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Making the Invisible Visible

»Because we are like logs in the snow. They seem to be resting smoothly on top and a gentle nudge is all it would need to move them, it seems. But in fact it cannot be done because they are inseparably linked to the ground. And look ! Even that is only seemingly so.«
Franz Kafka: The Trees


The art of Ingeborg zu Schleswig-Holstein is object-free, an observation that does not require much of an analytical mind. The facts are obvious and moreover, they reflect her own testimony as to what she wants from art. What object-free actually means might require finer precision: The works of this painter do not picture objects that hail from our visible world of superficial certainties. Much rather, they are themselves the objects, the freshly created stuff, in other words the phenomenon which warrants a closer look, not in terms of quality of reflection and re-interpretation of something previously and visibly physical but in light of one independent form of existence among others.

One exhibition of her works from the year 1990 was entitled »Noumenon« which we should translate in Plato s sense as something which can be experienced spiritually in contrast to the phenomenon which can be perceived visually. This probing into things behind things, the realization of rings of ideas and elaborations grounded in transcendental thinking is apparent as an artistic-spiritual basic position in Ingeborg zu Schleswig- Holstein s work to date. But: how will it take visual form?

There is no user manual for the correct viewing of and the critical look at these works. Like any other piece of art these demand room to move from the viewer, not least because they want to create a physical specification of the relationship between work of art and viewer of same. Moreover, the artist knows how to develop her works in relation to a specific space.

One such example is her project »Weg ins Licht« (Way Into the Light) from 1986: Ogees and rosettes of the clerestory of Sankt Katharinen, an early German basilica in Hamburg for which she designed twelve tableaux. These twelve pairings take effect on their way above the nave towards the apse, moving from the dark chaos of bright and broad color graphemes whose background gold leaf is shining through only tentatively at first until in the apsis it emerges as a bright and shining light, having cut all loud colors down to size. For the artist who time and againquotes from the symbolism of Christian religion this is a visual of the transcendence of the earth-heavy worldliness of this side to redemption and the freedom from such earthly burdens.

Religious symbols are evoked in a whole range of her works, among them a series of untitled pieces which could be addressed as »Rote Bilder« (Red Paintings) and whose basic form is a triangle applied on the surface in leaf gold. The color palette in this series is a reduced one: dynamic force and existence are brought to life by red and yellow. For the meaning of these works Ingeborg zu Schleswig-Holstein evoked the word pairings life and mind while the color red is provided with a chain of associations ranging from blood, passion, alive, life-giving words that she places into this side of the world.

As a viewer, stepping into the red works, one is tempted to add the invidual sensation of how the triangle beyond all Christian scope for interpretation symbolizing the Holy Trinity, is sometimes shining through stronger and at other times weaker in its static position. Red and yellow surge against it, red dots are snowing against the glistening golden surface and yet: it all feels impregnable and unshakeable. The calm, collected, geometric shape of the golden light appears thus in the face of the vital color force brandishing against it and regardless of the source of otherwordly understanding or religion we use as a description: experiencing hope and peace in front of the red images will unite religious with non-religious viewers.

Making possible fundamental experiences of human existence and human striving defines the creativity of Ingeborg zu Schleswig-Holstein, also beyond the »Rote Bilder«. It is particularly manifest in her project »Raum der Stille« (Room of Silence) which was commissioned for the Hamburg Mediale in 1993.

On the site of a fair where the atmosphere normally is hectic and intentions are governed by success achieved in tiny timeframes against a high degree of dispossession of self because of outward influences, she designed a sound-void room with a base of 3 x 5 meters. Might one want to liken the person entering such a room to a motor suddenly going into neutral, un-coupled from the just described monopolization? The walls of the room were colored in ultramarine and lightly lit from below; the sensation was one of depth and space and there was nothing to disturb this sensation because the room was absolutely still and quiet as if the artist was carrying in her heart the final verse of the poem »Abseits« (On the Outside): Kein Ton der neuen Zeit / drang noch in diese Einsamkeit (no sound of times to come/ entered this loneliness) by German poet Theodor Storm and tried to give it texture and body.

Do we need to look for a spiritual meaning? The body of work is up for it. Nevertheless, it needs no religious reasoning because what makes the paintings of Ingeborg zu Schleswig-Holstein so exceptional is the creation of the sensation of longing for that which one does not know but feels exists whenever the viewer gives these paintings serious thought.

Quite often, the paintings of Ingeborg zu Schleswig-Holstein are large-scale and will, even when bordering on the monochrome, show a definitive hand versed in color. Early works are defined by hectically entered symbols, brief movements in bright colors creating activated color-fields, returning symbols like quarter oscillations which feel like flickering flames and create a colorful chaos. These early works are restless and exude vitality. In later works, this colorfulness has faded away and the intentional color disharmony of red and blue is toned down by using a shade of red that pulls in the direction of blue. After the series of red paintings with a triangle worked in leaf gold, yellow is adding to the painter s palette and mixes with red to create various closely related oranges. The geometric form has vanished.

Even if there is much mention of colors and values which define the art of Ingeborg zu Schleswig-Holstein, this is not to say that color in her works is a value in itself. Color is dynamically active. This results in chords with intermittent wavecrests of screaming white when light flecks of colors cover a dark area and vice versa. Moments of highest density in color movements and color sparks flying off create an idea of invisible resistance and as a result of the red images still visible to the inner eye the obviously taming power of the golden triangle seems to be still active, although acting in hiding, in her later works.Which leads to the question whether her works can be interpreted.

In the sense of reading matter, as in reading a printed text, we would answer in the negative. Because even if the artist herself offers support at times by pointing to the Christian symbol circle for the use of forms and colors, it must be noted that it is our language and the concept we have of truly incomprehensible ideas like eternity, redemption or hope, can also only insufficiently express what people aware of such ideas and concepts, feel, think or perceive. In this way, her works make sense in their existence. They are pointing to nothing deriving from the sphere of certainty created by the visible physical experience of the viewer. Much rather, they are an added experience granted to a viewer provided he »changes his eye back into an organ intended for seeing and not for thinking«, to quote Jules Laforgue. This applies even when the psychological or biographical disposition of the viewer may provide hints at an object or where titles like »Blaue Blume« (Blue Flower), »Tanz« (Dance) or »Margaux« will open a door leading into the fantasy world of the

Certainly the fact should not be overlooked that these paintings need an active viewer. Active in the sense that interaction between him and the piece of art is necessary. One might assume this insight is a given. But it is not because an intellectual attitude of registering art facts and searching them for useful content without being prepared of abandon oneself to the power of the painting, ready to discover only what can be expressed in the painting by artistic means, will produce nothing but than splendidly colored decoration. Life is breathed into the painting only if the viewer bares his soul to him.

Barbara M. Thiemann

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