Prof. Hans Joachim Neubauer. Ahrenshoop 2006

Speech at the Opening of the Exhibition by Agnes Sioda in Ahrenshoop on April 23, 2006

I’m quite lucky, for I have the chance to speak about Agnes Sioda and her pictures. I’ll do that in a moment, but first I would like to ask you a question: Have you ever heard of Giwi Margwelaschwili?

It was about fifteen years ago when I met Giwi Margwelaschwili in Berlin. He was living behind a blue-gray steel door in a ground-floor, back-courtyard apartment in a dark, shabby and dilapidated corner of the Prenzlauer Berg district. At the time of our meeting, Giwi Margwelaschwili is a short, plump man in his mid-sixties, with a full head of gray-white hair and bright, alert eyes. Unfortunately I don’t have time to recount the life of this Georgian-German writer, born in Berlin in 1927 as the son of a Georgian emigrant. His father was kidnapped by the KGB in 1946 and imprisoned in the concentration camp Sachsenhausen before being carried off to faraway and foreign Tbilissi. Only in 1990 did Giwi Margwelaschwili make his way back to “Deuxiland,” as he calls the Germany which is the home of his language. In short – behind the blue-gray, steel door in a back courtyard there lives a man who is at home in many worlds. His books deal with these various worlds. And books represent to him the doors into a literary world which one can enter and leave at will, in other words whenever one reads. Each book represents the entrance into a particular world. Clearly – at least this is what Giwi Margwelaschwili says – this world would be too small to live in if it were not for these adjacent, intermediate or contrary worlds.

But I wanted to speak about the pictures of Agnes Sioda. So let’s leave Giwi to wait for a while in one of his many marvelous books. He certainly won’t be bored there; after all, he is in good company. I’ll come back later to pick him up.

Now to the pictures of Agnes Sioda. The week before last, I was on Spiekeroog, the tiny island in the neighboring and competing sea to the Baltic here. On one of these bright, almost warm afternoons before Easter, I was walking through a small forest of oak, pine and birch as I considered what it was that I wanted to say to you today. Upon leaving the trees behind me, I was suddenly standing in a dune landscape. There was a bit of bright green in front, with ochre-colored parts on the left; a sort of brown was present as well. Everything was spread out flat, a gently rounded hilltop shot down a soaring wedge of yellowish grass, and a pheasant hen was there as well; on the right, a wind swept through some remnants of brushwood. Immediately I thought of one of Agnes’ pictures, or rather several of her pictures from the time when we met, back then before she moved to Paris. And somehow I slipped out of the dunes on Spiekeroog and landed in a kitchen in the Friedrichshain district in Berlin, with a red sofa, plump cat and – before, behind and beside me – this unbelievable ochre. Colors have their places, their times.

Recently, a few weeks ago, I was sitting in a small, three-room Parisian apartment which Agnes uses as her studio. In the next room there were peanuts, and pictures hung on the walls; a female friend had sewn clothes out of material with motifs from Agnes’ drawings, and there came and went all sorts of people in whose eyes could be seen that certain gaze which says “I discover my personal artist on my own and in fact at half-price, provided that in return my fantastic anti-bourgeois personality is discovered as well.” These were the days of the open studio, with their incessant “hello, good-bye, how are things going?” – for the artist a torture of perpetual cheerfulness, for the others a Saturday or Sunday afternoon somehow to be survived. A door was aflame in yellow-orange; a large picture in blue and black dominated the one room, a smaller one the other. Actually, Agnes commented, she would like to fully paint the rooms themselves before giving them up. She said that, and for a moment we sat within an incredible confirmation of  Kaspar Hauser’s discovery that a room is larger than a house – because when one is inside, the room extends all the way around, whereas the house appears when one looks at it, but only there, in any case not everywhere. What are we actually capable of seeing when we sit in a pictorial space, I mused, and how far is it possible to go upon entering a picture?

One day after my visit to the pheasant hen, the ochre and the other patches of color upon the island, I was standing at night upon a high dune beneath the much higher full moon. Up above, in a manner recalling Caspar David Friedrich, the clouds withdrew from the penumbra of the moon towards the edges of the vast expanse of sky, as if they were afraid of being spotted by a painter’s eye and thereupon being fixed forever. I saw all that, then looked down onto the dark shallows with their mud-flats. There they lay – what else was to be expected? – smooth, black and blue-gray, an utterly quiet stage for the wafting cries of a few sleepless seagulls. And there where the moon gazed down, the sea shone in a silver so soft and warm that it hurt to look. For a moment it seemed to me as if I could remember this precise silver from Agnes’ recent pictures, in which the blacks and blues were a celebration of light. It was only then that I understood why it is that Agnes’ pictures do not cease to occupy my thoughts: many of the pictures which she paints recall reality itself. But true magic emerges there where reality begins to resemble a picture – even when that picture does not yet exist.

And what is going on with Giwi Margwelaschwili, the diminutive, astute and melancholic Georgian? Margwelaschwili not only expounds magnificent theories about books and poems, but also knows a lot about pictures. For him they are windows onto a world of images. And today the pictorial worlds dreamt by the masters are, so says Giwi Margwelaschwili, “the shortest connecting paths to the real world.” Thus in the Louvre he enters into Rembrandt’s portrait of Hendrijke Stoffels, leaves behind a few roses, ambles over to the “Man with the Golden Helmet,” and all at once he is in Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie. Then back through the window into the world of images, and he reaches the painter’s “Return of the Prodigal Son” – in the Hermitage of St. Petersburg. All quite real and without a visa.

As said earlier, I am quite fortunate, for it only takes a few dunes, a breath of wind and a little silver to summon up the paintings of Agnes Sioda. Her pictures are an invitation to travel. They hang in Paris and Berlin, in New York and Ahrenshoop. Whoever conceives of them as windows – this I assure you – will travel to the far reaches the world. “The most beautiful poem,” writes Giwi Margwelaschwili, “ is the one which induces the reader to think that it were written by him.” This is the case here as well. There are pictures which belong to the person who gazes at them: silver, pheasants, grass, light and water. Silver, pheasants and grass.

Hans-Joachim Neubauer
Translated by George Frederick Takis

Go back to articles

WP-Backgrounds Lite by InoPlugs Web Design and Juwelier Schönmann 1010 Wien