­ers as a means of align­ing and jux­ta­pos­ing sym­bols of sig­nif­i­cance for humans.

Mod­ern sci­ence has revealed rep­re­sen­ta­tions through mag­ni­fi­ca­tion. For instance––blood is trans­lat­ed into code on paper. Even with an entire code, a chro­mo­some writ­ten, as a line-by-line expres­sion of an indi­vid­ual, reveal­ing the genet­ic code––I am struck by what it miss­es, or can­not explain about an entire being. The what is miss­ing, is the between the lines.

In order to ampli­fy my poten­tial at self-expli­ca­tion I have main­tained that I must work with my own chro­mo­somes rather than anoth­er per­sons. By work­ing on my own self, a mag­ni­fied and cod­ed ver­sion, I sense there is resonance––there is a set of sym­bols that at once con­nect and dis­con­nect, and I can access the vital pow­er by engag­ing in a dia­logues with a strat­i­fied-and mag­ni­fied rep­re­sen­ta­tion of self.

Q: In the biog­ra­phy you have pro­vid­ed for us here we have learned that you spent your child­hood on a farm in Sud­lohn, Ger­many.  What events and encoun­ters in your for­ma­tive years have con­tributed to the devel­op­ment of your own human­is­tic perspective?

A: When I was 17 a group of friends and I found­ed a human­i­tar­i­an-aid orga­ni­za­tion. It was 1992 three weeks before Christ­mas when we began.  Almost imme­di­ate­ly peo­ple over­whelmed us with their generosity––two 40-tonne con­tain­ers of food, med­i­cine, blan­kets and clothes were col­lect­ed. As dan­ger­ous as it was, a group of young men drove the relief items to Slove­nia and by the time they came back––between Christ­mas and new years the accounts and the con­tain­ers were full again, so we just couldn’t stop.  For two years we would go down to the refugee camp. Once the bor­der to Bosnia, a patch­work zone patrolled by young men with guns opened, we were able to get the relief to more peo­ple. Because we had led the human­i­tar­i­an aid effort orga­ni­za­tions like Amnesty and oth­ers would send more and more goods with us. For two years the cycle of col­let­ing dona­tions and deliv­er­ing the goods to those in need continued––the sense was that, as long as these goods get to the peo­ple who need it… and we our­selves were just kids.

I also spent time work­ing in Mostar as a home-care work­er. At the time, the things that I saw, I wish that I had nev­er seen them, but I did see them, and this is what it is. It was at this time of War that I came to under­stand that humans destroy themselves––and in those moments I knew that oth­er soci­eties, Cana­da, the U.S., Ger­many, they can flip over in a split second.

One time while in Mostar I came across an old woman in a bed, her legs did not work and they had begun to grow togeth­er. I saw the hor­ror of the sit­u­a­tion, the deep tragedy, and it wasn’t because there was no life around her, but instead it was that the peo­ple around her just didn’t care––and at that moment I under­stood this is what war does. It’s not that those around were bad human beings; instead I could see that War strips all illu­sion away.

It was dur­ing this peri­od of time that I stopped paint­ing, I had the sense was that I ought to study med­i­cine instead so that I could do some­thing use­ful. As I devel­oped over the years after the war I found that a return to art came to rep­re­sent a true offer­ing. My human­ist per­spec­tive nur­tured by my expe­ri­ences has pro­pelled me to work towards man­i­fest­ing cre­ative works that aim to dis­lodge the pri­ma­cy of text and enfold the view­er into an ongo­ing dia­logue where atten­tion and focus is paid to a cre­ative mean­ing mak­ing effort where sub­jec­tiv­i­ty is cul­ti­vat­ed as a shared, mean­ing all of us, experience.

For me, hope is the abil­i­ty to expe­ri­ence the dark­ness of human­i­ty and respond through art.

This arti­cle is licensed under a  Cre­ative Com­mons 3.0 License although cer­tain works ref­er­enced here­in may be sep­a­rate­ly licensed, or the author has exer­cised their right to fair deal­ing under the Cana­di­an Copy­right Act.