Text by Dorothée Bauerle-Willert, 2017, published in catalogue Mirrored Windows / Remote Corners ©Dorothée Bauerle-Willert, 2017William Wordsworth – Memory
Mirrored windows return the gaze. Mirroring is not just an optical phenomenon, but also a mental one, because reflections never come into view on their own. Everything that is seen – and thus also art – is always an entity from a simultaneously viewed imagination, of comparisons, remembrances, projections, and disenfranchisements.
The Tomáraho Indians learnt this a long time ago and took systematic action against the beams in their own eyes. Their method of freeing themselves from a look was both simple and sophisticated: instead of remaining where they were, they slipped into the mind’s eye of the person they were looking at and took his place.1
Art also tries to come closer to the world’s independent existence in an unbiased way. In this spirit, Ina Bierstedt pursues both art and research in her series Mirrored Windows. Precise and free, with courageous gentleness, Bierstedt devotes herself to an entirely exceptional investigation. Painting, installation, and video fit together to create a multi-layered orchestration between tradition and liberation. In her visual spaces, the artist explores the possibilities of an impartial vision. That she has introduced the work of her father, Wolfgang Bierstedt, into her artistic dialogue, also relates to the artistic battle he led. Given his attempts to go against the prevailing East German artistic doctrine and to replace it with Christian moral values, Wolfgang Bierstedt could have been a Romantic. However, what he exemplifies and astutely and masterfully exposes, is exactly how the image becomes its own bias. Ina Bierstedt traces how art addresses this important, though still preliminary discussion with her series which balances what is remembered and what is forgotten, what is lost and what is retained. We can only ever hold just the fringes of conscious existence, loose and unconnected, in our hands. From the present, these fringes reach back, from the past, they reach to the present, and at the same time, they point to the future: “Repetition and memory are the same processes, but move in opposite directions; for what is remembered, what has been, is repeated backwards; whereas actual repetition is recalled forward.”2 References to the past and plans for the future form a dialectical relationship and this repetition/retrieval directly opens up an unlimited range of possibilities: a sort of mirror-image dispersion of repeated time radiating from the present outwards.
Ina Bierstedt’s visual spaces are dedicated to this double movement through time and place, in which the self and others, documents, language, and pictures interweave in a many-voiced ensemble. Within this ensemble, the intricate relationship between imitation and imagination, between proximity and distance, and between the inside and the outside of images is simultaneously explored and illuminated. Scurrying and flashing, staying still and bursting open, these are the binary oppositions that Walter Benjamin provides as ways to experience and analyse narrative from a historical perspective. In Bierstedt’s constellations, these experiences are, once again portrayed in the arena of memories, curiously merging the paradoxical and opposing tendencies of fleeting and enduring impressions, of presence and absence, of preservation and extinction. At the same time, the wilful operation of memory is clearly visible as a complex web whose passive restoration was surpassed in the production of a new perception. Bierstedt stages a drama of imagination, with the creative quality of memory: here Memoria is not understood as Ars, as a method of memorising, rather as Vis, as the force of reminiscent self-transformation.
Even the title of the project Mirrored Windows brings together different ideas and metaphors that have informed the way we think about images. Art was long considered to be a mirror of nature; the mimesis requirement was both a burden and a duty of art. In The Republic, Plato astutely questions the mirror metaphor and in so doing, the status and value of art. In an audacious turn, Leonardo doesn’t consider the mirror an instrument of reproduction, but rather one of adaptation. The history of art could (also) be read as an on-going response to Plato’s verdict on artistic imitation, as an effort to achieve a status other than one of mere reflection. What is art – a mirror or a lamp? A reflector or an illuminating projector? Mirrors actually have remarkable characteristics (which Plato strangely enough neglects): firstly, we can never see an empty mirror, that is, a mirror by itself. But, then again, we see in them something which otherwise remains hidden to us: ourselves. The mirror is – like memory – a tool of self-recognition and self-disclosure, which reveals the fact that we have an interior and an exterior. And just like every other thing, we are also objects, images for others – a glance and a returned glance.
Leon-Battista Alberti’s window metaphor also fundamentally informed thought on painting. Here, painting is compared to a window because, in both cases, the viewer looks through an apparatus that does not refer to itself. Both looking at a picture and through a window directs the viewer’s attention to things and events that are not located in the same space. Paintings and windows enable us to look at something other than ourselves. Bierstedt’s investigations also guide us on a multifaceted enquiry into the medium of painting. In the interaction of the different elements of her pictorial spaces, Bierstedt freely and innovatively explores the area of tension between image and reproduction, between mimesis and creation. At the same time, the emergence, invocation, seeing, remembering, and extinguishing of images is demonstrated in a complex configuration. In Bierstedt’s examination of the image, in the interplay of her own diaphanous, shimmering paintings with her father’s work, something occurs, which Heidegger called the “distortion of the past” (instead of “conquest”): a process, a playing with contradictions, in contrast to displacement or refusal.3 At the same time, she considers the intertwining of continuity and divergence, of renewal and permutation. Art is – to follow a thought from Harold Bloom – always also a family history. Secret paths link every artwork with other artworks, just as every historical biography relates what the subject’s family experienced and how they suffered.4 Every artwork, in addition to all its vibrant individuality, is also implicated in a genealogy of manipulation, influence, and influenza – as well as the conquest and enchantment of these influences. An intellectual work is, in the words of Paul Valéry, “significant if other works define, evoke, or exclude its existence, and may or may not have been created because of it.”5 In Ina Bierstedt’s artistic enquiry, art can be experienced as this motion when the potential of both the world’s independent existence and her father’s images are blasted free and transformed in an alternating illumination of their own aesthetic vibrancy. Every artwork implies an action as well as the physical and mental ability, “distinctively to grow out of itself, transforming and assimilating everything past and alien, to heal wounds, replace what is lost and reshape broken forms out of itself.”6 Just as memories of the dead surround us, so do manifold images, like shadows. We can summon them and bring them to life because every image exists on the threshold between intangibility and materialisation, between invisibility and being seen, between death and life.
We are doomed if we have too much time to think about
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg