Anna Schachinger extends processes of tidying and repurposing into her paintings. The result bears witness to the intensification of routine as a means to resist stagnation.
Following her exhibition Hitze at Sophie Tappeiner in Spring 2020, Anna Schachinger has been working intensely in the studio, using the suspended time of repeated lockdowns to concoct a sense of order among disparate materials and observe spilled pigments as they settle for the canvas. These strategies seem to question the logic of seeing the present crisis as an opportunity – even if they arise in the context of deepened focus afforded by the new ubiquity of quarantines and curfews. By way of arranging, mediating and crossing materials, Schachinger’s most recent works instead demonstrate how meaning can be generated in isolation – and point to a future in which we might emerge to figure each other out once again.
Anna Schachinger and Miriam Stoney first met at a birthday party in Vienna’s 16th District, where they talked about the respective weights of different pigments and how the size of the artist’s studio influences the work produced in it. One splintered year later, they pick up the conversation again – this time, by email.
Our first (formal) conversation was structured in paragraphs: some horizontal, some vertical. That is to say, there was a table at which we sat and talked about all sorts of things (horizontal), and then there were the works you had hung on the walls, which we discussed (vertical). What can you communicate about your work in these two different planes?
I’m glad that you bring up the space issue. While I’m painting, the works are constantly changing their position between these two planes. They have to lie flat on the table if I’m working on them wet, and then again, I hang them on the wall for other procedures. But once they are finished, they only occupy the space that you call vertical. Leaving our horizontal conversation on the table, they become something that is being discussed, looked at, and at best, is also looking back.
We talked about the surreptitious processes of ordering, tidying and repurposing materials that occur just below the immediately visible planes of your work. There are allusions that could be made here with second-wave feminist quilting practices or even Mierle Ladermann Ukeles »Maintenance Art«, though I’m not sure I’m convinced by these myself. It seems to me that you re-valorise your materials through these processes; they are subsumed into the artwork in such a way that they almost disappear. How do you understand the role of pragmatism in your work?
So far, I have considered this continuous tidying up and repurposing within my work as a gesture stemming as much from avarice as from an ecological impetus. But I guess that’s also pragmatic in a way? What both annoys and encourages me is that there are still works leaving the studio and escaping this everlasting circle of recycling. And putting paint on fabric is at its core neither cheap nor sustainable – the idea of classical painting even being to outlast, without rotting, for as long as possible. I hope some of my paintings fall apart, disintegrate, rot away before me. Can I say this out loud?
Yes, but I’m also putting things in order. Not in a Hanne Darboven kind of way – I hope it’s more like with Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, in the sense that I’m not putting the fluids in a closet to put nice etiquettes on them, but rather spilling them all over the fabric to see how they actually look and how they can work together once they are all out there.
It didn’t occur to me at first, but now I see it clearly. Spillage is an especially good way to deflect from certain tropes in abstract painting. Now that we’ve touched upon space, maybe you’ll indulge me by expanding on time. The past year has felt for many like a period of suspension, though I don’t really see this reflected on your most recent canvasses. Does painting – or perhaps just being in the studio – offer you another experience of time, in the midst of a stagnating temporality?
The stagnating temporality gives me a lot of time in the studio, as during the lockdowns it’s really the only place I am supposed to go. In these last few years, I’ve always produced for specific shows. This gave me particular contexts to play with and against and led me to make shows around a specific theme, as my last exhibition »Hitze« which circulated around women’s sauna culture in public baths. Right now, I am free floating in the studio, and I have no goal, except to clean up through working. Through this riddance of outer context, the work process itself is really all there is. I’m sure this makes the bond between the studio, it’s routines and the paintings even more prominent.
But as for the spilling – it’s actually the trope of abstract expressionist painting. I’m aiming here for Lee Krasner’s use of it: just as another step in the process of creating a painting, one that I wouldn’t have assumed to do beforehand already.
You seem to have moved away from figuration, for the most part, since your last exhibition. Was this a conscious decision?
These works that rely mainly on the lines we once talked about, are the most adequate translation for this moment in time I could come up with. They can hold extreme inwardness and serenity as well as fragility, chaos and disaster. I did not set out to paint abstract works per se, but through working on them they start to make sense to me.
The lines are fascinating! They’re continually tapering, always meandering and yet quite clear in their intention to arrive somewhere. What do these lines navigate? Or what do you navigate with these lines?
Recently, I read the book by Deleuze about Bacon’s paintings, and there he describes something he calls the »Gothic line« – which is a force that encapsulates the whole surface of the painting, making it vibrate on a potency that is higher than one (>1). This line is neither a contour nor an outline. It is a force, that bends and wiggles according to what it meets on the way. This really resonates with me; it is so close to the making of these lines and how in the best case they seem to be moving the painting from within. These lines can also bend into heads, animals etc, but right now, I am interested what they can do just by themselves, as a pure force.
That is such a seductive idea, »pure force« – but your lines do not delineate a factual reality or a figure of stability… Have you heard of the American psychologist and activist Temple Grandin? She developed the »squeeze machine« as a teenager, inspired by the cattle crush, as a mechanical treatment for her own hypersensitivity to touch. Your works seem so volatile to me; the lines are running riot, and meaning refuses to be pinned down. How do you envisage these particular paintings’ transposition into the outside world, perhaps one day being contained in an exhibition setting, with an audience and diverse breaths on their surfaces?
I always ask myself whether it is possible to make abstract paintings that deal with this moment in time in a way that does not conceal all its cruelty, but which still gives solace. I hope that they get through the transition into the exhibition space, bearing witness to this inquiry.