E.Gillen, Cornelia Schleime: I paint, therefore I am, 2002 - ENGLISH

Cornelia Schleime: I paint, therefore I am

Cornelia Schleime is an artist who has never let herself be taken over, neither then
in the DDR, nor later by the western artworld. Parallel to her life, her art changed.
She was never content with what she had just achieved, she never fixed herself to
a style she had found. Her paintings still are a living part of herself. They do not
depict the world, as the "world, the real, isn't an object, it's a process" (John Cage).
Very often she cannot part for a long time with paintings she just has finished. For
her, they are not objects, but rather subjects changing with the light in the rhythm
of the day, whose skin of paint is thin an can tear if bumped into. "It's their life
which makes them vulnerable, and so is mine."1

Having grown up under the dictatorship of a "gesetztes Wir" (predefined collec-
tive or "We") she had learned very early to retract from the coercions and imputa-
tions of a prescribed happiness. "Community tames extremes". It would "have
smoothened out my fractions. I did not want to change anything here, with the
exception of myself. I was fed up with the way people betrayed themselves. I did-
n't want to grow old that way." Rather early she dreamed of going to Morocco like
August Macke, in order to "meet my self in the faraway lands, to dive into the opi-
um of unfettered suns." She always wanted to be a traveller and visit the great
museums of the world, these power stations of concentrated energy, to meet the
Giottos, Masaccios, van Eycks, Vermeers, Manets and Turners there, and "maybe
only to stand only once in front of a small watercolour by William Blake."2

She made virtual voyages in the catalogues and artists's books in the Sächsische
Landesbibliothek (Saxonian County Library) instead. There she discovered Arnulf
Rainer, Cy Twombly, Francis Bacon. Mainly Twombly opened new visual spaces
for her. Her professor at the Dresden Academy of Art knew none of these artists.
Cornelia Schleime started as a hairdresser, studied to be a camouflage and make-
up artist and worked as a stable-girl at the Dresden Thoroughbred Races. In 1980
she received her diploma in painting and graphic arts at the Academy of Arts at the
Brühlsche Terrasse. She threw away the heavy burden of tradition of the Dresden
School with its opaque peinture in her "Horizons" series. Instead of thick layers of
oil paint on canvas, she put her lines and dots below or above a horizon with Indi-
an ink on Japanese paper. The moment of fluidity, of movement, the possibility of
constant change and to work with associations, determined the choice of materials
and techniques used on the surface.

She searched for forms of expression adequate to her own feeling of life. The con-
stant process of painting and drawing on transparent paper, through which the light
shone, was more important than the finished painting, the canvas on the stretcher-
frame. For her, painting begins with scratching and scarring and making marks, a
process comparable to automatic writing from within the unconscious, without a
predefined plan or concept.

The hermetic smooth surfaces were roughened by coffee-grounds and sand bound
by glue, a technique she still uses today to break up the even surface. For instance,
she pours thinned shellac solved in methylated spirit over the parts painted over
with acrylic. There, little ponds and rills are formed, and the coat of colour starts to
dissolve. A process is started, the result of which cannot be planned. The porous and
leprous injuries remind one of the illustrations of skin diseases by moulage. The
background is worked over with bitumen lacquer, so that a dark, almost black,
scabby and scurfy coat of colour is achieved, comparable to processes of aging and

The work on the surface, on the plane, was supplemented by acting within space.
She installed, for instance, a "Raum des Dichters" (Room of the Poet) in the autumn
of 1979 at the so-called "Türenausstellung" (Exhibition of Doors) in the former stu-
dio-house of the Dresden late Romantic Eduard Leonhardi. The participation in this
exhibition and her body-performances resulted in the prohibition of exhibitions for
her in 1981. She took the consequences of the far to narrow notion of art of the
association-functionaries and filed an application to be allowed to leave the

In September 1984 she moved from (East-) Berlin to West-Berlin. The first ex-
periences with the western art scene produced a salutary disenchantment and dis-
illusionment as to her view of things and of the world. There was a change of para-
digm, away from the enchantingly improvised, airy and fleeting figurines of her
water colours and drawings in Indian ink, on to the research into cognition of
recognition and modes of recognition. With her over-painting of art reproductions
and postcards she had already stepped into the middle of the discussion of pictori-
al media and their reproducibility. With minimal interventions, she achieved far-
reaching dislocations of context and turned mass products into unique things.
Against the background of the legendary Dresden expressionism of the "Brücke"-
artists, who offered their bathing pictures of the Moritzburger Teiche (Moritzburg
Lakes) as a "flaming Paradise" ("flammendes Paradies")3, she instinctively rejected
the wild, expressive gestures of the "Moritzboys" Fetting, Middendorf and Salome.
The changes of style and bad-taste-strategies of Sigmar Polke, Martin Kippenber-
ger and the "Mülheimer Freiheit"-group seemed all the more enticing. She disco-
vered irony and painted, for example, following the laws of serialism, oversized
leeks in extremely narrow formats.

