Eva Schwab | Text

Katja Weitering, Cobra Museum Amstelveen

Bringing alive memories, giving memories a new life and searching for the own family history. These themes run like a thread through the artistic development of Eva Schwab. For more than ten years now, she conceives in a very willful manner a collective archive of memories, a universal family album. With her work, Eva positions painting as a relevant and actual medium, to give inspiration to the past, to investigate and translate it to the present.
The artist works with a concept of 'found family'. For her work Eva uses her own family albums, but also anonymous pictures, snap-shots, photos found on flea-markets. The photographs, going back up to three generations, are in general pictures of common-day gestures, rituals, sometimes posed portraits, registrations of official family-matters, hunting scenes, then again as a-matter-of-factly stills of playing children.
There's a very interesting show at the Van Gogh Museum at this moment, titled 'Snap-shots', on the relationship between photography and modern painting. Painters like Breitner and Bonnard were full-hearted amateur photographers themselves, and found their inspiration for their paintings in photos. A photograph is an interesting phenomenon, it gives an eternal value to a short moment in time and space. A photo enables us to get insight in certain details and connections, that we can't or don't want to perceive ourselves with the naked eye, inside the bigger picture. The paintings and drawings of Eva, inspired by photographs, unveil these deeper, hidden layers, tucked away under the surface of the image.
I experienced the curiosity to a forgotten and past life that's still imminent present, for the first time, when I got acquainted with the work of Eva, in the stand of Helga Hofman at Art Amsterdam 2006. I fell in love with a painting of a granny with two grandchildren. Subtle painted, treated with wax, with a surface that reminded of a yellowed photo. I thought I recognized my own granny, absolute nonsense of course, but from that moment on that painting is inextricably connected to me personal and is hanging on a prominent place in our living-room.
With her searching eye and paintbrush, Eva makes the private histories and biographies visible, that are connected with the pictured persons or landscapes. Despite the fact that the used material is often private, the result is universal and there is a great deal of recognition for the viewer. Eva's art invites us to share our own personal experiences and interpretations with her works.
Let's take for instance the painting 'Das Fest' from 2009 (not present at the exhibition). We see a snapshot of a group of children and a mother, not posed, a wonderful composition, the figures seem to be frozen for a moment amidst their daily routine. It's a warm late-afternoon, in the open, the kids are playing, peace and innocence. We all have our own memories of these kind of moments from our youth. But those memories have faded, and do we remember the pictures from our albums, or do we actually remember the moment itself? Eva's work calls for all these questions. And not only the pleasant, innocent aspects from the past, but also the more darker sides. On the painting 'Das Fest' for instance, the only person that looks us straight in the eye, is a strange and sinister figure with a mask-like face.
As I already said, in the last decade Eva has been building on an archive of collective memories, a universal family album. The presentation here at Helga Hofman gives the artist and us the opportunity to have a look at that archive as well as at the interdependence at all, but also to view and experience the various pieces individual.
The heart of the presentation consists of eight paintings from Eva's recent series dedicated to 'Hysterical Women', and her research of the hysteria phenomenon, as diagnosed at women not behaving according prevailing standards. The series consists of intrusive and fabulously beautiful painted portraits of women, going back three generations, caught in the straightjacket of their times and the religious laws going along with it, on the one side. On the other, these women radiate an enormous strength and tenacity. Around this series Eva arranged previous images, in consultation with Helga Hofman. She herself is talking about "Family-members', a combination of her own family-history and found photographs.
