The depiction of animals in my artworks touch on a cultural memory of mankind that is basically schizophrenic. On the one hand there is the animal as a lower species: bred, used, consumed, eaten, trained and killed, on the other side there stands an icon: friend, protector, savior, giver of consolation, symbol, dream image, alter ego.
What fascinates me about these seemingly irreconcilable extremes as an artist and philosopher is what humans reveal about themselves when dealing with animals, especially about how they relate to themselves and to the people around them. The animal as a victim of power, discipline, optimization and a from a psychological point of view erratic fear-love, is an artistically inexhaustible source for me, because in all its shapes, types of movement and anthropologically charged meanings I find image models that reflect human suffering - above all the suffer from ourselves - in a visual, that is, sensual language. The picture goes deeper than the word. The whole universe of domination, inequality, foreignness, physical and mental domestication and even exploitation finds its place in it.
At the same time - as I said, the matter is schizophrenic - depictions of the animal and the often mythologically steeped ideas about its nature represent beauty, strength and spirituality. Animal beings have become our spiritual companions, guides and protective symbols. We seek their closeness and affection.
This culturally rooted ambivalence of humans, which is reflected in their relationships with animals, I use in my works as mirror elements for the relationship between people and others, as well as my relationship to myself.
Wounds are an inspiration in my artistic work. When a wound has been teared, it has to be cared for, healed, there is scab that falls off, and then again scabs that create new skin, which falls off again, etc. To work on my paintings is very similar: I build surfaces and strike in it wounds, form shapes and injure them with solvents or mechanical interventions. In this way, from the areas that have been applied and removed on the canvases situations gradually emerge, which for me are scarred landscapes. What is still there at the end has survived, what is not, has at least left traces when it disappeared.
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari coined the term “desiring machine” (machine désirante – a machine lusting after sth.) to describe their idea of a productive “mechanical” unconscious. Here is a short quote from the birth writing of the desiring machines:
“It breathes, warms, eats. It sucks, it fucks. The Es … Everywhere there are machines in the truest sense of the word: machines of machines, with their clutches and gears. An organ machine connected to a source machine: the electricity produced by the last is interrupted by the other. The breast is a machine for making milk, and the mouth machine is linked to it. The mouth of the person without appetite stands between an eating machine, an anal machine, a speaking machine, a breathing machine (asthma attack). In this sense everyone is a modeler; everyone has his own little machines.“ (Deleuze/ Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia I)
Unlike Freud, the father of theories about the unconscious, Deleuze and Guattari oppose the idea that the unconscious is purely psychological, that is, hidden somewhere in our heads. Instead, for them, it is also in all technical and social processes and interactions. The social and cultural world in which we live is always also the world in which our unconscious takes place or in which it also plays a part (how we perceive things or what feelings they trigger in us, for example).
In a work series in 2021, I dealt with Deleuze's and Guattari's concept of "desiring machines" as a model for understanding works of art, their effect and the impulses that drive me as an artist. Like all "desiring machines", the unconscious is always active, productive and triggers desires (wishes, needs, hopes).
The reference to Deleuze's and Guattari's "desiring machine" concept is in a way a (self-)criticism of category formations such as female vs. male or animalistic (animal) vs. cultivated (human) — themes that appear again and again in my pictures. If one reads societies as a complex coexistence of “desiring machines”, relations such as cause and effect, perpetrator and victim, ruler and the ruled, rich and poor, discriminator and discriminated lose their clarity. Hierarchical thinking loses its footing and everyone is, so to speak, in the same boat.
Such an approach is as radical as it is problematic, but also thought-provoking. I am interested in setting such conflicts in motion in my paintings. For Deleuze and Guattari, among others, society, language, the body, life, the economy, literature, painting, imagination, schizophrenia and capitalism are “desiring machines”. Assuming that we also understand the male gaze as a "desiring machine": caused by desires, for example power and sexuality, the opposite direction also opens up here: the female body as a "machine" that (potentially) wants to show itself and be desired and which in turn gains its own power from this. And vice versa: what kind of "desiring machine" would the female gaze be?
Finally, artworks themselves can be described as machines of desire. From the artist's point of view, they can be a kind of space for expression for conflicts, whether individual or collective, whether conscious or unconscious. From the recipient’s side, they can become projection surfaces for fears and longings, but also for those who look at them productively or have an effect on them.
(c) Maria Wirth | All texts are copyrighted and may not be quoted or reproduced without permission.