Evelyn Plaschg sets human figures within worlds of feeling and spirituality, in representations that are always on the brink of blissful dissolution.
On the back of a residency with the same institution, Evelyn Plaschg prepares for her upcoming exhibition »Possessions« at the Kunstverein Nürnberg, just opened on March 13. Working between these fluctuating conditions of generous spatial provision and perpetual displacement, moving back and forth between such engagements and a more settled life in Vienna, her larger-format works on paper attempt to situate a body that is always on the move. Plaschg draws from a surprising variety of media references, including print and digital media, to introduce formal tension within the softer lines of her anatomical, naturalistic figurations. An effect of this is to produce a machinic dynamic in which the fleshly body must remain flexible and fugitive in order to survive. Portraits by Marie Haefner.
Your current studio space appears large, expansive and airy. The walls are populated by these figures: their gazes and gestures infiltrate the area you inhabit. How do you move in relation to these figures, especially as they become more vital the more you tease them out?
The generous studio space where I was residing for the last five months was given to me upon an invitation of Kunstverein Nürnberg and the Marianne-Defet-Stiftung. It was a seclusive but pleasant time, inhabiting this place where I both lived and worked. Concerning the figures that I surround myself with: I think I am pretty much an observer. Looking at them over days or weeks, sometimes months, I seek to discover relations between the gestures, moods and movements. A bit like formulating a sentence with signs and trying to understand what it is that they are telling me. The narrative might change and grow with each decision, which is something I find very exciting.
There’s something quite »geworfen« (thrown) about the bodies in your paintings, which could make them appear quite vulnerable. What do you understand the »subject« of your works to be?
I often start from a point of agitation but aim for one that comes to realise itself. It could be trying to feel what is going on in a moment and staying there for a while. An attempt towards, and an exercise in, attention. Curiosity for that which I don’t know, subtle changes, uncanniness and landing in a quiet place. I’m interested in subjects trusting themselves in their own experiences.
This is intriguing, considering the role of the ›self‹, and especially your-self, in your work. To fall back on personal references, and especially one’s own body, must require a great deal of trust both in oneself as an artist and as an ethical actor in a network of delicate relations. How do you inhabit these different roles when in your artistic practice?
It’s challenging! There’s a lot of chaos to navigate through. Indeed, I experience working as an artist as living in cycles, by which I go through different states that require a lot of switching between modes and forms of communication.
Once the personal is pointed out it’s suddenly not so personal anymore. I experience this process as liberating and don’t consider the self as something solid, rather I see it as a permeable vessel with shifting properties to deal with. Letting sensations take me over and watching them pass through my system is something I’m curious about and provides endless substance to work with.
Secluding myself within my work gives me time to pause and look at things, to witness, shed layers and to revalue. I like to search for what’s left of virtue as soon as external stimulation and reassurances leave. So it is that I find the stability necessary to reconnect with the world in fresh ways.
Still, it requires my emotional capacity to handle energies and some willingness to accept changes. I must repeatedly connect with something inward, to feel where I am standing in order to start acting.
Something that struck me as very beautiful when I saw your works at the gallery Pina in Vienna last summer was that you manage to show bodies that are neither perfectly whole nor fetishisingly fragmented.
What one perceives as beautiful is mostly ephemeral by its very nature and I’m compelled by this conflict in trying to find and own bliss, as well as a recurring disillusionment that comes along when holding on to it. I cherish physicalities with my eyes and hands while working, but I habitually proof or test the images on their level of voidness. I try to keep a bigger picture in mind and maybe leave myself or my actions out of it, a bit. There’s great pleasure in withholding. But that also often means a lot is being erased or thrown out again. Distance is key to picturing what is felt.
At the same time, you seem to be working with tropes of visual art that refuse distance, because their effects are so immediate: the representation of naked, gendered bodies and the histories of such representations, as well as their refutation through a distinctly female [auto-]eroticism. I wonder whether it’s worth saying anything more about these things, or should we just let you and your works speak for yourselves?
At one point, after having avoided figuration in my work for a long time, I found myself interested in exploring something that seems so prescribed and occupied: the body, with its cultivated forms of representation and taboos. I have an affinity for certain features, like large surfaces, melting shapes and slots. By creating this autoerotic imagery, I find a way out, it is joyful to connect to its kind of vitality. I find in the erotic a motion of human openness towards life.
Am I right in thinking that you work from a colour field base, and the figures emerge from this density of pigment? Can you describe this process?
It has developed like this in the past, yes. Although the labour initially starts with the colours, most of the time I have photographs beforehand – unless I decide the work to be abstract.
One part is to act with a camera and to collect photo material; sometimes I ask friends to picture them. Then I start by choosing the colours and a mood and apply the pigments in an abrasive way on the floor. This part needs most of my physical involvement. The figures I draw rather fast and directly and I try to stick to bigger shapes. I like simple gestures and very much enjoy the vivacity in lines and movements.
I don’t allow myself to err, but rather I try to keep up the energy until there’s nothing more to do. There’s this development, which is a kind of emptying out – at which point, I focus on the more sensitive parts like colour shading, facial expressions or details that require closer attention. Anyway, there’s a lot of stop-and-go moments in which I seek to let myself be surprised by the direction the process takes.
You don’t use binders in these processes – the works must be quite unstable in some ways, sensitive to every touch and new application. How does this »vibrant matter« resonate with a psychological ethos in your work?
The open structure and fragility of the powdery, velvet-like surface keeps the picture in an approachable state, to imply a fleeting immediacy. It’s a disclosure of permeability.
At the same time, it is intrusive because it demands careful handling. I like to recall how little intervention is needed to induce a difference and to mark or formulate an impression.
You’re also developing a musical practice alongside your works on paper, and I found it quite sublime to image these bodies dissolving on the page under the intensity of your sound vibrations.
I started to do short performances with the recorder and to record music three years ago, when somewhat really clicked for me by bringing those hidden pleasures and passions into the exhibition space. Actually, I’m still in the process of linking those practices together and develop it further, but I like your thought about it a lot.
The wooden recorder carries this meandering, nomadic and light-hearted melancholy of the wanderer in it, which I find so beautiful. It is very child-like. Adding it up with electronic parts or voice enables me to create more fractured, tensioned atmospheres and thus follow my inclination to unearth some potentially psychedelic ambiences. I’d like to create precise settings within collaborations where I’m able to anticipate the revels of those different descents. I am already planning for some ventures to come into being this year.