Cristina De Middel

Party:(Quotations from Chairman Mao)

Interview with Brad Feuerhelm

Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, commonly known as the Little Red Book, remains one of the most widely printed books in history. First published by the People’s Liberation Army in 1964, it was a totem facet of every Chinese household during the country’ Cultural Revolution. The book, though not stated as such, was an unspoken Bible of necessity for every party member, printed in small sizes in order that it could easily be carried around and bound in vivid red cover. When issued, it literally changed the shape of publishing in China. Presses for other books by Vladimir Lenin and Friedrich Engels were put on hold, so that Mao’s could be printed and celebrated to marvelous effect by the machine of Chinese communism and the ego affect of the Chairman himself. Economically devising a way to put himself on par with the great thinkers of communism by tyrannical control over the presses, Mao’s spread of influence was capitalised in effect by economic bullying of the Chinese printing industry. A great sense of irony permeates over this.

Cristina De Middel, whose The Afronauts marked an unparalleled rise in photobook fetishism has now reworked Mao’s book. She has combined photographs from a recent trip to China with a series of interventions with the original text. Text negation, as seen similarly in the recent Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin’s Holy Bible has a long history; the conscientious obliteration and reshaping of contextual meaning through absence or striking out of text was a pursuit purloined from the Dadaist tradition and also more singularly by Sicilian artist Emilio Isgrò. Mao’s red book is perhaps the perfect untapped fodder for such treatment given that China is very much undergoing a major transition, both ideologically and economically. The Cultural Revolution is teetering on the brink of capitalist largesse and De Middel’s book points to a series of propositions about this ‘party’ change.

Brad Feuerhelm: Cristina, can you give us some insight on why you felt the Little Red Book was due for re-examination?

Cristina De Middel: I didn’t start with the Mao book from the beginning. I just used the Mao book as a structure for the pictures I had taken. It was the structure I was missing. The images were quite random. It was not for a specific project.

BF: Do you feel that the original book itself holds any truths about the China of today or is it in any way a sacred cow of literature and ideology in need of some abuse?

CDM: I don’t think it is any of these things. For me it is a historical object, a testimony of something that has happened in the past. It has no literary value. It is simply an ideology put together – it’s just like the Bible. It is full of information, full of perspectives that are of no use anymore.

BF: When I look at the choices you have made regarding the text negation, I feel a certain amount of dysphoria involved. The words ‘struggle’, ‘people act blindly’, ‘oppression’, ‘negate universal truth’, and simply ‘why’ point to series of propositions regarding the measure of failure of communist philosophy for that of a sort despondent embrace of capital in the country. Is this an intentional measure or have we taken it upon ourselves to load such an already loaded tract with obsequious negativity?

CDM: The edit of the text is very intentional. It is meant to transmit my mood at the time. It is closer to a personal diary, using China as a failure for utopia. It was also about the moments I was going through there while shooting.

BF: The photographs themselves align quite cleverly with some of the text whether representational images of hands or people pictured in scenarios where they are partying. Did you add the photographs to the text or vice versa?

CDM: I had a lot of the images as a result of spending three months in China during the time I was working on The Afronauts, and I wasn’t sure what to do with them all. I needed to find a structure for this. The failed utopia was a perfect structure – turning a political statement into a personal diary and vice versa. It is the most personal work I have done to date because it may be well hidden, but the book reflects myself very much so at the time – my outlook. I was in a very personal crisis. I had quit my job. I had personal issues, so I went to China to reset myself. I was taken with the idea of rediscovering the pleasure of photography, taking pictures on the street, but also adding a personal perspective of the images.

BF: The images themselves are quite different to those of The Afronauts, where the fictive elements of storytelling and documentary practice cross boundaries to present a fairytale synthesis of unreality. This presumably hints at the fallacy of representation in photographic practice. In part, the images seem to have a more literal, less fantastical shape to them given your prior career as a photojournalist. Was this employment of more traditional, let’s say, more static image selection done on purpose or was it the sequence of events in China itself that led to the making of images? They feel less staged than the images in The Afronauts….

