The cartographing hand. Hanns Schimansky in direct speech.
Hanns Schimansky is a German artist whose practice is rooted on drawing. The exhibition The Sound of Drawing, at Galerie Jeanne Bucher Jeager, is the absolute synthesis of a language and expression that the author has been developing throughout decades which make the drawing – a long forgotten practice by the History of Art, recently rediscovered by curators and contemporary art – assume almost cartographic and sonic qualities.
In an exchange of electronic correspondence, Schimansky writes about his most important periods on his formative life, of the recent European history, the construction and destruction of The Wall, the university and the broadened field of drawing and its materiality. For sure an insufficient document to tackle such a vast and original career, but enough to disclose some of the motivations and references behind his work.
The Sound of Drawing may be seen until 9 June, at Galerie Jeanne Bucher Jeager, Lisbon, and on may say that this is an excellent way to see – contemplate, if we must – the individual portfolios of the artists represented by this cherished French gallery, now in Lisbon.
José Pardal Pina – When I look at your drawings, there’re things that immediately come to my mind: topography, geography, cartography. I understand that you had your formal education in agronomy engineering, so how important or determinant was this in your works of art?
Hanns Schimansky – I grew up in Mecklenburg. The Baltic Sea is straight up in front while flat fields paint the countryside – a permanent confrontation with the horizon. This was the way, it seems to me, that the dominating horizontal format came to be in my art.
Through my degree in agriculture, and my five year long experience in a big grain combinor, I was able to memorize great landscape experiences and learned how to keep a keen eye on plant growth.
For the first ten years, I drew landscapes and even portraits almost always in front of nature.
A huge memory of different forms developed. Later my affinity for flat pen and ink drawings disembogued in an endeavour for reduction: minimizing the means and still staying in a productive zone. There are borders, energetic border zones, unstable equilibria, heavy considerations of energy balances between ground and painting – immediacy as a standard of living: turning the startling intensity of one present moment into something that is preferably lengthy as well as homogeneous. My large-sized works have all been done in one day too. The moment counts, even its confusions and mistakes: tomorrow the constellation will be a different one.
With the beginning of my time as a Berliner, the chapter of agriculture came to a close for me.
The schooling as a master student at the academy of arts of the GDR was a new beginning. Berlin stood as a large city even at the time of East and West Berlin. I believe that the anonymity and energy of Berlin and its physical closeness to competition are important parts of this large city. Actually it is. Berlin after the turn, a highly energeticly loaded place, a great habitat for art.
JPP – It seems to me that you’re exploring, searching and building new territories, as if you’re permanently working the landscape – imagined cartographies that construct and deconstruct themselves in a surface that isn’t a passive recipient of lines and smudges. In this sense, is it safe to assume that drawing, in your practice, isn’t a bi-dimensional work? It really looks like you’re expanding the practice and the limits of this medium. How did that come to be?
HS – Art always starts with borrowed experiences. Especially the paintings by Josef Beuys had a long lasting impact on me. I am also impressed with the works of Paul Klee and Joan Miró. Later on I developed a taste for the works of Bourgeois, Twombly, Guston, Marden or Winters.
My personal growth happened somewhere between classic drawings and the will to experiment with a role model of mine: the Bauhaus movement. From this spectrum, ominous doing came to be. (Pina Bausch)
It’s all about keeping the systems open. Bypassing arrangements. My work includes intuitive as well as conceptual aspects. My doing comes from what you can see. It’s important to find a starting ground which delivers an insight into the game. Suprising moments will arise on your journey. The experiment is to establish a painters code, charged and shortened, and to breath new air into a framework of associations.
JPP – In engineering, architecture, and even in arts, drawing has been always be considered a means to an end, never a practice or art in itself. Technical drawings, sketches, documentation drawings, etc. When did you realize that this could be an art in its own? In arts, most of the times drawing is wrongly seen as an underdog.
HS – I can only speak of my attempt, my sketch: putting the process of slowing down, a deceleration, in front of our media savvy, high speed world.
JPP – I would like to talk now about paper. I imagine you work with lots of different papers. How do you approach this medium? Is it a calibrated, thoughtful process of choosing which type of sheet or support, or you just work with what’s in store or in the studio?
HS – My work seeks to establish a lot with a little. The reverse is just as valueable. If you want to achieve a lot with just a little, you have to be able to thrive with the small variation you are able to utilize. Material brings about new ideas and solutions. How does a pencil or drawing pen behave on this smooth or that gritty cardboard, or on thin handmade paper? How do I drag, push or rotate the pen? Some materials make you go in a direction you didn’t expect. You have to be ready and aware. Controlled coincidences may occur which are challenging you to rethink and reclassify everything. These are strokes of luck. You will have to mobilize your whole capacity to come to a conclusion. And you will frequently be the one who is most suprised.
I have a big collection of papers.
JPP – Going back, there’re other qualities that I see when besides what I said above: a journey and music. It seems that each line corresponds to a journey choreographed by your hand. And then the music – each stroke, line, dot, seems like a musical piece of different compasses, rhythms, tempos.
Do you abandon yourself in each drawing just like most people do when they travel?
And how important is music in your life and work?
HS – During the GDRs reign, free jazz seemed to be especially subversive. That attracted me a lot. Das hat mich sehr angezogen. I admire the intensity of the actors. That spurs me on. There are close friends. This music creates some kind of stage in the workshop, gives you drive and leads you to other references – lots of analogies.
Often, large rooms open up that allow for undreamt freedom. This music is an important part of my life.
JPP – This may seem inappropriate or farfetched, but contemporary arts drink a lot from current political issues. Germany has gone through a tough negotiation period between parties after the last elections. What’s your political mindset regarding the big political questions of our current times: the EU, the refugee crisis, the perilous economic balance, the globalization?
HS – The immense complexity of this question can hardly be answered in this format. Only that much:
-The building and the fall of the wall in Berlin were important events in my life. This period determined our life and thought. The time without a wall is now a longer time than the one with a wall. A relativizing statement. Not without emotion.
-Art can be political in many ways. here are important names in German art history for this: Kollwitz, Dix, Grosz, Meidner, Grundig, Heartfield, etc. The Swedish artist Curt Asker once said to me: “I think there are Klee Germans and Wagner Germans. You are a Klee German”.
But what I really gather is this – independently of each other, people keep telling me “I live with your art. Every morning when I get up, when I see your drawing, it makes me happy and confident, strengthens me for the day and straightens me up”.