The animals in my paintings allude to cultural memory and its schizophrenia regarding the relationship between man and nature, man and animal. On the one hand, the animal stands as a lower species: bred, used, consumed, consumed, trained and killed; on the other hand, there is an icon: friend, protector, saviour, comforter, symbol, dream image, alter ego. 

What interests me about these seemingly irreconcilable extremes is what humans reveal about themselves in their dealings with animals, in particular how they relate to themselves and their fellow human beings. The animal as a victim of power, discipline, optimisation and a love of fear that is incalculable from a psychological point of view is an inexhaustible source for me artistically, as I find visual models in animal figures, modes of locomotion and myths that lend a visual, sensual language to human suffering, above all the suffering of ourselves.

At the same time, animals represent beauty, strength and spirituality. For humans, animals are spiritual companions, signposts and symbols of protection. We seek their closeness and affection. I use this ambivalence of humans in their relationship with animals as mirror elements for the relationship between myself and others and also my relationship with myself.


Wounds are an inspiration for my artistic work. When a wound is inflicted, it has to be treated and healed, scabs are formed that fall off, and scabs are formed again, allowing new skin to grow. I work on my paintings in a similar way: I build surfaces and make wounds in them, mould figures and damage them with solvents or mechanical influences. What is still there at the end has survived, what has not, has left traces behind when it disappears.

Desiring machines

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 can have an effect on those who look at them.


(c) Maria Wirth | All texts are copyrighted and may not be quoted or reproduced without permission.