Beate Glück: It seems so obvious, what it means to be a woman, and much of it is true and yet not true at all. I would like to convey a sense of life as a woman. In this context there are mental images that arise, then disappear and reappear. Once a certain point is reached, I long to translate them into reality, into a piece of art. This is why I turn to art. Because I can’t help it.
What constitutes life as a woman?
Glück: It’s a set concept, and it’s freedom. It’s being a friend, a lover, a mother. And often, very often, it’s like rolling dice. The dice roll and produce a number, a result, wonderfully concrete or dreadfully concrete. But that’s not how it is. The dice are cast and reveal … a potentiality, an opportunity, which can either be grasped or not grasped. That's what I think, and I believe many women think the same way today.
Thought: According to Deleuze, “thought is no longer looking openly at clear forms with a well-defined identity; it is a gesture, a leap, a dance, an extreme distance, a tense darkness ...
Glück: I don’t say what I think. I am incapable of doing that. I am unwilling to do that. And I don’t have to do it. This feeling, for instance, of standing on a precipice - I don’t challenge it. What I want to preserve is having this feeling. This is what my figures and my symbols are for. I want my works to be felt before they are seen. Then the mystery will be unveiled.
Precipice: Your work contains darkness and light. You create a mise-en-scène of your naked body – sometimes as a geisha, sometimes as Shiva, sometimes looking holy, sometimes obscene. “I have rediscovered what turns my heart into glowing embers, covered with ashes, but red-hot within: the feeling of a present time that cannot be defined by any known term..." And this, the text by Bataille continues, becomes a momentous escape from yourself ...
Glück: Is it an escape? Or perhaps liberation, after all? I don’t know. With my art I want to let my body sleep and dream in the mountains, very near the sky … and in so doing I always find that there is something in me that has remained absolutely untouched. There is something in me which, by its very nature, cannot be influenced by external conditions. This inner core is fierce, rebellious, perhaps even violent. This part is the one to which my art is addressed.
Erotic. (Fiercely) Momentous. Some of your imagery takes us very deeply into the life of bodily organs. Flesh. Slippery. Blood: “And if it were necessary to give you, in opposition to sexuality, a precise definition of eroticism, it would have to be the following: an experience of sexuality which links, for its own ends, an overcoming of limits to the death of god” wrote Michel Foucault.
Glück: Oh, those are big words... What I do, posing naked with my subjects, seems like enacting a pagan myth – and yet only reflects what the world is like, what it is like for so many women on this planet. No. No. To my mind, these images only represent my journey to my inner core, where categories such as names, dignity and civic rights are of no importance.
Is this why you always wear masks in your images?
Glück: I wear masks, but I don’t hide. I show myself without giving myself away.
Many of my pictures are stages in a transformation whose outcome is unknown. Some of my selves sink into the very ground of my work – like the canvases I leave in the woods for months to weather before I use them; like the canvases that are exposed to nature in order to discover their own true nature. But even in that case it remains true: I have no message. The best of my images become entangled with my reality, but they are never reality. Never.
The mystery: you don’t describe it, but for many viewers it seems to be within reach. How come?
Glück: The mystery is within reach? I have no idea. I am showing my body as a sacred animal? Well, okay. In doing so I equate a woman’s body with that of an animal? If you like. That is something one finds often in mythology, but I don’t care about mythology. This is not about the myths, not about those that are already there. If at all, I fill them with my own content. In that sense it is more important for me to create a link between the light skin of the sacred cow and my own light skin. How nice that feels! Warm. Dry. Beautiful … No, I have no idea. I just know: my work is about the powerful and clear gestures that are here to stay.
Mallarmé? “Long since dead, an ancient idea contemplates itself as such by the brightness of the chimera in which its dream agonized, and recognizes itself in the immemorial vacant gesture”...
Glück: I go hunting for glances, body postures, rituals, signs of human expression, in photographs at anthropological libraries, but also in other publications or non-fiction, for instance in books on taxidermy. Such photographs represent my angle on the world. I liberate these gestures from their cultural context; I want to give them universal relevance – mounted on fabrics that have been exposed to weathering, fabrics that were lying in a forest for months, on which non-human nature has left its imprints. Nevertheless, it is the first act that is holy.
... although you work on your pieces for weeks or even months!
Glück: Materiality is important to me. All my canvases are cut apart, scanned, enlarged. This leads to distortions, overlappings, disproportionalities, faults – perhaps imperceptible, but still very much part of it. Then I laminate the images that have been copied on film onto the weathered fabrics and “paint” them with different materials. Layers develop, including layers of the human soul. What is more important to me than any message is how skin feels, even though it consists of paper. The processes are important to me. Ironing the images onto transparent paper. Covering the verso with ivory emulsion which will bring some luminescence to the recto. Ironing the images onto canvas, tearing off little snippets, it all creates an almost undetectable, but still perceptible, three-dimensional character. The disproportionalities, the faults, the three-dimensionality – all this contributes to staging the mystery. But I don’t spell it out, I won’t commit any denunciation.
The canvases are left to weather in the forest. Is that a kind of wounding as well?
Glück: Weathering is not wounding. It's a transformation. In this process, there is no substitute for nature. The weathered canvas accentuates the image, brings it out as though it were on stone-age celluloid. The figure will never merge with the canvas, it is a symbol. The figure is a symbol, but not a statement, never a statement.
Never a statement? In one installation you tied canvases containing photographs of your naked body around trees with red cords, the bodies tied up and cut into pieces, next to it a vat with a cut-up brain … it reminds one of Pessoa who wrote: “I want to scatter myself in my own unformed being and be consumed! Take me, momentous night, make me part of your cold, your solitude, substantiate me with your frozen gestures, your silence and uncertainty, and annihilate me with yourself“
Glück: The vat. Yes, it marks a boundary, seclusion, also loneliness. It is the symbol - my symbol - of an attitude of invocation, of yearning. But no: my art is never a statement. Or, if it were a statement, it would at most be this: my work also conveys that you can never get away from the past. Something like ‘the past’ doesn’t even exist.
So, this is the reason for art?
Glück: Yes, this is the reason. Because this is how I got started. Later, I studied law and embarked on a career so as to be independent. I got married and then left the marriage. I had a child. But art has stayed with me; the child and the art.