Von Alters her, 2017

Von Alters her / From the Old is the title of Claudia Sarnthein’s new body of work. Contours of the folkloric, the pagan and the Christian, Mesopotamia and the remote future reside, side by side, in her installation. Paintings on wood, linen and glass, alongside a group of brightly coloured ceramic and textile works hold a myriad of surfaces, patterns and textures, each asking for its individual reading distance and timeframe. This new ensemble of images and objects forms a fragmentary, yet subtly choreographed, notation of central European timelines. Old metaphors of vessel, cloth and table, reminding us of remote customs, folk art and Arts and Crafts – the ‘hand-made’ as an attempt to reach from the very old to the far future. Morgenrot / Aurora, the guiding image presented on the invitation card, brings to mind both Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (2011) and Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus (1920), and of course Walter Benjamin’s Engel der Geschichte (1940). There is, in addition, a small display of Sarnthein’s artist’s books, giving an overview of her practice and the wide-range of media she works in.

Press Release, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin 2017


Von Alters her – From the Old

If I were writing this thirty years ago on expressive heterogeneity, synthesis, pattern, craft and decoration, my thoughts would have appeared in the minds of most at that time as completely peripheral to what was considered to be artistically progressive and modern. But with what Claudia Sarnthein calls her integrated and inter-relational painting-led spatial installations, heterogeneous in contents, yet simultaneously singular and autonomous multi-material based objects, we find a highly personal language that challenges the former closed and limiting attitudes of modernist teleology. For on closer inspection the artist's prophetic search for a set of personal UR-metaphors, that is to say the core and generative roots of original expressive meaning, is not without a clear and lucid sense of creative self-reintegration. The artist's innovative paintings, on either wood or glass, retain the flatness of a Matissean sense of the modern, and the developmental role played by her use of textiles, tapestries, and ceramic-based works redress issues of a once denigrating attitude towards pattern and decoration. In fact with the prevailing cast of the virtual, and the contemporary collapse of time present, future and past, a reiteration of allusions to creative craftwork and the folkloric has a resonance that is uniquely its own. Led by the painting elements as the basis for the spatial construction of extended relations, between wall and floor, objects and space, her works carry forward the artist's current fascination with interiority and the domestic scene. The handwork and craft of making is linked by Sarnthein to a myth and metaphor often associated with the domestic space. This remains the case whether we speak of the repetitive patient and faithful constancy of re-generative Penelope(s), or the historical trope of labour and the home space prior to the onset of large-scale exteriorised industrial production. The artist's recent return to her home country after having lived abroad for the last twenty years shares something of an affinity with a personal search, not from a point of view of national identity, but rather to a rekindled and driven creative research into the origins of Central European cultural structures, to former group identities, to the archaic flow, as she puts it, of those subterranean timelines, and the long embedded collectivism that formed the social grounds for creative regional and artistic identities. Sarnthein's earlier art owed much to her innovative creations in the use of drawing, accompanied with the installed propping of industrial objects, and other objects of an organic and nature-based persuasion. The ability to work cohesively across a wide variety of material histories reveals an aim to re-engender the aesthetics of origin in a time of doubt and cultural uncertainty. It is a unique personal journey of expanded self-awareness and meaning.

Mark Gisbourne,  Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin 2017