CDM: I am more known now for my fictional stance to photography and documentary practice. That being said, it is more of a transition as I was going through The Afronauts at the time so it wasn’t cemented in what my work is associated with now. I finished The Afronauts in December 2011, whereas this was actually shot in August of the same year so it is also sort of research on how to use a book as a documentary object and how to use the historical weight of the culture and book to say what you want to say. As the critic and curator, Aaron Schuman has pointed out about my work in the past, it is like a system of failure and utopia. It is the same with The Afronauts. It is about failure but when I was working on the series I had no need to play with fiction. I was dealing with my own reality and the hard reality of the culture, there was little need to stage that further. Also, I didn’t even know I was going to do a book – it was more photographic therapy having being disappointed with photojournalism. I was focused more on my feelings and opinion of the place rather than the staging of an idea.

BF: Would you say that, by and large, photography is about failure or just your perspective of playing up to it through story telling?

CDM: Photography is not about failure per se. Actually, I think it is one of the best tools you can use for storytelling. It is about success. It is more the promise of utopia and people’s expectations or idea of reality, places and things that is exposed to failure. At some point there is success through communication. Failure is about expectations. Photography is maybe the tool for me to treat that disappointment because if the latter comes from when reality is not what you expect it to be, with photography you can control that. It is a medicine to cure disappointment.

BF: On page sixty-four, there is an image of a man who looks a lot like the Chairman himself bathed in a sort of strawberry pink light. Was this an intentional use of a doppelganger? If so, what process was there to find someone that carried these traits while in China?

CDM: No, I found him by chance. It is not staged at all. The guy looked like Mao. The light is a long distance rifle light from an exhibition, which suggests feelings of threat by the government, the struggles and impressions of a threatening government but also personally how one can feel like a target – pointed at by everybody.

BF: Do you feel China is going through another Cultural Revolution or perhaps a revolution of complicity in contradiction to its status of economic revolution?

CDM: From what I saw, my own personal experience, I don’t think their revolution is something new since they are repeating mistakes that perhaps the West is trying to fix now – principally the endorsement of capitalism amidst a tyrannical regime. It is hard to have hope. It is like a timebomb, especially the results of the infamous One Child Policy. If we all agree that by 2016 they will be the strongest economic power, who will be ruling their country? They don’t know how to share; they raised as one child with lots of pressure, both academic and economic. Imagine the perspective of these people ruling one massive country – little empathy and no charity.

All images courtesy of the artist. © Cristina De Middel

Brad Feuerhelm is a London based, American collector and dealer in vernacular photography. He is also managing editor at American Suburb X.

Eric Stephanian



Pathos, empathy, loss, desire, uncertainty. These are just some of words that can be used to describe Eric Stephanian’s Lucas, a small DIY publication that deploys one single photograph of a boy, his son, taken on the only opportunity its author was given to meet his offspring.

I myself am a product of a displaced father with a similar methodology. What I have to offer about this asingular experience seen through the eyes of Lucas and Stephanian is only a hint of what it means to attempt to find oneself through the experience of paternal loss, photographic empathy, and longing. For Lucas raises a whole host of questions of our perception of coupling, procreation and what children of this loss understand about the cornucopiae of human relations that shepherded them into existence. Not every father leaves, some are forced away.

The one image in question is initially displayed as a closeup of Lucas’ face. It then proceeds in an enforced agenda of pathos to displace the intimacy as each frame zooms out, unfolds into a series of distancing manouevers where the photographic subject (there is only one) recedes. As we start with the close up and as Lucas is diminished page by page, he is also being pulled away from the viewer, kept at bay, pushed back away.

The sense of loss for Stephanian palpitates and creates a very difficult, but profound, use of photography to describe everything and nothing at the same time, for there is no text involved. That background story is incredibly personal and one would lose the context if you did not have insight into the project. This is not a failure, but a perfect representation of the problems we face placing too much context on an image without circumstance. The book’s overall scaling back of superfluous content and DIY/punk zine effect is a breath of fresh air in a genre of publishing consumed with over-materialisation of publication. This is not shiny. It is direct, and refined to promote one idea, which speaks so much more than most of the considerable faff being currently published for the sake of the ‘artist’ and their ego.

