art historian, director Niederösterreisches Landesmuseum St. Pölten
catalogue en detail, May 2003

    Text in catalogue for exhibition en detail at the lukas feichtner gallery, 2003


Strata and Reception in the work of Eva Wagner

"Als hätten wir Angst, das Andere
in der Zeit unseres eigenen Denkens
zu denken."

Michel Foucault


During the 19th Century two new pictural modes developed in painting, constituted above all by photography and representing a reflexive virulence up to this day: the fragmentary and the new configuration of image, time and space. In concrete terms the fragmentary manifests itself as a question of details, the image-space relationship as the phenomenon of the surface (simultaneously implying the inversion of the relationship between space and time).

Eva Wagner's painting marks both positions and crosses them with the contemporary experience of reality as conveyed by the pictorial medium. The experience of photography represents a starting point here. Her photographs of human, mainly female bodies (only a few of her paintings deal with landscapes) function to a certain extent as thepainting’s ground, and are the basis and motivation behind her painting, which situates a further parallel perspective facet: the area of conflict between the figurative and the abstract.

If we understand pictures as the other of the view, we can interpret the elements of the fragmentary, of the details, the space and the surface as a quasi-archaeological gesture. In the first instance it is the modus operandi for her painting itself. Extremely varied layers of paint and colour are applied over each other, removed, reapplied once more; a progression is revealed strata for strata. Its focus always includes the painted representation of photographic images. If what Jacques Lacan once said is true, that we not only see images but rather they co-constitute as it were our view, we are talking about an archaeology of views in a receptive sense.

The formal elements of the painting and the mixed media cross here in a hybrid fashion with the thematic of the images. The transfer of photography to painting effects an archaeological resolution of the representational and the figurative, and is reminiscent of cave painting. Here too, a hybrid state evoked by merging the media of photography in painting, which, conditioned by the oscillation between photo-realistic (figurative) and formal structures (abstraction), opens up further archaeological terrain: that of the sharp and the blurred, the visible and the invisible, the absent and the present.

Above all it is the latter which points to another essential aspect of the archaeological, namely that of the temporal. The artist talks repeatedly of memory images and of being able to create experiences of time by going through states and actions (it is not a coincidence that the paintings are also reminiscent of film). The notion of the archaeological situates the moment of time as a layer, which also becomes transparent as a pictorial layer in accordance with the respective strata in the form of views. Sigmund Freud was the first to formulate an archaeological theory of time in connection with his interpretation of dreams. It is telling that in conversation the artist herself repeatedly mentions dream sequences which characterise her work. If we do not understand this as romanticism but as a complex interplay of the conscious and the unconscious, the present and the absent, the visible and the invisible, then we are able to discern a concept of time which is neither chronological nor linear, one that is divers, heterogeneous and multi-layered, i.e. archaeological.

This also brings elementary anthropological issues into the visual domain of the paintings. Precisely through the inclusion of the photographic medium, the relationship between image, subject and time are emphatically scrutinised, acknowledging that there is an inevitable connection in an image-based society between the notion of the image, the notion of the subject and the desire for arrested time. In a subtle way the artist works on this arrested time in the form of eliminating the boundaries of space, time and subject matter in order to dream in an anthropological-archaeological manner the only dream we all have: the dream of immortality.



  eva wagner
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