The earliest ones are from 2000. In recent years Eva's work has become more freely. More space was created to display the quaint and indefinable, surrealistic elements appear in the paintings and drawings. The 'Nachbilder', the after-images, echo's as it were of memories, were in the past often separated from each other, a developed painting also, next to a some kind of abstract version, a shadow. In these fascinating diptychs Eva explored the battle between the visible reality and the hidden layers behind an image and the shown individuals. In the more recent works Eva unites these two aspects in a single painting.
A thread through the artistic development is the repeatedly painting of the same image, the doubling of the image. These repetitions enable Eva to investigate the images and the memories belonging to them, over and over again. These works invite us, viewers, to have a look 'between the lines of painting'.
The family is for Eva the core in which everything gets together, all the good, all the bad. Eva takes a dive in history to understand the arise and beginning of memory. I was in Hungary this summer. There I found old black-and-white pictures on a gypsy- market, probably from the 20's and 30's, posed portraits of men and women, of families. I was fascinated immediately, like going through time, back in time and getting in contact with the people portrayed. What histories and stories were hidden behind those old photographs? At the same time I felt myself like a voyeur, as if I uninvited toke a glance at other peoples lifes. I didn't buy the pictures though, out of some sort of superstition, maybe the fear to take home other peoples misery.
There are a lot of layers in Eva's work. In the recent series on hysterical women, she surveys the notions about art and madness, about geniality. She asks the question: 'What's normal?'. And why is 'being different' not accepted in our society, while at the same time there are more than enough examples of societies where people having distinguished talents, being different, are respected and even honored.
When I spoke with Eva about her recent work, we came to the conclusion that every generation has his own disease, labels arising from the tension between the laws of society and the individual not being able to, or not wanting to conform. In the 19th century, women who didn't function properly, were labeled of being hysteric. According to professor Trudy Dehue, anno 2011 we're in the middle of an depression epidemic.
When compiling this presentation, consisting of works over a period of more than ten years, Eva deliberately choose for showing the work of two related artists, Mathias Deutsch and Hans Könings. She has a close relationship with both of them.
The sculptures of Mathias Deutsch directly inspired Eva Schwab at the creation of her hysterical women series. His sculptures are showing creatures that are hidden in the material. The figures have a mysterious presence. The works of Mathias are heavily symbolic, abstract and representative at the same time. They unite the everyday with surrealistic and symbols from other cultures. They are powerful and intriguing works. The confrontation with the surrealistic influences in the works of Mathias Deutsch, influenced Eva's paintings in the last three years strongly.
In his prints the artist Hans Könings, former lector/professor at the Royal Academy of Arts in the Hague, also relates to family-pictures and the theme of remembrance. He works extraordinary precise and technical, by cutting out the memories and transforming them in black-and-white lino-prints. A traditional technique, giving a new, current meaning by Könings. He too uses private, as well as found photographic material. The result provides new, independent images that tell new stories.
The positions of Eva, Mathias and Hans show strong similarities. Their works are mutually reinforcing, and produces in this joined presentation a fascinating picture of the interaction between art, reality and the surreal.

 

 

Revenants

By Jutta Meyer zu Riemsloh
"Speak, Memory" (Vladimir Nabokov)


Tracing memories is a complex and extensive process. As time passes, the past loses its validity as a realistic entity. After all, it exists in one's memory, be it consciously or unconsciously, and it changes according to the memory holder's disposition. Mem- ories are subject to transience until they are awakened under different circumstances and given a new life. They can be saved, by way of technological media, as documentation of one special moment. But they can also experience a mental revivification. These pictures are then created in one's head and are different from those found in a photo album, for example. Non-docu- mented memories are interwoven with viewable material, with non-personal experiences, and create an individual flashback.
Eva Schwab's artwork focuses on this inner dialogue and the search for imaginary internal images. As a catalyst, she mostly uses photos from biographical and personal surroundings. The artist's archive holds old family photos, personal snapshots, pictures entrusted to her of "found families," as Eva Schwab calls them, as well as pieces found at flee markets that have recog- nition value. This includes, for instance, pictures of people in the traditional dress of the Burgenland. While these are personally unfamiliar, they establish new familiar connections and bring the past into the present. Surrogates from other biographies add to
and complete the artist's biography, as a way of enrichment and as part of her conception of the universal family. This personal collection constitutes Eva Schwab's fundamental research and initiates complex conceptual processes—memory work.
The painted implementation of these photographs and inner pictures in Eva Schwab's work is a transformative process in which the questions "from where" and "where to" are in the foreground. This reconstruction of the past causes long-forgot- ten memories to rise to the surface and evoke questions: Why does this picture speak to me? What pictures come up inside me in reaction to this? What is happening and what meaning does it have for the present? This perception becomes a catalyst to allow the unconscious to find its way into the conscious. Pictures, feelings and realizations are created through introspec- tion in the psyche.
As part of her creative process Eva Schwab also considers the issue of authenticity of memories: Is the photograph truly the memory of a certain moment? Did I really experience it in that way or have the pictures of the past become the memories?
The chosen image triggers an inner dialogue, through which a personal perspective on events is added and an emphasis is set by the artist. The confrontation with "revenants," as Eva Schwab calls encounters with people who possess a history similar to hers, develops into an independent subject in her work, beyond her work with the photographs. Especially in the paper works, the similarity to the photos has decreased significantly. The pictures obtain more liberty and signify a development in painting style. The growing freedom and openness to the surreal, the fantasti- cal, and the unconscious are new. However, the simultaneous directness in dealing with the chosen photo is not lost.
The grandmother's wedding picture, the picture found at a flee market of an older lady in traditional garb, actual encoun- ters with people in the Burgenland—Eva Schwab plays withsubjects such as the folklore theme naturally and with great under- standing. In the portrait Festtdirndl of 2009 (festivity dirndl) she presents herself in traditional costume and hair style. In Siggi, 2008, she mixes the biographies of her grandfathers Friedrich Schwab and Friedrich von Gans. The title's allusion to Sigmund Freud is intentional. The reference of the painting to a photo- graph implies that it depicts a real moment in time. This is decep- tive though, since the depicted person is a "revenant": inter- changeable as a representative of a universally understood personality and biography, in place of a past time.
Reality, associations, and memories come together to cre- ate an atmospheric pictorial space on the threshold between reality and dissolution. Experienced moments, layered with mem- ories, the artist's experiences, as well as our own. Transformation and realization become clear through the overlapping of differ- ent levels, creating a dense atmosphere in Eva Schwab's pictures. Painting becomes the expression of subjective, intimate sensa- tion with great analytical potential.
Consequently, the new emphasis changes the conceptually based doubling of the work as an image and an afterimage. For years these had a concrete form. Now the afterimages are signif- icantly more painterly and the doubled effect is no longer appar- ent. They are advancing to solitaries. In the short moment in which a flash hits the eye, an afterimage in complimentary colors is created inside the eye. As blurry, dissolving half-shad- ows they stand in contrast to the umbras, which are in complete darkness with clear contours. As afterimages, these take on a sense-bearing part in Eva Schwab's work. Here the artist is clearly referring to Plato's "Allegory of the Cave." Shadows simulate reality and are depictions of true being. It is not the obvious real- ity perceivable with our senses which helps us gain cognition, but that which is hidden behind it. In Fastnacht (Shrove Tues- day), for example, the shadows are the main carriers of messages informing the content. The mood and atmospheric landscape surrounding the bathers is gloomy and unreal. The contours,mirrored in the water, dissolve in streaks. Hidden amongst the painted codex of the shadows in the background, are narrative beginnings which make room for personal memories, allow for play with associations, and make possible re-encounters as well as realizations.
Eva Schwab not only questions herself concerning the authenticity of the perceived, but also the viewer. Shadows as pictorial elements are to be understood as an indicator, pointing out to where the search is directed, the search for reality and the search for the person itself. The artist is focused on her own biography, but as an example, in order to understand other biographies and in appreciation of a collective memory, an archive of memories. Eva Schwab's pictures become a testimony of different generations, develop thematically from a personal con- cern to a universal one. They are to be seen as a comprehensive sociopolitical and sociological chronicle.