—Brad Feuerhelm

All images courtesy of the artist. © Eric Stephanian

Daniel Gordon

Still Lifes, Portraits & Parts

Essay by Brad Feuerhelm

During the 1990s, an interesting phenomenon had taken shape in photography. Artists such as Cindy Sherman, Joel-Peter Witkin, Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano, amongst others, began to question the then taboo discourses of religion, sex and death with such rigour and prevalence that Republican United States Senator Jessie Helms embarked on a battle to abolish National Endowment for the Arts funding largely based on a controversial Mapplethorpe exhibition at Washington’s Corcoran Gallery in 1989. Helms denounced the overt, graphic sexual nature and latent violence contained within images as “anti-Christian bigotry” and “morally reprehensible trash”.

Of course, this censorship controversy seems somehow antiquated given current trends toward the voluminous firewall of pornography and violent imagery of today. What has changed in the ensuing twenty years is the way in which telecommunications are increasingly geared towards an existence that factors a more amplified tradition of receiving images, in particular advertising and its manufacture of desire via screen based experiences. Now, more than ever before, we are also experiencing what it means to have our tolerance for image intake and understanding challenged. As images multiply and increase velocity, we are forced to adapt the pressures set loose by the tyranny of their distribution. With the onslaught of accelerated media and general blur of distance from our e-lives and the desires produced for our ‘real’ lives, we begin to harvest less meaning from the truncated and severed nodes of relational information that the photographic image provides us.

If one considers the loss of register through the torrent of imagery we live with, cynicism forms – followed by apathy. And this apathy of image non-reception correlates to a case for a new abjection. It creates a sense of impermeable loss of disconcerted space, an inability to keep up and a general feeling of being displaced in the great drive for technological second skins. We are often left empty or isolated within the stream, and our receiving/real body stagnates, recedes, ignores in part, pays attention by half and becomes simplified fodder for the break in the levee of images – an abuse against eye, body, and mind for consumerist practice.

And so we come to one in a series of new publications from Morel Books, Daniel Gordon’s Still Lifes, Portraits & Parts – a case for dysfunctional photo-cubism if ever there was one – with his intricate Internet print outs blown up and reworked physically into a series of horrific body dysmorphias.

The patchwork corporeality that is present recalls Cindy Sherman’s work with medical anatomy dolls during the 90s. The constant appropriation and recycling of images from the net back into a base material which Gordon then redistributes as a sort of quasi-Grand Guignol-sculptural-collage-cum theatre is also an idea that could possibly derive from American 80s children’s animation interludes. There’s also a nod to the artistic practice of Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy here too, in which themes of hypnagogia and the abject body combine to create heavily loaded works that abound with metaphors pertaining to over-production and post-consumerist fallout. The result is a series of harrowing and perversely warped-Frankensteins.

Similarly, a whiff of the uncanny lingers in the works by Gordon insofar as they appear to be akin to performance-based avatars when staged or rather actioned. These actions can be considered as ‘horrorisms’. Horrorisms offer discontinuity by way of methodology. In Gordon’s work, the fabricated collages are created piecemeal and permeate a general sense of dread through their disarticulations. They also seem to suggest the body/image can only ever be an effigy, a surrogate for our understanding of its meta-identity made real. In Still Lifes, Portraits & Parts, we proceed with an understanding of reference to portraiture or still life, but it further taxes our collective comfort by hinting at, but never giving more than a façade of, complicated and disjointed realism. The layering of elements culled from both the real world and the Internet remind us of the quilted miasma that is a single life, a single body in the twenty-first century – the confusion of misunderstanding where one body ends and one body begins, yet always having the unnerving doubt of its proximity to our selves. This creates a notion of self as a ‘collateral body’, unfixed by reason or metaphor, only a physical response or a will to concentrate and make singular one’s interest.

The tableaux also vibrate with pixilation images piled on less pixelated living flesh, which often pivots the object within frame to scale of believable realism. Patterns emerge and attempt to gel with the fragmented bodies, but fail for the aggregate summation of too many elements at work. It is another reflexive break in synapse and corporate metaphor of 2013. Gordon’s horrorisms, the theatre of the abject, is at a state of continual unrest, as our own secondary theatres of absurdity.

