ANNETTE SCHOCK: MEDIUM RARE? BLOODY?

ANNETTE SCHOCK: MEDIUM RARE? BLOODY?

Text published in the catalogue:
ANNETTE SCHOCK. CARNE[S]
Badajoz: El Hospital, 2022.

 

ANNETTE SCHOCK: MEDIUM RARE? BLOODY?

 

Of course, it is a question, like every question on this earth.

Yves Bonnefoy (2016)[1]

 

What can be shown cannot be said

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1921)[2]

 

In an aversion to animals the predominant feeling is fear of being recognized by them through contact.

Walter Benjamin (1928)[3]

 

Conceived like some sort of endless murmur, of the world and its beings, sometimes of certain objects, now animal faces represented as an uninterrupted voice, still to be heard, that, speaking, communicates with the whole: these images would appear to liberate the impetus of that power of absence from an elusive backdrop. Paintings like fleeting events that seem to disclose the truth by means of the nervous movement of the drawing, as if these lines belonged to a Great Book, paying attention to that abyss of something in wait of a name.[4] I endeavour to quench a thirst with some brushstrokes that, channelled through the painter’s hand, give the impression of coming from an eternal speech. As if the exclusion of a present were taking place, yet in the truth of those meteoric movements of the lines, we are witnessing her work calling out towards an emphatic becoming, as if the artist were driven to draw without end, even in the knowledge that her being, and that of these animals or bodies, also depends on the power of her gaze and ability to reveal enigmas through the act of drawing.

In the mosaics decorating the Genesis cupola in St Mark’s basilica in Venice, the raised divine right hand gestures towards the paired beasts that arrive against a golden ground.[5] And he gave them their names. “Laudato sie, mi’ Signore, cum tucte le tue creature”, St Francis sang entranced, hymnically, thinking of God’s creatures. And I am also reminded of John Berger, seeing the faces of animals painted by Annette Schock (Waiblingen, Baden-Württemberg, 1968), an artist habituated to a peripatetic often bucolic life in close proximity to her beloved animals with whom she makes friends and forges a deep bond, somehow putting into practice et in Arcadia ego, perhaps as a way of staving off the woes of the world. Contemplating how our gaze is returned by her Three Graces—her beloved Austrian cows from Eichenberg: Josephine, Adelheid and Susi—the Bovine Holy Trinity strike us as a parable of a threefold gaze, now dwelling in an exteriority that turns everything on its head: we are now observed by those who were always the observed.[6] An epiphany of handsome animals, inhabitants of a peaceful landscape overlooking Lake Constance, whose characters the artist is well acquainted with, as she explains in detail: “they deserve to be portrayed”, she declares, disregarding the inextricable association between the terms ‘portrait’ and ‘person’ in DRAE, the staid official dictionary of the Spanish language,[7] and broadening the scope of its meaning to encompass animalhood. Our way of thinking is challenged by the discovery of an essential dimension of the gaze, those faraway eyes which the contemplator must hold in their own, the animal observed in a never bridged distance.

And so, large paintings like Susi (2017), Crazy Josephine I or Agnus Dei (2020), from “The Austrian Cow” suite, might well be proof of her own particular painted lectio desiderata, as indeed are those beautiful sets of drawings inhabited by representations of a multiplicity of animal presences (cows, sheep, goats, dogs, crows, hares or lions, among others) which we could call Animal Gazes, made between 2015 and 2022. In them, in their mirror image, giving voice to the absence of wordsor perhaps better said, the majestic silence—of the so-called beasts, it is as if we were attending a proposition to try to understand something which, while attracting us, eludes us in the vast human night. Beneath the appearance of understandable paintings, one discerns an illegible centre in these animal depictions. After all, as Jean Clair wrote, animals are beings opposed to us, on the verge of becoming human, though never fulfilled, affording a glimpse of a mysterious language of age-old feelings and primordial traces whose origin we know nothing of,[8] and perhaps this explains the time-worn admiration of the saints for beasts: “seul le regard des animaux est beau (…) comme le regard des dieux.”[9]

After coming across Annette Schock’s animalia I was prompted to reread John Berger’s “Why Look at Animals?”,[10] and also to return again to Jean Mohr’s photos of placid cows.[11] The latter, well used to walks in the countryside, addressed the cultural marginalization of animals and how allusions to them generally adumbrate their disappearance. This much is borne out by the abandonment of animals in parallel with capitalist growth, the separation of man and nature whose symbol can be seen in the secular sadness of zoos and their epitaph: the nostalgic gaze over them. Before this rupture, “they were with man at the centre of his world (…) animals first entered the imagination as messengers and promises (…) cattle had magical functions, sometimes oracular, sometimes sacrificial (…) the eyes of an animal when they consider a man are attentive and wary (…) man becomes aware of himself returning the look. The animal scrutinizes him across a narrow abyss of non-comprehension. The man too is looking across a similar, but not identical, abyss (…) the animal has secrets which (…) are specifically addressed at man (…) but always its lack of common language, its silence, guarantees its distance, its distinctness, its exclusion, from and of man.”[12]Indeed, animals were the first subject matter of art, even as far back as cave paintings thousands of years ago, recalling the herd of comic cyclops and unnameable beasts of Lascaux, to borrow the words of René Char and Georges Bataille.[13] There is no word for the darkness of the cave populated with impervious images, as many of them are revealed (animalia and vegetalia, signs or geometric marks, traces) painted with precision in space and even with the shadows named. We are parables of the last bison, in the words of Jorge Oteiza,[14] those animals that were, even then, exile and kingdom.

Carrying on from the legacy of other painters of animals, and at this juncture I would bring up the legendary Rosa Bonheur,[15] our artist has journeyed from drawing in charcoal black and white to some paintings of exalted fauve colouring. Annette Schock is an extraordinary and tireless drawer, consummately controlling the use of the aforementioned charcoal both on paper as well as on canvas, to which she frequently adds acrylic. Schock strikes me as Rembrandtian, and some of her drawings seem to transport us to strange lands, almost as if they spring forth from the nothingness of the support, lines that maintain a rhythmic, expeditious air as if coming from an eye attentive to the artist’s circulation. Are they memories? Images in places of permanence? Drawn spaces that retain a premonition? Or, is it the imagination where isles of absences spring forth? The secret power of drawing of this conscientious drawer, also a conscientious artist as we know that these are not portraits of beautiful animals, though they are that too, but rather the exposition of an aporia like a double blind, hermetic lyricism of what is shown veiled by the unsayability of the bearer of undesignated time, like the imperative to try to cross the threshold of beautiful representation: we see beauty, and then it ends up on our plates.

At times her paintings are more saturnine, like bodily grime, an embodied liquid stain that reminds me of Henri Michaux’s black inkwell. The figure is constructed by the transformation of those who contemplate it, who will in turn also be transformed. These are not quests but rather the liturgy of a perpetual diversion towards the wishful hope of presence, apparitions and inklings of animal faces that settle on the support like a mystic suspension. An expression of forces that correspond to states of consciousness, affording a glimpse of the estrangement of a reality that Annette Schock imagines to exist, perforated, on the other side of the real. Animal solitude, our solitude, what makes us who we are. Like an outside, these presences are illuminating visions of flashes of beauty behind the world.

Her strength grows through her drawings of women, questioning both the body as well as the solitude that sometimes encloses it.[16] An admirer of the history of art, especially that of our time, in any case she reminded me of her admiration for drawing artists (all drawers of pain, one thinks) like Alberto Giacometti, Horst Janssen, Annette Messager or Egon Schiele. Different typologies serve as models, practically forming another familiar core, from the thinnest and most athletic to other thicker ones. Or yet another, a model able to exhibit flesh with no compunctions. Drawn insistently, at times lightly noted in a dizzying growth of the drawing, the studios where Annette Schock works are full of hundreds of drawings that reflect the concern of our time with the body and its proportions, at once transmitting her personal experience (and pain) like someone who is thus creating a secret bond.[17] Outlined drawings searching for the present moment, some with barely a few strokes or otherwise with light emanating from the interior of the drawing (as I said before, Rembrandtian), among swirling pools of lines. As Jacques Dupin wrote about Giacometti,[18] Annette Schock coincides in digging down into the depths, pursuing, unveiling and remaining active between the lines. The endless quest of drawing, as if a force was expressed from its interior, a fluid flowing towards the light, like exposed intimacy. Movement, as she called a set of drawings from 2013, expresses an expedited being of the model, fragments and rhythms on paper of differing qualities and varied supports, even the odd drawing on kitchen paper as I have seen. Paired double bodies nearing or moving away from one another, as happens in the cosmic Feuerhexentanz (2014) and Ciao Bella (2014), where the models seem to become ecstatic in an ineffable space. Other drawings show something similar to the fossilized remains of a body, a fleeting appearance on the paper of the print, the bodily marks of what once was there, evoking Kleiniananthropometries, turning what once was into permanence. In so many drawings like La flaca (2012), we are reminded of Schock’s avowed admiration for the work of Egon Schiele.

More than certainties, her works are flashing glimpses of possible truths. Dynamic images, in endless variations, because, as opposed to futile certainty, Annette Schock finds the multiple and the diverse in complex interrupted images which she compiles in a succession of interruptions that are not pauses, but rehearsals of a multiple encounter of meaning that allows her to offer the possibility of a certain understanding of the real. The artist outlines an area of trembling suspension of broken images that enable whoever contemplates them to build their own narrative. Or, like Grandville in his Public and Private Life of Animals which ends with the words “Goodnight then, dear reader. Go home, lock your cage well, sleep tight and have pleasant dreams. Until tomorrow.”[19]

How can we understand the creation of Annette Schock, this search for invisible mystery through animals and the bodies of women? Reading Roberto Calasso, I believe that he shares with Schock an intuition that the contemporary world should be observed from what it does not possess, what it has lost, and among its losses, the most decisive “is what nobody seems to remember or perceive any longer, and what is nevertheless decisive: the relationship with the invisible, with mystery, with the divine.”[20] Three ways of naming the same thing, and so it would appear that Schock accepts that, in this lost time, her role as an artist is to signpost that empty core, even when running against the grain of accepted thinking, painting as an defence against a world ready to cast off the invisible, underscoring that loss.

 

REFERENCES

[1] BONNEFOY, Yves. Juntos todavía (Ensemble encore, 2016). Mexico City: Sexto Piso, 2019, p. 165. [Published in English as Together Still, trans. H. Rogers. London: Seagull Books, 2017]

[2] WITTGENSTEIN, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. New York: Dover, 1999, p. 53.

[3] BENJAMIN, Walter. “Gloves”. In Selected Writings, Volume 1, 1913-1926. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996, p. 448.

[4] BONNEFOY, Yves. Juntos todavía (Ensemble encore, 2016). Op. cit. p. 29.

[5] CLAIR, Jean. Terre Natale. Paris: Gallimard, 2019, p. 167.

[6] In the words of the artist herself: “I have spent a lot of time in recent years in Austria. The cows and sheep in the farm next to my house look at me every day over the garden fence and at a certain moment I started to draw them. I was fascinated by the different characters and especially by their facial expressions and looks”. Writing by Annette Schock.

[7] All the meanings in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española apply the word ‘portrait’ to people.

[8] CLAIR, Jean. Terre Natale. Op. cit., p. 162.

[9] Ibid. p. 166.

[10] BERGER, John. About Looking. London: Bloomsbury, 1980, pp. 9-31.

[11] I am referring to the celebrated BERGER, John-MOHR, Jean. Another Way of Telling. A Possible Theory of Photography. London: Bloomsbury, 1982.

[12] BERGER, John. About Looking. Op. cit. pp. 10-11

[13] “The unnameable Beast rounds off the graceful herd, like a comic cyclops / […] Comes to me thus, in the frieze of Lascaux, / Mother inconceivably disguised / Wisdom, her eyes filled with tears”. CHAR, René. “The Unnameable Beast” In Selected Poems. New York: New Directions Books, 1992. Also mentioned: BATAILLE, Georges. Lascaux ou la naissance de l’art. Geneva: Skira, 1955.

[14] OTEIZA, Jorge. “Existe Dios al noroeste”. In Poesía. Alzuza: Fundación Museo Jorge Oteiza, 2006, p. 481. “Yo el último parábola / del último bisonte / Él último del rebaño-tótem de Altamira” [I, the last parabola / of the last bison / The last of the totem-herd of Altamira].

[15] Marie-Rosalie Bonheur (Bordeaux, 1822-Thomery, 1899). See the painting Highland Raid, 1860, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, which remitted me to Schock.

[16] Drawings whose sensation of detained movement brings to mind Eadweard Muybridge’s investigations or, focusing on the case of Spain, could also evoke the sketchy dancers by Marta Cárdenas, another painter of animals at peace in the countryside.

[17] Annette Schock explained her intentions as follows: “Perhaps women reduce ourselves to a piece of flesh to satisfy the viewpoint of some men, perhaps we have no other values and qualities with which to define ourselves? Is it normal that a successful woman we don’t like is immediately criticized for her appearance or weight? Do we do the same with a man in the similar situation? What is the effect of our obsession with beauty, our often ridiculous and even disfiguring efforts to preserve our looks and our lifelong struggle to maintain the perfect weight? What is the image of beauty conveyed by advertising, films and some influencers? What happens when we grow old, does our worldview collapse because we are no longer seen as attractive women?” Writing by Annette Schock.

[18] DUPIN, Jacques. Giacometti. Madrid: Fundación Juan March, 1976.

[19] GRANDVILLE, Jean Jacques. Public and Private Life of Animals. Quoted in BERGER, John. About Looking (1980). Op. cit. pp. 122-23.

[20] CALASSO, Roberto. Cited in: DOBRY, Edgardo. ¿Existe un sistema Calasso? Barcelona: Anagrama, 2022, p. 69. At this juncture, between animals and people, one should also mention Calasso’s wonderful book: CALASSO, Roberto. The Celestial Hunter, trans. R. Dixon. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2020.