Walking on one’s own two feet – Myself under my feet

Text: Prof. Dr. Lutz Schäfer, art pedagogue

In 1983, during a lecture, the educationist Klaus Mollenhauer pointed out the importance of walking for humans and interpreted the great joy of many parents while seeing their children’s first steps as evidence of a presentiment. To him, this first physical step and the newly learnt mode of movement are elementary in the process of becoming human and therefore appear as an anthropological motive.


Indeed, the accomplishment of walking opens up possibilities that characterize humans in a specific way: the visual field – hitherto restricted and strictly bound upward – opens up. Now, by moving its head, the child can look upwards or downwards, spin around its own axis and that way perceive the entire environment with its boundaries. A change of perspective becomes possible and eventually leads to the fundamental experience that the former is not a mere possibility but rather a necessity in order to fully perceive spaces.


Yet the ability of moving through and in a space offers humans not only multiple ways of perception, but also the possibility to perceive from a distance. Children discern boundaries in that space and encounter various opportunities for acting within them. This pattern, the constant shifting from proximity to distance and back, stays effective throughout life.


It is decisive for the child’s development to willingly overcome distances. The extended ways of perception through greater mobility immediately lead to new ways of intention-building. The interaction between intention and movement is even more exciting so as the relationship of both dimensions is not to be thought of as a hierarchical one initially. For the child, walking – at the early stage – is an end in itself, the only reason for walking being the mere ability to walk. However, as soon as walking is experienced as a tool for possible intention-building this immediateness will soon become tied to mediate motives.


When describing the development of infantile motives for movement, parallels are easily drawn to artistic thinking and activity which are both especially characterized by a simultaneous and not successive activation of physical and intellectual abilities. The path is left wide open rather than mapped out intellectually: destinations are chosen along the way and the distance travelled alters the observant individual along with its intentions.


In order to understand Katharina Meister’s artworks it can be helpful to further investigate into the interaction between the two aforementioned motives as the core of artistic work. In fact, in Katharina Meister’s case the dimension of movement not only presents us with a mere example of typically artistic motives but shows strikingly specific characteristics.


First of all, such characteristics can be found in the artist’s own strongly varying scope of movement: while the smallest radius is marked by extended cross country runs, the largest one can be found in her geographic journeys to the far end of the world. These vast dimensions lead to a perspective of distance, a panoramic view that transfers physical into mental movements. It is by this intellectual reflex that movements are turned into the kinds of experience which provide the artist with her subject: she refers to it herself as climate art.


The transformation of experience into images does not take place immediately but via an unusual interstage. Frequently, texts result from the artist’s inner examination of the subject. In them, she formulates her fears and expresses her regret, deeply touched by the footprints that humans have left moving on the earth. She then transforms these emotions and processes them mentally, adding philosophical, sociological, biological and religious dimensions and with their help formulating a political message.


Many viewers are relieved to find such a high degree of verbal concretion – as it is found in the artist’s texts and in conversation with her – since they are not just faced with some seemingly meaningless art they are excepted to find beautiful. Somebody has obviously got something to say, and what is said becomes comprehensible or even intelligible thanks to it using a familiar medium called language. The artist places no strategic silence at the end of her works in order to create a secret. On the contrary, she rather helps to bridge the gap between her intention and the possible understanding of the recipient.


However, such a strategy harbours the danger of surrendering the condition of the open work of art, a concept made programmatic by Umberto Eco back in the 1960s.


Artistic articulations do not allow for precise legibility since they are per se not only signifiers of rational operations but also and always an expression of manifold emotional dispositions, sensual operations and motoric activities.


In order to understand why one can sense the intention in Katharina Meister’s work without being upset it is essential to contemplate the peculiarity of her artistic movements.


The quality of an artwork is essentially defined by the distance between the intentional level on the one hand and the image level on the other. Once again, by employing the motive of movement, Katharina Meister is capable of reestablishing this distance, thanks to her final movements and her turning towards the sensual and material dimensions of the emerging image.


These movements eventually guide her into the studio, an artificial space in which she focusses her motoric stimuli and sets limits to her ceaseless physical and mental movements: working space, paper format, peep box. Through stern discipline, this reduction helps to scale down and concentrate the manifold perspectives of her intellectual world.


In this mechanical process of movement a pause is created for the intention of the mind. It may not only let go once the desired movement has started, it must let go, since Katharina Meister’s movements require utmost precision. The focus now lies entirely upon the mere moment of cutting. This perfection of cutting – acquired in over more than ten years of practice – gives testimony of the artist’s unconditional creative will which – as the ultimate phase in the artistic process – tries to physically concentrate her own extensive and ceaseless mental movements.


What that sums up all those mental and physical processes is a minuscule cut with the cutter knife. A cut that does not meander but that, on the contrary, stresses the intrinsic value of the visual language in an extremely reduced manner and that can be seen as the ultimate expression of the artist’s tireless intention to move. Other than words, this cut is not the product of abstraction but of radical concretion, reducing the infinite reality and expressing – as a substantial result –  a certain complexity of human creativity that can never be fully understood.

Published in catalogue Katharina Meister, ISBN 978-3-86206-622-3