All images courtesy of Morel Books. © Daniel Gordon

Brad Feuerhelm is a London based, American collector and dealer in vernacular photography. He is also managing editor at American Suburb X.

AMC2 Journal Issue 4

Collected Shadows

Archive of Modern Conflict

Collected Shadows from The Archive of Modern Conflict is a superb euphemism for all images of an ‘Anima mundi’. Comprising photographs that formed their exhibition of the same name at Paris Photo 2012, the publication calls to arms the visual atlas of intrinsic connections between all living things on the planet – from what we eat to how we are buried. A literary vignette, it takes the viewer on a far away trip into the human condition and nature of our world in pure photographic terms.

Gracing its pages are works from the early 1850s to the present day by both renown and unknown photographers yet the editing ignores separation of imagery into era-based timelines found commonly in pursuits of historical leaning. It purports that our visual lexicon shall not be straddled with the problems previously associated with deriving meaning between a nineteenth century image of Pompeii and a twenty-first century image of Dalston, east London by photographer Anthony Cairns.

Under the directorship of Timothy Prus and designer Melanie Mues, whose tight editorial grip has laid out the cornucopia of imagery so adroitly, the book could have been an otherwise confusing arrangement in lesser hands. The page spreads even recall an age of Bauhaus modernism, where images were often stacked and arranged in oblique blocks so that their content can shoulder the responsibility of sequencing and flow.

Given the resurgence of looking retrospectively through vintage and vernacular photographic material we are beginning to understand how very little we actually understand about photography. As such, Collected Shadows promotes a new awakening of coming to terms with a medium too vast for a linear perspective. One can only hope that the vision of The Archive of Modern Conflict will continue their practice of planting intellectual incendiary devices which are exploding conventional ideas of what we thought we knew about photography, and of its historiographies.

—Brad Feuerhelm

All images courtesy of The Archive of Modern Conflict. Image 1 © Dimitri Ivanovich Ermakov / Image 2 Unknown photographer / Image 3 © Loren M. Root

Paul Kooiker


Essay by Brad Feuerhelm

The work of Dutch photographer Paul Kooiker occupies an awkward liminal space somewhere between legendary filmmaker David Lynch and the surrealist Hans Bellmer. Yet, he claims that he draws no such direct references from the aforementioned stalwarts. As for inspiration, it’s “just life itself,” he states.

Still, his use of overly lush and vivid technocolour springs a fountain of false nostalgias, an anachronism that results in a kind of new noir. Such a palette evokes the membrane of a honey-soaked eye, blinking in the burning sunlight of a bright day. When the eye reopens the colour appears drained, but then it begins to materialise again in pantone schemes that resonate with intensity. It’s an optimising effect for the evocation of a memory that we may have only seen in a film.

With regards to the spectre of Hans Bellmer, the work considers the mode of repetition and the sculptural if disembodied female form. “In general I am not interested in the single image,” explains Kooiker. “I like to show the study of a project. In the first instance the work is made for the book, the sequence of pages and the little changes of the model have a good rhythm, as a exhibition it would have a different seriality.”

Kookier’s work, in one sense, elevates his model to the status of art in the manner of a still life. (“She could be an object instead of a woman,” Kooiker notes.) At the same time, the sculptural plinth upon which the body of the woman is photographed and thus viewed from multiple angles almost presents a case for several photographers working together during their ‘hobby time’ away from their families. Kooiker attests to this: “This element of the amateur contained within is apparent in all my work.”

The erotic elements are still in place, but the images are far from explicit due to the genitalia not being represented. Nor are there the complicated incursions upon identity since the face is obfuscated for the most part. While we are at least lucky to escape the problem of model age, the subject within Sunday is also reminiscent of the women in Irving Penn’s Earthly Bodies series. Both Penn and Kooiker whitewash the models creating a somewhat ghostly suggestion. There is also a whiff of Bill Brandt in these distortions. André Kertesz as well. As we see, it is within the tradition of a certain European sensibility that these are images located.

