A Painting-Performance by Barbara Heinisch and how it turned into Photographic images
Ages ago I had written about Barbara Heinisch and one of her public painting-performances. We somehow lost contact, until it was renewed in 2005. We met at my third solo show “Von allen bösen Geistern verlassen” (Abandoned by all evil spirits) at Samuelis-Baumgarte gallery in Bielefeld. Barbara Heinisch had the idea to invite me to one of her performances in her studio, to take photographs of it. I agreed immediately, as it was clear from the start that the shooting would not be a documentary one, but rather one guided by the photo-artist’s natural desire to create strong images.
The situation of such a performance in the studio is a challenge, as there isn’t any way of “staging” something. The model behind the canvas, whose forms Barbara Heinisch follows with her brush mediating the given situation with her artistic intentions, cannot be told by the photographer to take this or that position, much in contrast to my usual work with – predominantly nude – models. Barbara Heinisch creates a frame choreography together with her model. Artist and model share a kind of sign language called “contact improvising”. This interaction between artist and model can only be experienced, not influenced. The artist cannot be told to move here, there or anywhere – she’s where she is and that’s where she has to be, according to the agreed choreography.
There isn’t any flash- or other light except the natural, the available light. And this didn’t, in this case, come from above, rather from a large balcony window door and a smaller window. Good heavens. It felt like being out hunting in the woods in order to shoot a deer. Or a hare.
Hovering and moving around the happenings in the centre of the room, with a growing pain in the back because of the constant need to either bow or kneel, ever trying to find an image on the screen and to push the button at the very right moment. All that with a 160 ASA 6x6 film, mostly a 50 mm lens (wide angle) and 1/30 of a second at either 8 or 5.6. Not a situation you dream of.
Funny enough, the photo artist’s situation somehow mirrored that of the painter. Barbara Heinisch has a canvas installed in the studio, the model – Susan McDonald, the dancer, in this case – moving behind it whilst touching it, giving both a slight imprinted and a shadow of the position. The model concentrated on her movements, accompanied by music, in an almost Zen-like manner. Barbara Heinisch follows these movements and shadows, starting from one pose and the following others, just in the moment she deems appropriate: It is a new serious artistic decision every time, the former decisions influencing the latter.
Also the choice of colours is such an artistic decision, an aesthetic structuring. It may depend on the model or the mood or both, and the mood is determined by both the emotions of the model and the artist. Less by the fellow trying to cull an image from the ongoing intense action. A painting with a green and yellow base note will be completely different from one with a harmony in blue and red. Although Barbara Heinisch has a tendency to cast the emotions of the performances in more expressive forms and colours, there is ample room for the lyrical, too. The painter must take decisions quickly, sometimes, as the
duration of the pose of the model doesn’t follow any present timetables. So the brushstrokes themselves have to be quick, and so they will, inevitably, be representative of action. It’s not that Barbara Heinisch follows the path of action painting. She doesn’t follow any path but the one she’s making herself. In action painting, the image is much more self-referential, Barbara Heinisch’s paintings are the result of interaction, thus capturing space and time through movement and its tracing by the brush.
The brushstrokes following the model’s position carry out a constant dialogue and interchange with those of a more autonomous nature, which are there because the artist feels the need to be there – pictorially counterbalancing values, hues, forms, and other pictorial elements. The result is always a striking image, full of life, ever reverberating with the intensity and the emotions, the concentration and the flow of the procedural setting, which led to its coming-into-being.
On a different level, the same is true for the photographs. The portraits, so to say, of the artist and the model at work try to capture the emotional values mentioned. They try to create and recreate an image of the painted image, using their own aesthetic strategies. The painter’s hand holding a bowl of colour in front of the half-finished canvas will, naturally, be structured by the viewer as to composition and form just like the painting. Interesting fact: The photograph allows that, the real existent half-finished canvas could not allow this. Yet, the painted image, and the performance, and the photograph do not share a “portemanteau”-relation (like that of the Russian puppet in a puppet). Rather their relation is like that of the electrons flying around the nucleus of an atom: They are always present on the entire hole of their way and can leap from one to the other without having to cross the space between. It’s what the call the quantum leap.
The painting and it’s “history” of production are as present in the photographs as the photograph is aesthetically independent of the finished painting and its earlier stages. A physicist isn’t able to determine a particle’s speed and location at the same time. The viewer will find himself in a similar position opposite the photographs, as he, while seeing an autonomous image, will either recognize a painting in the making or a photograph of it, realising that he cannot really see a painting in the making, only an image of it. Strange.
In front of the finished painting by Barbara Heinisch, the viewer will see a complete work of art, but one which with every trace of the brush tells the story of how it was produced. Presence a history and history as presence. The presence of art. Gerhard Charles Rump