You can take the girl out of Germany but you can't take…
As an artist, the process of studying and working in Scotland has given me a creative freedom and an alternative perspective on the central themes that permeate my work, in ways I could not have envisaged had I remained in Germany. Whilst one might reasonably argue that these insights and freedoms could have been accrued in a dozen other, warmer and dryer countries, there is something both unique and beguiling about Scotland that I personally find greater than the sum of its parts: a reality and a dream that lies somewhere between Rob Roy and Trainspotting and continues to influence and stimulate my work.
This familiar but intrinsically alien culture has developed my own sense of self, and brought many of the assumptions and (cultural) assurances of my identity into sharp relief. Time in particular creates dissonances: during my decade in Scotland I have fallen ‘out of step’ with the attitudes and sensibilities of contemporary Germany and like so many émigrés before me, my memories and language start to solidify, distorting the past and creating unyielding certainties about who I am and where I am from.
As I straddle both cultures, I find that belonging cannot solely be defined by a physical place. Rather it is found within the spaces that exist between our pasts and presents. The question of identity and the extent to which my own is defined through memory, loss, history and absence is a fundamental element of my work.
In response, what I create draws upon the wider social and political context within which my own story sits, interweaving the rich landscapes and distant horizons of childhood with the visual and symbolic grammar, motifs and themes of my native culture.
When I studied wood carving, our drawing teacher asked us to copy one of Durer’s portraits. The point of the exercise, and the discipline needed was obvious: layer upon layer of neat strokes and hooks were gradually built up, some denser and stronger than others to give depth and texture, taking weeks to complete. My own series based on Durer’s etchings and drawings, like the originals, are conceived in metal. Unlike the originals, these are sculptures, inversions of the finished print, capturing the depth and texture of the print in the corrugation and subsequent play of light across the metal.
I vividly remember a heavy leather binder that sat on my father’s desk. It had a bellowing stag’s head embossed on the cover, with oak leaves embellishing its antlers. As a child I loved and was fascinated by this binder in equal measure. It was an object so obviously displaced from its natural surroundings that it demanded the viewer’s attention. It had belonged to my grandfather who had kept it in a hunting lodge in the forests of his estate in Bohemia. However within the context of a desk in suburban Munich, the power and imagery of this object was diminished - reduced from a piece that spoke of the mysteries of the forest and our spirituality, to kitsch and absurdity.
In Yellow my family’s tradition of service within the military, both in Austria and Germany, is explored. The association yielded lands and titles, yet all that remains are the tintypes and portraits with their magnificent uniforms and stern faces. Nonetheless the implacable attitude of these gentlemen and their kind would also prove to be our collective undoing as they, and the countries they served, were incapable of side-stepping the inevitable.
Which is your favourite Grimm’s fairytale? I refer not to the sanitised versions produced by the Walt Disney Company, but rather the gory tales of good and evil, where morality always holds the upper hand and the evil stepmother smoulders in the red hot iron shoes.
Simone Landwehr Traxler is currently living and working in Glasgow. Born in Munich in 1969 she trained as an apprentice in wood carving in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and subsequently studied at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Dresden. After her diploma she moved to Glasgow and finished her Master's degree in Fine Arts at the Glasgow School of Art in 2001. Since then she has been exhibiting nationally and internationally.