There is also the notion that these illuminate a corner of Kooiker’s mind that he is being incredibly honest about. One could also say the opposite. One could read these as exploitative forms of a very specific hetero-European male practice of art making. It could be that the objectification factor and the loss of control through the model’s posing are at odds with clear presentation of its intent outside of the libidinal re-arrangement of female flesh ad infinitum and in tight quarters. It would not be an unfair assessment but the potential is not as resistant as the artist may wish.

Despite its subtle nuances, it does and will provoke a reaction on the part of its audience. Past the initial grappling with the large format of the work and satirising color effect, it leaves one questioning the pattern and its insistence on the body and its politicised body within the tradition of contemporary art and culture at present.

In further exchanges with the artist regarding these issues, Kooiker refutes the suggestion that the use of a more voluptuous woman might be based around the formalism in his work, or the fact that the softer, larger form could potentially be easier to produce a new tableaux with. Nor is it, he says, simply down to the particular model that being available on the day of the shoot. “This is a very special model,” he says. “She understands what I want. Why I did I use a larger model for this series? I cannot directly answer this. It is also a mystery for me.”

Likewise, he opts not to explain his intentions – for better or worse. He has even said that being conscious while making work that the female subject should be examined in a certain way that takes meaning to the edge without exploiting it is of no concern to him. Clearly though, the notion of the abject is not lost on Kooiker. He speaks of his early interest in medical photography which resulted in his photobook Utrecht Goitre – an incredible selection of unique historical images from a pathology clinic in Utrecht alongside his own photographs that depict strange but not uncommon features such as birth marks and moles, cracked heels and baldness. The grand themes of the grotesque and abject are of course valid forms of artistic currency and Kooiker’s specific form of voyeurism straddles certain uncomfortable truths.

There are quivering tensions between subjectivity and objectivity, beauty and ugliness, seduction and shock, observing and being observed that reside in the whole image. Kooiker’s work then is a revelation that obsession and the quest to qualify images of personal, near-obliquely-diaristic projections of to create an atmosphere of uncertainty is worth the identity it assumes within this series. The questioning of the work becomes reflexive. It forces the audience to think and leads to questions directed towards ourselves, of our perceptions of human form, of women, of ‘the other’ and of our own forced nostalgias that are created by colour or sensory perceptions of sound or smell.

Paul Kooiker (1964) was born in Rotterdam. He studied at the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague and at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. Since 1995 he has been teaching at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. In 1996 he won the Prix de Rome and in 2009 he was awarded the A. Roland Holst Prize. Paul Kooiker’s work has been exhibited widely including group shows held at Maison Européene de la photographie, Paris; Fotohof, Salzburg; Kumho Art Museum, Seoul; Arsenale Novissimo, Venice; Zabludowicz Collection, London. Solo exhibitions since 1996 include those held at Kunsthal, Rotterdam; Vleeshal, Middelburg; James Cohan Gallery, New York; Fries Museum, Leeuwarden, Foam Fotografiemuseum, Amsterdam; Gemeentemuseum, The Hague; Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Paul Kooiker has published several books: Utrecht Goitre (1999), Hunting and Fishing (1999), Showground (2004), Seminar (2006), Room Service (2008), Crush (2009), Sunday (2011) and Heaven (2012). Between 2007 and 2009 he published fourteen issues of Archivo, a bi-monthly photo journal curated by himself and gallerist Willem van Zoetendaal.

All images courtesy of the artist. © Paul Kooiker

Nicolas Comment

Mexico City Waltz

Filigranes Éditions

To talk about the body of work contained within these pages as a metaphor for the photographer as ‘the stranger’ in Mexico who is busy interpreting its traditions, exoticisms and its people would be completely disingenuous. It would ignore the lives of the native population who are struggling through years of heavily ‘narcofied’ bloodshed and pain caused by a trans-border partnership in the drugs and arms trade that has no end in sight. In truth, the book is an illusionary co-product of the author’s past forays into cinema, music video direction, and his somewhat obvious references to photography and literature under the tutelage of Jack Kerouac, Malcolm Artaud, and Antonin Lowry.

