artistic works by Heike Lydia Grüß represent a special combination of
science and an explorer spirit, which she investigates by drawing
literally on old photographs of journeys to the colonies dating from
1870 to 1930. They depict the flora and fauna at the time and show
people within the structure of their families, traditions, myths of
creation, religion and spiritualism, and taboos. Simultaneously, these
images project a Western European perspective onto these countries at
the time. Grüß first worked on the subject of colonialism in the book Das
Weib bei den Naturvölkern. Eine Kulturgeschichte der primitiven Frau
(The Woman and the Primitives. A Cultural History of the Primitive
Woman) (1931), edited by Ferdinand Freiherr von Reitzenstein. The
title of her first two cycles of drawings name this influence
explicitly: "Reitzenstein" (2005). Closely linked to these artistic
works is an engagement with anthropological theories, in particular
Edward Burnett Tylor's (1832-1917) classical definition of culture.
According to Tylor, the anthropological concept of culture refers to
ones expectations of the knowledge, customs, religions, morals and art
of a people of a society. Tylor's term of "survivals" - the artifacts
that allow a glimpse into the life of nearly forgotten societies -
opens a new perspective for interpreting Heike Lydia Grüß' works. We
see how they draw on the images and imagination of explorers from
bygone times, but have now been changed, painted over and distorted.
Grotesquely and chimera-like, they are holding up a mirror to the early
fascination with far-away countries. Thus Tylor's concept of
"survivals" gains a new level of meaning as the artist rearranges
excerpts and fragments of the photographs and creates new links, i.e.,
new stories about the cultures that were seemingly lost.
The engagement with the photographs opens new questions: to what extent were the images of a foreign country preconceived; to what extent does the viewer attempt to force the impressions and the discovery into the frame of his own experiences and to match them with his preconceptions? To what extent is the viewer open-minded towards the unexpected, that which does not fit into his world view? Did the European explorer create his concept of the foreign landscapes including the people living in it prior to his trip or did he search for a fulfillment of a geographic utopia?
In Grüß' discussion of such questions, art becomes a territory of exploration and discovery. Looking at the old photographies being adapted, painted over and newly arranged, their multiple layers create a mis-en-scene, generating also new faces. However, the distortion of these images results also in an opening of their layers, allowing a glimpse beneath a surface which emerges as a parallel world just as valid as our regular world of experience. Step by step the drawings form markers on a path, changing themselves as a device of exploring the foreign and the familiar, the close and the far-away come together. Art becomes the vehicle of knowledge and experience.
(Ulrike Olms) (Translation by Ulrike Nichols)
To announce new shapes
transformed into new bodies
my spirit pushes me.
(Ovid. Metamorphoses. First Book)