Shortly before she left for New York, where she spent a year on a DAAD stipend
at the legendary PS1, the Berlin Wall came down. She had only really arrived in the
west, when the old friends from the East stood in her studio and were shocked by
the new paintings she had done in the west. "The East always coerced me to give

She had, from the beginning, mistrusted the sentimental notion of art, which
always pretends to look for truth, and the tendency towards creative originality in
the east. Now, in America, the question what a painted picture can do and what it
cannot do became more acute. "I wanted something to take back from my being
here. I had, among other things, painted giant cockroaches. (...) Meeting people and
meeting with situations was more interesting . (...) The painted picture couldn't fol-
low that any more."5 She bought a video camera and left the building of an
inwardness (Innerlichkeit) prone to believing in pictures. Far away the times when
she opposed the monochrome political state by producing romantically dyed, ele-
giac and fanciful counter-pictures to decorate "the inner kingdom of the quiet in the

The search for the genuine, true inner kernel of things was superseded by the dis-
cussion of the surface shine of objects, of semblance, and of the appearance of tri-
vial pictorial worlds.

Now the subjects of her paintings are film posters, star portraits of the Yellow Press,
photographs of all kinds. The deconstruction of surface kicks and cliches, the ima-
ge of stars is composed of, is turned into a method. First in line there is "Marilyn"
(1994), wearing a splendidly ornamented wasp in her eye like an emblem of nobi-
lity. "Sophia" Loren is wearing a Spanish veil over her mouth and nose, "Liz" Tay-
lor even was painted in four variants. The posture of both head and body remains
the same while she demonstrates the masks of an actress. She herself likes to pose
with hats, costumes, wigs and selected accessories, in the biographical mis-en-sce-
nes, for instance, which she photographed, using an automatic shutter release, in
1992 and 1993, after having had the opportunity to inspect her "Stasi" (State Secu-
rity Service) file, in which she found the denunciative reports and commentaries
made by neighbours, "Abschnittsbevollmachtigten" (a kind of block supervisor)
and "IM"s (informal collaborators of the State Security Service).7

With the women figures found, re-invented in taking their portraits, she tries out
role-models just as dress models,. There is the severe, disdainful looking "Herrin"
(Mistress) and the "Kommissarin" (Female Commissioner), both of 2002, the latter
with wet lips, clad in a white uniform and a touch of SM, we find the lascivious
"femme fatale" with the cool look (»o.T.«, 1996) and the tempting "Nora" (1999)
with her flirtatious mouth slightly open. In Belle Epoque costumes we meet "Prin-
cess Kaiulani" (1999) and "Der Taillenschnürer" (The Bodice Tier) of 2001.
She chooses the photographic prototypes for her portraits with a sure eye for a
defined facial expression or a strange detail of the costume.

Her children's portraits are always arguments with the images grown-ups con-
struct of them, with all projections and longings. The girls on the doorstep of
puberty change between premature eroticism and angel-like innocence, show both
their being strange to the world of the grown-ups and their curiosity for their vane
postures. The Girl with Curlers "Liane" of 2001 is put on stage by Cornelia Schlei-
me like a precocious young film star, looking suggestively up towards the viewer.
Lid line and painted red lips together with curlers in the face of a six-year old have
a grotesque effect.

The portrait of "Minki" (2002) with her cat on her lap and the spatially undefined
girl in a nightgown moonwalking though a flower-patterned wallpaper ("Full
Moon", 2002), which could easily stem from a psycho-thriller, bear the silent
expression of waiting in their faces.

It speaks of a yearning which doesn't yet know what it longs for. It is a look into
the void with no counterpart. It rather testifies for a hermetic world of its own, unat-
tainable for grown-ups. "Alice" (2002), snuggled down on a sofa with laced blan-
kets, looks at he viewer with this absent-minded look. She could be a portrait of
Alice Pleasance Liddell, whose acquaintance Lewis Carroll, four times her senior,
sought, and whom he wanted to be near to. He confined his relations to girls under
the age of twelve, those who had not yet broken with the autonomous world of
childhood through puberty. In a studio, which, with rigging loft, grid-iron, scenes
and costumes, more resembled a small theatre, he put on stage his imagined, thea-
trical and artificial world of childhood in front of the camera, with seductively dres-
sed, graceful countesses and charming barefoot mendicants. He had a fixation on
his childhood and tried to get back to it by associating with children. Cornelia
Schleime, as an artist, seems to be fascinated by this state of being a child.
Behind the fictitious pose of the painted "trash novel"8 with his fixed schemes of
characters, there is the quest for wishful identities of one's own, for secret dreams,
fears and fantasies of childhood on the threshold of growing up.