That said, the images within it are an elegantly composed array of beautiful Mexican girls stripped naked for the camera. However, the authenticity that is incurred is something of a sham, but it is a sham produced in a highly seductive post-Eggleston mode of consumer imagery for the colour palette of the nudes and portraits in particular betray the photographer’s commercial hand, yet also pursue his stylised mediations. As superficial bravado, fully capable of exploring the liminal and sideways glances to which the press release for the book professes, Nicolas Comment is a classic case of sacrificing social commentary in favour of aestheticisation.

The critical let down of these photographs is that they purport to have insight beyond the commercial. If it does not bother you that these sugar-coated and occasionally dark images do not fall under the hubris of art or social critique, then you will indeed find yourself entirely engaged without having to lie to yourself. Perhaps it would be best for Comment to let the images speak for themselves without imbuing them with words that are easy to take exception to. Lyrical references aside, it is indeed a beautiful set of images and his place at the prestigious Agence Vu’ will be solidified. But the ability to produce a false yet libidinal skin of Mexico is as far as it goes.

—Brad Feuerhelm

All images courtesy of Filigranes Éditions. © Nicolas Comment

Esther Teichmann

Drinking Air, and Mythologies

Interview by Brad Feuerhelm

Brad Feuerhelm: Could you explain to us your process as it revolves around the ephemeral additions to the work. Do you reference images from eighteenth and nineteenth century French schools of paining? I see a beautiful symmetry between you, Gustave Courbet and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Yet, I also have a feeling of loss when I turn from your work. Is this a projected issue of mine, or does the fictional/non-representative slough of images best sum up these aspects of the viewer’s projection? Are you my remote viewer when you make these images?

Esther Teichmann: Usually I do not refer directly to reference material and I have not really worked directly from specific works. In the recent artist book I worked on, Drinking Air, I included material that I am influenced by, pairing images afterwards and playing with juxtapositions.

All my work is set within a fictional space, which is closer to how I see the world with closed eyes. Whether within the studio, in sets or in bedrooms, or even jungles – all the spaces have the magical feeling of the tents children build, light filtering through coloured blankets transforming reality. The spaces inhabited within the films and images are womb-like liquid spaces of night, moving from beds to swamps and caves, from the mother to the lover in search of a primordial return. In some way, all the images are more about myself than the subjects depicted – they are always bodies I desire, bodies close to me, whether family, lovers or friends. The lover and the artist turn their beloved, their subject, into an object, and within this shift a kind of violence occurs, complicating this meeting further, drawing the other, now object, into an auto-erotic, fetishistic relationship. The condition of artist and lover is one of projection, of idealised and imaginary, narcissistic image; this representation is now one’s ‘truth’, the imagined and real no longer separable.

I am drawn to works, which explore human relationships and look at desire and loss as bound to one another. I am fascinated by what we can never know about the bodies and subjects we desire, about the mother and lovers’ lives before we knew them, and the people they are when not with us – it is within this context that I am interested in the fantasy of the other. Throughout my practice there is the slippage and confusion between loving an image, a fantasy in place of it’s subject. It is the violence, the shame and the necessity of momentarily putting the work, the image, before the person, that haunts me repeatedly. For an instance I love and need the image so much more than this other standing before me – it is their image I am grasped by, their image I am transfixed and engulfed by as they themselves recede, becoming invisible. This very gentle undoing of the other, of transforming them into image and object, is a demand for them to give themselves up to me and to the image.

BF: Can you elaborate whether your interest in photography is specific to the medium? And why? I know you also make video, which in some way, I believe relates directly to the still image in your work. The film is very still, and has these lucid and dark moments in twilight or dusk culled from the edge of sleep or the liminal spaces between. The videos certainly have the sense of static from a still, yet underneath is this continual pulse. It is a quiet pulse, but it lives differently. Can you explain the shift to film works? It suggests a certain sort of narrative development perhaps more obtuse in the still works from Drinking Air.

ET: My relationship to the photographic image, whether still or moving, is less connected to the idea of delivering transparency or of a copy, rather, the camera and image function here as metaphors for subjectivity, memory and desire. The real is transformed from one thing into another in a magical totemistic process, fracturing any claims of the photograph as evidence. Momentarily photography delivers the perhaps universal and timeless desire to become one with another, sought within the lovers’ embrace. I fall into the image, into the projected, miniature crystalline glow of the body I will lose.

