Create and Silence

Animals as archetypes of the inner world: Animalistic motif in the work of Annemarie Laner and her exhibition “Theyneverwonder” at kunstMeran.

by Heinrich Schwazer

Animals are not only a reoccurring theme in Annemarie Laner’s work they play a central role in her pictures as does the application of scriptural elements. Her first cycles of work produced during her student years offer some indication of her intense involvement with this subject. In her cycle of etchings “Weichselboden oder die Liebe zu den ungeschriebenen Briefen” (Weichselboden or The Love of Unwritten Letters) 1992 animalist elements come to the fore in the form of deer antlers, one year later she addressed the Rainer Maria Rilke poem “The Panther” in her “Phantasien eines Panthers” (The Fantasies of a Panther) and in 1994 she worked for the first time with mixed forms between humans and animals in her cycle “Bocksfuß und andere Scharrbilder” (Ram’s Foot and Other Scratched Images). Her concentration on the much discussed subject of the relationship between animals and humans can be followed throughout her work as well as her almost exclusive use of the color black. One is not imaginable without the other and one provides access to the other.  

In her series of drawings “One a Day” 2001 – 2003, but also in her other works in wax, animalist figures feature again and again as image elements. Five years later in 2008, she addressed a series of works in lead with the peacock as a symbol of beauty and immortality. In 2011 she exhibited in the Galerie Z. in Hard, Vorarlberg, Austria under the title “Ich spur ein Tier” (I Sense An Animal) a large format installation of yellowed book pages from which animal forms, mythical mixed beings, demons and fabulous figures in unstable gestural lines are evoked. In the same year she created a room with tree trunks as a hybrid world of at the transition between savagery and well regulated order for the exhibition “Oswald von Wolkenstein” at Castle Tyrol, near Meran, South Tyrol, Italy.      

At the exhibition “kunstMeran” her artistic involvement with animals reached its climax. The question is: What significance can be assigned to this theme over and above its phenomenological presence in her works? A more complex interpretation leads, on the one hand, to the artist’s biography and on the other to her intense concern with existentialist philosophy and literature. It is no coincidence that she has also created an Albert Camus cycle of work.     

  The contents which face each other in her early works;  alienation, dream images, subconscious images, pain, erotic, the dark side of the human soul  - regardless of whether we understand these to be the abyss or unconscious understanding - have consolidated over the years to become the essence of her creative space. Many of her imaginary worlds are taken from the property store of her childhood – she confesses the vividness of her childhood emotions as almost no other artist does – however these are linked to the general sub-conscience. In this cosmos animals open up a range of interpretive possibilities which reaches from a surrealistically characterized poetry of the irrational or bestial to a symbolism of primitiveness.

A more precise viewing shows that the artist does not use animals as a surface for projection but rather as archetypes of the inner world in which she travels. The border crossings, which have to take place from outside to the inside, take place in the form of logic of dreams and symbolic transitions between animal and human. In her work animals are image machines of the inner world. They are, as are her dreams, not the extrinsic outside herself but the dark continent of phantasms, the unconscious, fear and visions.  The exterior which begins within the self is not a flaw or a deficit; it is the swirling, restless, continually metamorphosing interior.

             Based on the Arthur Rimbaud dictum “I is someone else” from “Letters of the Visionary” Laner’s images of animalistic figures are above all chimerical in nature. The animals are painted on book pages or cloth with a broad brush and somber pastose black and it is easy to see that these are not animal illustrations. They are not creatures of flesh and blood much more they bring back memories of the nameless chimaeras of childhood, the rascals of the night and demons of the unconscious. The exclusive use of the color black also speaks this simple color which is not so simple plays with the inability-to-see - which instinctively turns our vision inward. Closeness to death rings out and also ideal unconscious work, trust in desire and instinct, in dream and emotion as a sign pointing to the work of art, the artist, who almost becomes a semi-animal within the creative act. Above all black is a limiting visual strategy, as Wittgenstein has it, the border between the “sayable” and the “unsayable”.

Giorgio Agamben described this as “anthropomorphous animalism” and reminds us that every attempt that humans undertake to draw a clear borderline between animals and themselves brings with it the necessity of the disappearance of animals and in return humans become inhuman. To remain humane humans are forced to “recognize themselves as inhuman”.     

As much as Laner’s shadowy gestalts remind us of the demonic chimaeras of the middle ages and suggest the animal, the trans-human, all the more certain is it that we are dealing with self-encounter. The unknown is the human himself. She paints the animal and feels her way forward to the human. In a mural in human hair entitled “Muttertier” (Mother Animal) human and animal are amalgamated. The application of hair asks inquisitively about the appurtenant yet absent body.

The most obvious changes from her early work to her current work are the relocation from the work surface to the work space and an atmospheric change of mood. If, until recently, her animalistic beings were ciphers from the crypt of the soul - in her recent work their somber aspect is limited by tales of friendship.

In the kunstMeran exhibition the artist was on the offensive again with regard to the infringement of the observer’s space.   The animals really inhabit the room whether they are humorous dummies, whether they are drawings, in fur or in fluttering feather constructions. Ravens jostle on the walls and hang like bats from the ceiling. Two of them joke under an umbrella and have taken a seat on the terrace. Involuntary we begin to listen whether the ravens are perhaps having a conversation which is inaudible to the human ear. After all they are known for their addiction to chat which is why Apollo punished Ovid with the curse of a black feathered coat.

The ravens remain still, impalpably foreign, netherworld, behind an insurmountable barrier however their presence draws us into the deep, which is no longer merely background but ground, perhaps the abyss from which we came and into which fall again.

The exhibition title work “Theyneverwonder” consists of fluttering constructions of ostrich feathers which float propeller-like over our heads. Their presence is a light whiff rather than occupation. This plays subtly with the current return of that which is suppressed in consumer culture. Animalistic returns powerfully to the living room through the back door of design.

A variation of a line from Hans Petters “Song for Budhanton” rings out continually: “he neverwonderswhyhecan’tfly”. The artist does not answer. On a screen her chair is abandoned. Her shoes are still there, fur over the arm rest. This is pure poetry: Create and silence.