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Eidola

By Cathrin Nielsen


According to an ancient belief, an individual exists two-fold, once in his daily visible form and once in a kind of invisible repeti- tion. The other I, inhabiting the person like a shadowy Doppel- gänger, was called his "psyche" or her "image" (gr. eídolon).1 Eídola are phantasms or afterimages of human beings and also shadow images of those that were once alive. As long as the individual is thriving in his public role or her profession, the soul image retreats into insignificance. Yet, when the other, the visible, active I is asleep, its enigmatic Doppelgänger takes over.
It keeps vigil and acts along the outer perimeters of our conscious existence, in our memory, in premonition, in dying, in dreams, all those volatile, condensed states, evocations and cryptic reflections that are more likely to befall us than that we own them. In an attempt to grab hold of the eídolon, it dissipates as our reflection on the shimmering water surface would if we tried to reach for it. Homer leaves no doubt that apparitions in our dreams are real events. Whatever we perceive in our sleep is entirely valid within the ambiguous connections of our lives, no matter how distant they may be from the communicable world of our waking lives. The eídolon poses no threat to our obliga- tions but instead forms its own dimension, which reaches far intothe realm of possibilities and into the past, toward the unborn, the revenants, the remembered, and the departed.
Death and memory are intimately connected with the second I. The eídolon of a person only fully dissolves in rigor mortis of the body, gathering the life that has passed in its "meta- physical quality" (Jan Patocka), its tone of voice, individual attentiveness, body posture, some particular look, unfinished sentences, its pain. Both the commanding as well as the volatile identities of the departed life roam like spectres through the survivors in their hours of vulnerability. The identity's substance remains permeable and malleable for the sleeping, absent or distant, yet in death, the cut is final, a demarcation whose dark- ness draws in life, irreversible, irrevocable as it is.
The Doppelgänger is not the enemy of life but its burden, its completion and its productive demon. The Romans named the second I genius, called into existence at conception and indica- tive both of its overabundant origins as of its personal fertility. The Doppelgänger as genius completes the current, visible appear- ance, adding its history, which shapes the body, and whose buried faces are resurrected in it to form new pairs and format anew. The genius is thus the individual's deep shadow, its mirror, portrait, and universal historical entity. It represents those who have gone before us and who are always the majority:
"When we open our mouths, ten thousand dead also have a word." (Hugo von Hofmannsthal)
Eva Schwab's paintings gather these eídola and enigmatic demons: the individual timelines and storylines overlap like the skins of an onion and form threads of continuity, strands of all that is incomplete and recurrent but also what was severed and contin- ues to live on as open wounds or promises. These could be excres- cences, gestures, grounding existential experiences, transplanted horror and errors, the ongoing reliving of history, projection, clotting, traces, and hints. The preceding images, the reflectionsas well as the afterimages of life spread through the visible body, thereby highlighting how infinitely recognizable it is but also its mysterious absence: individuum est ineffabile. The same is true for the places, locations and gathering points of these bodies because they, too, have their shadow and their dark side, their historical depths where preceding generations gather to carry out the same rituals in a continuation of eternal exchange that is their duty in order to celebrate the occasion, the baptisms, the lumi- nous summer evenings, the nude, the hunt, the challenging gaze of the grandchildren. In these events, growth repeats itself and congeals into an image as in the case of the trophy antlers whose ornamental, frozen state causes the image to dissolve into a brittle stalk bogged down by perpetual beginnings.
The current motif of the painting—in Eva Schwab's case, a photograph—captures first the eye, providing the exit for the descent into the deep well of the past, its origins, which open up beneath the protective epidermia of the human body. The act of painterly recognition appears to run in the opposite direction to Plato's description of the cave allegory where the shadowy images formed the lowest level in the hierarchy of all that exists. The human beings, depicted in a fetal squat, are tied to this decep- tive view without any inkling of the evolvement taking place behind them: the faint glow of fire that briefly lights up the objects carried past and casts a jittery outline on the wall that forms the real world to the cave dwellers. Only those who man- age to turn around and dare the ascent from the depths of the cave through its "gradual, long channel" are able to reach the enlightening ideas, the sun and finally the invisible idea of good from which all seeing and being seen originates. The artist's eye opens up the light-infused images downward, so to speak. By digging into, expanding and liquifying the medium, the artist is turning the substance of the bodies into trickles and tissue, into penumbras and flimmering silhouettes until the body touches the perimeters of the well where the eídolon abruptly detaches itself into a glowing, precise, and unambiguous summary.It is almost as if the flash at exposure were expanded. Simple exposure, whose sole purpose it is to capture the external out- lines for visual rendering, is replaced by inner illumination—that painfully precise, yet indescribable moment of comprehension that grabs hold of us when certain moments in life occur before our eyes and demand to be memorized until time out of mind. The bodies recede back to the time of their creation, into the confluence of seeing and being seen, into the contours that "jump out" at us from the fabric of time, its manipulation and enrich- ment through time that leaves the captured moment behind and simultaneously and mysteriously carries it along.
