Paula Doepfner: Took me way down to that red hot land
The Mario Iannelli Gallery is pleased to present “Took me way down to that red hot land”, a solo exhibition by Paula Doepfner, from 4 to 28 October 2022. Doors open at 6 pm on 4 October.
The artist’s third solo exhibition at the gallery includes recent drawings and a selection of her works on paper made since 2011.
Paula Doepfner creates drawings on transparent gampi paper, made up of tiny lowercase letters (Ø 1 mm) forming lines that become textual images. The works seem abstract but are based on sketches made while observing brain surgeries and autopsies at the Charité University Hospital in Berlin. They are alienated nerve cells and areas of the brain.
The lines of text are taken from philosophical texts, lyrics, poems, and neuroscientific research. In the artist’s most recent works, the words come from a United Nations medical manual on the investigation and documentation of torture, the “Istanbul Protocol” (“It’s a long, long lane that has no turning”, 2022), from poems by Anne Carson and lyrics by Bessie Smith (“Took me way down to that red hot land”, 2022), as well as from extracts from “The Man without Qualities” by Robert Musil (“The blues came along and drove my spirit away”, 2021). The exhibition takes its name from a song by Bessie Smith, who in 1929 recorded a blues song about the ghosts of war.
Focusing on Doepfner’s works on paper, the exhibition includes a series of drawings relating to nerve cells “You keep yours and I hold on to mine” (2011) and the drawing “Blues on my mind, blues all around my head” (2018). Other works refer more widely to the artist’s research: “Unthought of, though, somehow” (2014), a drawing in ink with a dried plant grafted on, the watercolour “I saw the first fall of snow, I” (2022) and a work on paper from the ice installation “I got a letter this morning” (2021) marking Paula Doepfner's second gallery exhibition, entitled “Half my soul belongs to you” (2021), with texts by Giuseppe Ungaretti and Sylvia Plath.
If we take James Joyce’s “Ulysses” for example, and read the first two pages, we probably wouldn’t re-member as much as if were to write them out. The act of writing something down forces us to correct errors, as we focus on each word, element or part of the text that we remember precisely because we have written it. This experiment might be contagious. You might even think that reading something without writing it down is no longer possible. It might also be exhilarating. Most of all, it would be the decisions we take that would count. We would ask ourselves about the reasons for the changes, and the final result would be a new text. At some point, simply by copying, you would be part of it, becoming more aware of the world around you. This is the moment of fusion between the author’s consciousness and your own. Copying out a text means extrapolating its soul, and working on your capacity for self-knowledge. We are not only dealing with how the basics of language are used, but with the possibility of thinking about language in a new way, as the reader’s inattention is no longer an option.
For Paula Doepfner, it is not solely about copying out a text, but also about not correcting it, as a meditative practice. The reference to Joyce’s “Ulysses” helps us to understand above all that Doepfner is visualising a flow of consciousness in her works. It is possible to read the words and their tiny characters, but slowly, at the same speed at which the artist wrote them. Through these writings, she enters a territory that acts as a relational space, uniting different temporalities into one.
In this dimension, Paula Doepfner forges links of reciprocity between social and political realities, philosophy, poetry and natural systems.
The term “uncreative writing”, a term rooted in visual poetry and used to describe the work of Kenneth Goldsmith (“Uncreative writing”, Nero Editions, 2019), does little to recognise the immense effort that goes into this type of writing, which blurs the contours of authorship through appropriation and makes significant use of the medium to avoid mere consumption of text, achieving unthinkable experiences. In “Getting Inside Kerouac’s Head” (2010) Simon Morris copied out, day after day, Jack Kerouac’s book “On the Road”, while Goldsmith transcribed the New York Times of 1 September 2000. In reality, these conceptual poetry techniques and the work of Paula Doepfner are expanding the field of writing and creating new forms of expression for enhanced awareness.