Japan paper, archive carton objects between 120 x 120 cm and 210 x 210 cm
There is an old saying among art historians: „You only know what you see„, often juxtaposed by its antithesis: „You only see what you know” Apart from the question whether women see different things or certain things differently than men – the first thesis demands that one gets involved with an artwork’s shape, its structure, its composition, its entire appearance, only by doing so can it be understood, can the artist’s intentions be truly comprehended.
The necessity for this is obvious, for if an object’s appearance is seen merely as a concealment of its true entity, the denial of the inner correlation between the two results in the refusal of understanding the work. This tells us more about the viewer than about the artwork itself: it is an attitude towards the work, indeed an irrational one that stems from being afraid of thinking.
On the other hand, a knowledge that has been acquired through having seen other works, an awareness of styles, beliefs, and the physical image of an era can very well further the perception of artwork. Insofar, the second thesis proves a point as well: the analysis of what is right in front of our eyes and the research of the reasons and conditions concerning its genesis can enlighten each other.
When we look at Katrin Süss’ works in this exhibition, what do we see and what do we need to know? We see circles, rings that gyrate around a centre, pasted over with white silk. Like skin, the tissue stretches over the circles’ grooves and ridges, occasionally the underlying material, simple grey corrugated cardboard, breaks through.
We quickly realise what we instinctively felt from the start – we are not looking at a positive shape on the fine paper surface, but a three-dimensional body that hovers above the area, held up by gauze. At first sight, the discs with their strong relief seem to be the active part of the composition – do they not imprint themselves onto the paper, do they not draw the surface towards them?
But the outer shape, a square, lends a moment of tranquillity to the circular movement. This other elementary shape corresponds with the roundness, embedding it in space, in width and height. Equally, the whiteness of the silky paper merges the circle with the square. This characterises the front face, whilst at the back, and only there, the grey cardboard just sits on the surface. This is obscured to the view, instead a secret dominance of the surface is maintained, for the centre of the circle is always empty.
Here the white reappears, pure and strong, surrounded by a severe vortex, as if pushed out by them or in great depth. Thus, tranquillity and movement have been brought into a state of balance because they are allowed to exert their opposing forces.
Perhaps one of you has once attempted to square the circle. You probably failed due to your lack of knowledge of higher mathematics. But you certainly distilled enlightenment from the experiment: Square and circle are symmetrical shapes, closed up in themselves, formed from a central point into all directions in a regular way. The circle is the most secluded shape. The curvature of its silhouette is constant in such a way that it is impossible to say „into all directions„ as it creates a closed space that is as void of direction as the outer space, making the latter look utterly open and undefined. The circle refuses any kind of relation to other shapes thus representing the absolute elementary shape. This element of detachment has turned the circle into a symbol of absolute power, a spellbinding force is attributed to the curved line. This did not happen as a cause of a mere assignation, not purely arbitrarily as the aesthetes of reception may assume, but by a conscious application of the abstract, deducted shape that lent itself, above all others, to the depiction of a likewise abstract purport. No randomly chosen convention but the expression of the form itself qualified the circle to epitomize a magic power. This element of detachment has turned the circle into a symbol of absolute power, a spellbinding force is attributed to the curved line. This did not happen as a cause of a mere assignation, not purely arbitrarily as the aesthetes of reception may assume, but by a conscious application of the abstract, deducted shape that lent itself, above all others, to the depiction of a likewise abstract purport. No randomly chosen convention but the expression of the form itself qualified the circle to epitomize a magic power.
The character of its shape bestows an impression of tranquil magnificence upon the gigantic ecclesiastical rotundas of mediaeval and modern times. Their inner spaces were designed to unite believers into a closed community.
But the strict circular shape could only be applied upon their layout. The circle, strictly speaking, is atectonic, as any bracing, any annexation to other shapes disturbs its oneness.
As a room, as a globe, it would be unusable. As an element it has the appearance of a symbolic, law-abiding shape, merged into the building structure through auxiliary constructions.
When Wilhelm Kreis („Kreis” meaning circle) furnished the Dresden Hygiene Museum with large rose windows thus metamorphosing his name into stone, he made use of a coincidental analogy, suggesting that religious cult has been replaced by personality cult in the 20th century.
The square, however, can be stored, stacked and piled up without ever losing its formal quality, which is why it became the most distinctive symbol of architectural elementarism.
Ecclesiastical architecture of the Middle Ages used the equilateral rectangle as a three-dimensional module while the square was re-discovered around 1800 and 1900 as an element of order. The catholic architect Rudolf Schwarz used it for his church buildings and Munich designer Wolfgang von Wersin employed it as a trademark for his exhibition „Ewige Formen„ (Eternal Shapes). Oswald Martin Unger, from the same school of thought, has been creating such buildings to this day.
Circle and square are and have always been symbolic shapes representing order, embodying the purity, the beauty of an immanent law, witnessing the unity of nature and works of Man. An inner congruence of thought and form has bestowed this upon them.
All this and much more we may know, but is such awareness sufficient to understand the works that surround us in this exhibition? Initially: White, the colour of these surfaces, the colour of abstraction, is simultaneously the sum of all colours and the initial point for all possible play with colours. It appears to be empty but may be the end, the start or the momentary state of a movement. We notice the different size of these discs-they display the same in various alterations, when one picture may have been sufficient to embody the symbol in its entire purity.
But the discs as manifold variations on the strict subject convey a sensual power: The rings stand out, form terraces and create round landscapes of three-dimensional and spatial energy.
They give out the impression of standing before the traces of a human hand that shaped clay on a potter’s wheel.
This calm movement reveals the idea of an order that facilitates indefinite freedom. The cosmos and the works of Man are not one, but these circles represent more than a dream: the strong conviction that the laws of the world and the order of the human spirit may correspond. We experience them as symbols of a living order, not an abstraction of life but its abstract expression.
Katrin Süss did not create these circles as formal exercises or objects of demonstration for her design students. Nor did she aspire to express her subjectivity, her inner order through free constructions. There was a time when she felt a need to reclaim this order for herself, and she found it through these figures made of cardboard and white paper.
Her visions of „round pictures” began when her first child died, when she was forced to hold out, aided by others but powerless in the face of a long-lasting process of dying, hardly able to find any strength within herself. During these days and weeks, being near her daughter, having silent dialogues with her, gave her back her creative energy. Images of tremendous beauty and completeness sprung to her mind, strengthening her. There could be no consolation from outside herself, all the words and phrases she received were incorporated into the concentric vortices of her visions. She needed to place these images outside herself, turn them into something tangible. She did that. For her, it was the solution in the double sense of the word. Has Katrin Süss squared the circle? She will carry on creating circles, larger ones, different ones. The quest for new landscapes always origins in listening to one’s inner urges, in sketching out a psychogram, later, when the work is under way, Reason takes over the work. This is not an exhibition or remembrance but an invitation to think. — Dr. Ullrich Hartung