Eva Schwab recreates the photographs on a wax-soaked canvas or by applying color pigment bound in hot wax onto the canvas. As the wax cools, the cotton threads of the canvas harden and turn transparent. As the emerging wax tableau accepts the image, the liquid application lets the image simultaneously bleed into its individual particles of reality. The wax functions as mem- ory plasma into which the multi-layered stamp of the present gets pressed, one may even say embedded like inlay: taste, tactile sensation, resonance, confusion, embarrassment reassem- ble the image from the inside out, thus fusing the painterly imag- ination together again as if to rekindle the here and now from the dead flotsam of the past.
The images rendered in liquified plasma become the Doppelgänger, the genius of the captured photograph like after- images that emerge with eyes closed. An afterimage is an appari- tion in the inner eye evoked by the reverberating sensation on the retinal cells. Contrary to the preceding light impulse that meets the eye directly from the outside, the inner image arises slowly, gradually. The slow emergence of the subsequent light perception underscores the fact that perception is never uncon- ditional, never occurs "suddenly" but instead in layers that coagulate, overlay, cover or bleed into each other. Afterimages show us the subjectivity of our perception and remind us that the inner eye continuously produces images that are simultaneously being overhauled, corrected, saturated or pushed along. The eye is no neutral lens. In it, the difference between interior and exterior implodes. Beyond the retina, which hides the dark pupil from common curiosity, there is a history web of cells, stigmas, lesions, quotations, rhythms, elective affinities, and transitions.
Eva Schwab's paintings are repossessions of reality. It is no accident that the utterly ordinary subjects of day-to-day life are accompanied by the topics of the hunt, the nude, and baptism. Just as the prey is shot and the kill lined up along the edge of the field, just as it assumes a new presence in the shape of deer heads with antlers on living room walls—where the trophies inevitably hang like stiff ancestral portraits at the back of those currently being "shot"—in that same manner, the different generations gather around the baptized child, who through immersion is being lifted from one present into another, from its natural state of being into a symbolic one, the memorable image. Immersion, just as the gunshot or the photographic flash, marks the instant switch from multi-layered meaning into unique meaning, at least "apparently" unique in that how we handle open-ended time takes on form.
In the midst of the virtual realities we are attempting to create with haste, Eva Schwab's reach back into the safe, the genealogical history of the universal photo album is reminiscent of bowing to the specific forms of life. Photographs in the family album are the catalyst just as strange tracks or elective affinities serve as a template. These are snapshots, posed shots that everyone owns. Resemblances, adopted traits, inheritance and ornament, the bent nape of the neck of the recipient who receives some news, the dramatized gesture of waving, the old, the clustered children, the taxidermy on the wall. Antlers, furs, ancestors, all of these spectres of reciprocal, referential growth repeat themselves in the individual like wefts in the fabric of time.
The point is not to destroy them but to illuminate them from within, to render them transparent to their own cominginto being, and to the fact that each present reality consists of countless moments of recognition. It is this fabric of abstractions, memories and speechlessness through which we "truly" persist or become "memorable" in the manner of an eídolon, an inti- mate, closing gesture on life. For it is ultimately to overcome time, manifested in death, that Mnemosyne supposedly gave wax to the mortals to coat our souls in its protective, yet open, porously receptive layer for interlinked traces of the past, pres- ent and future. Its wefts, tattoos and hardened surfaces have wrapped themselves around a well of bottomless vulnerability.
Silhouettes and flesh, skin and drawing, the outcroppings of memory, transitory characters that traverse the present. In it, the living, the dead, and the unborn interlink just as the three dimensions of time do, as if they were all permanently present and gone, as if they formed the unsettled background of any image that seems to speak only of the now and yet, as an image, will only be a relic of the past. Painting is tracking, hunting, digging, chemical analysis within the dry, image-captured regions of time.
The philosopher Heinrich Rickert called the free-floating constructs that preoccupy our intimate recollections more so than the historical facts "irreale Sinngebilde" (unreal emblems) that turn our focus on the future on its head and into the abyss-like well, that vertical intersection that goes by the name of the past to which we belong long before we can lay claim to it. Eva Schwab's paintings, palimpsests of empathy, pay tribute.

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Eva Schwab / Nachbilder

by Gerald Hintze (Translated from German by Birgit Nielsen)

They made shadowgraphs when they were bored, gathered around the table, because it was raining outside and the holidays were trickling away between their fingers. He was already four- teen, and they knew that he stooped a little to them, the young ones, but because they were girls he didn't mind, and so a bunch of rabbits hopped along the wall with the shadows of his hands. They hopped, scampered, jumped, sidestepped or died in the ditch. She was thirteen but played precocious, far ahead of her older brother in learned knowledge, asking him trick questions. She was wearing round nickle-plated glasses and stiff braids and tried on the role of a Puritan governess, who in due time would turn into a Gloria Swanson. "The family," she read to him from the red-bound volume, "is an active element, never stationary but growing from a lower to a higher form just as society devel- ops from a lower to a higher form. Kinship by contrast is passive because it progresses only after long intervals in response to the progress that occurs in the family over time. Kinship relation- ships therefore only register a radical changes when the family itself has radically changed." He took a look around the house, at the ornamental trim, the gilded decor, velvet window seats in the stairwell. The territory as a whole defines the communal way of life: bourgeois decency. Within this communal way of life, smaller sections of turf have been set up in the shape of apart- ments that define the respectability of the family. "How?" he asked. She turned her head so he wouldn't be able to look her in the eye. "With a razor blade," she said. "But that was at the hos- pital, and I had missed the vein somewhat. And because they found me so soon after, I never managed to bleed myself to death." Oh, he said, and though the face was still far, he gently caressed it with his lips. At that point she would've liked him, he knew that, to sleep with her even though she considered him a coward, of course, because of what had happened the night before, because he hadn't defend himself and because, to be hon-est, he wasn't as good-looking or as tall as the other men so he might actually not be able to lie on top of her right. No matter, it never came to that. When he had been crying inside the pram, he had often been rewarded with signs of life. His mother rocked the pram gently from side to side because she had noticed that most of the time he found that comforting. The painful lack of exercise, of experience, of everthing his ancestors had had expe- rience in their first few months is mitigated somewhat by this rocking back and forth which, even though a meager experience, was better than nothing. She loved paper dolls—always had. She loved cutting them free from the sheet, to liberating them into life. When she was still small, these paper dolls seemed very glam- orous. All this was long before Barbie, and most girls preferred their baby dolls. Paper dolls came in greater variety and were much more fashionable than their three-dimensional cousins. With paper dolls, she was able to try out things and let her imag- ination run free. Dolls were never embarrassed, not even when naked. After a while, which the woman had spent waiting qui- etly by the window, he said, "Yes, I'm afraid." She said that she loved no one. When someone says they love no one, they expects something incongruous, something absolute, something that will cause them to crash like Icarus, whose wax wings melted when he flew too close to the sun. But it was too late. "We are inside one tunnel, we are moles," she said, "that burrow deep through the soil and recognize each other blind," she said, "which is hardly surprising," he said, "since there's nothing else down there but blind recognition. Yes," he said, "I'm afraid," and the door had fallen shut when the woman turned around to look.