From 1997 onwards a series of portraits of nuns was created, beginning with the
"Sündenfall" (The Fall of Man) and "Hoc est corpus meum", followed, in 1999, by
the "Exorzistin" (The female exorcist). "Sin" (2000) stands her very self amidst
innocent leaves and flowers in front of the viewer as a "novice", all clad in white,
with a white hood and red lips. Recently the nuns have been given names and gai-
ned more individuality. The line-up for this exhibition is: "Bernadette", with poin-
ted nose and pouting lips; "Clara", serious and deep with an open face; capricious
"Fanny" and "Agnes", rather severe and pious; "Lucia", on the contrary, with a cer-
tain inclination towards exhibitionism. We shall keep silent about "Franziska", but
"Sophie" really is a provocation in a nun's gown! These lasciviously and abysmal-
ly secretive painted novices and mature sisters inspired her fictional "Tagebuch
einer Sünderin" (Diary of a Female Sinner).

Having grown up in a protestant and Prussian DDR, she here activates memories of
a clandestine catholic childhood. Both her parents were of catholic origin, the fat-
her from the Rhineland, the mother from Gdansk (Danzig). Both moved to Berlin
(East) after the war. Her father, who had been married before, could not marry her
mother in church, according to catholic rules. So the grandparents only consented
to the partnership under the condition that the child should be raised strictly catho-
lic. The parents didn't take practical religion all that seriously, but they kept the pro-
mise and sent the child to lessons in religion, to the Holy Communion and to the
weekly confessions, something the daughter experienced as a great contradiction
from very early on. Even the notes for confession were manipulated by the mother.
When the daughter wanted to confess to have eaten meat on a Friday, the mother
insisted on not mentioning it, as it would have fallen back on the parents. Instead,
she should rather confess to have told lies or disobeyed the parents. "But I had not
told lies but yet I confessed it, so that there was at least something to confess. - It
was absurd, but I felt purged after every confession nevertheless."9 Every Sunday
she had to go to church alone, while the parents stayed at home under pretexts.
"And at school, this catholic doings had to be kept secret, too, just as it was kept
secret from the church that one didn't make much fuss about praying at home."10
So for the child there was this hidden and bigot practice of catholic life in additi-
on to the living contradictions between public and private morals in the DDR.
"But when I was 17,1 began to revolt against all this, left the church and resolved
to become an artist, because that seemed to me the only way to self-determinati-

In 1999 Cornelia Schleime painted "Meine erste Kommunion" (My First Holy
Communion"), with a communion candle and a Bible bound in violet. She wears
the wreath of blossoms of the Bride of Christ and white gloves. From the oval fra-
me she looks to the viewer frontally and with a serious expression.
In the lustful receptivity of the confessions in the diary she strikes the chord of
the pious eroticism we know from the mystics of love between the earthly bride and
the heavenly bridegroom, which is a widely used motif in Christian Iconography.
The "penny-books" on the bedside-table of Sister Chantal, with titles like "Wahn-
sinn der Lust" (Frenzy of Lust), showing a young man "looking even more beauti-
ful than our Lord Jesus Christ", also belong to the feelings of lustful pain we know
from the legends of the Saints and from the stigmatized.
If she weren't a Berliner by birth, the well known outcry of the despairing mother
"Du bist verrückt mein Kind, Du musst nach Berlin,' wo die Verrückten sind, da
gehörst Du hin!" (You are a fool my child, you must go to Berlin, where all the
fools are found, there your place should be!) would match her perfectly well. Here
she finds the anonymity and the openness she needs to find images and to invent
images. After all, it's the pictures again that accompany and mirror her changes and
sloughings: I paint, therefore I am.

Eckhart Gillen

Translated by G. Charles Rump

1 Quoted from a letter of May 30th, 1985
2 From an unpublished text, dated March 26th, 2002. Her diaries with texts, drawings, watercolours, picture postcards and photographs on travels to Kenya, Indonesia, Brazil or Hawaii count among her most beautiful works
3 Carl Einstein, Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts, Leipzig 1988, quoted after the 3rd edition of 1931, p. 226
4 Cornelia Schleime in a conversation with the author on March 13th, 2002 in her studio in Berlin
5 Statement, Bildende Kunst 1990, p. 98
6 Theodor W. Adorno, Ästhetische Theorie, Frankfurt am Main 1973, p. 177
7 See Cornelia Schleime, Biographische Rekonstruktion, in: neue bildende kunst. Zeitschrift fur Kunst und Kritik, 3 (1993) p. 21
8 See the artificial "Schundroman" (trash novel) of Bodo Kirchhoff, Frankfurt am Main 2002, which is modelled as a homage to American pulp literature of the Thirties and Forties
9/10/11Cornelia Schleime in a conversation with the author on March 13th, 2002 in her studio in Berlin