The apparatus makes this possible, makes loving pictures and picturing love a vertiginous extended moment of absolute proximity and distance at once. Image has replaced the actual loved body, flesh fallen away in place of this more exhilarating fiction. Photography here is an apparatus of fan­tasy driven by desire; the desire of the artist, the subject and the viewer. Within this story (within the film) and these images of love, the work of art remains within a perpetual process of becoming, the bodies of desire never quite imaged or captured, forever eluding the present, always already lost.

In my sketchbooks I have always written fictional texts alongside the image making, and drew on top of and extensions of the photographs to plan further set constructions and new images, then realized this was as much the work as the ‘final image’, so began including reference material, collages, etchings and painting into photographs and film pieces with voice-over narratives in my process. This crossover between the photographic and other media is something I have always worked with and perhaps is a reflection of the works I am drawn to and look at within my research.

BF: A sense of femininity also pervades the work. Would it be possible to draw a line between the themes of ageing, mothers, and environment? The matriachical figures seem to be the most comforting, the least ominous, the least directed of your sitters. Is this interpretation of clarity within the mother figure something you intended on?

ET: The maternal body as lover, as home and origin echoes throughout the work, at times almost invisibly, yet is always there. The mother’s and lover’s bodies evoke the illusion, that to survive without the existence of the other would be an impossibility. Both bodies remind us precisely of our own separateness; exactly at the point of contact with the other, we become most acutely aware of our own skin, our own boundaries. These ideas of an impossible return, of grief and a sense of inherited homesickness, return us to the womb, to the original home of mother and beyond. This image of otherness hails the maternal as an image of escape, a place to travel to: backwards and towards.

BF: Speaking of origins and the idea of all things returnal, could you give us some insight into your own family and beginnings?

ET: I grew up in Weingarten, a village in southern Germany in the Rhine valley near the French border. My mother is American, my father German – they still live in the same house we were born and grew up in. Both were academics although not within the arts (literature and engineering), so our house is filled with books and we didn’t have a TV (quite tragic for a child when everyone else does). Reading was one of my escapes from the world, as was cinema which I went to often from an early age with family or friends, (as well as swimming, saunas, spending days and evenings at the lake with my best friend floating on lilos and talking for hours, dancing, driving through the night with my high school lover).

Our house is a big renovated farmhouse in southern Germany with lots of open space and a barn and workshop with endless material to work with. My mother loves restoring furniture and saves everything, so all sorts of broken things were rescued and dragged into the house, making for great props for building structures. I used to make things from the remnants on the floor in my father’s workshop. I still love looking through the cloth trunks and cellar to find props for shoots. You can endlessly rediscover forgotten things. My sisters and I are really close and we always slept in one bed in my little sister’s room (even though we each had our own room). They now have children of their own and are incredibly open and generous with making me a part of their experiences of motherhood, which has been an incredible part of the last few years, an intensity of love which is so unexpected and overwhelming. The physical relationship to them and to my mother, and the slippage between being mother, lover and sister is present within all my work. I go back to my hometown regularly and make part of my work there, using the swamp and cave landscape as a backdrop to stage narratives within.

Esther Teichmann was born in Germany in 1980. She was listed in Art Review’s top 25 artists in 2005, the same year that she received a MA in Fine Art from the Royal College of Art where she later completed a PhD project. She currently lives and works in London as a senior lecturer at the London College of Communication/University of the Arts London.

Teichmann’s work has been exhibited and published both within the UK and internationally. She has had group exhibitions in London, Los Angeles, Berlin, Mannheim and Modena, as well as solo shows in the UK, Australia, Germany and Switzerland. Her photographs have appeared in ArtReview, Bedeutung, Dazed & Confused, The Guardian, Wallpaper*, Time Out, Source, O32C amongst many others. Her work has also been featured in Francesca Gavin’s book, 100 New Artists, published in English by Laurence King and in Germna by Prestl Verlag and she has just published her first monograph, a limited edition book titled Drinking Air.

All images courtesy of the artist. © Esther Teichmann