Surreal worlds of pictures and secretive stories – Anke Feuchtenberger

Copyright: Anke Feuchtenberger

Shortly before the Berlin Wall came down, Anke Feuchtenberger, Henning Wagenbreth, Holger Fickelscherer and Detlef Beck joined together and founded a ‘Produktions-genossenschaft des Handwerks’ (production cooperative for handicrafts - PGH for short), called ‘Glühende Zukunft’, or ‘Glowing Future’. During its four-year existence, they came to public attention through their artistic activities in public spaces, such as graffiti and wall paintings. They were motivated by creative actionism that was an expression of their political opposition. After the collapse of the Communist system, the individual artists in the East Berlin artists’ collective were very much in demand, particularly for their theatre posters, but also amongst book publishers and the print media for their illustrations. At the same time they were using their comic-like work to experiment with the visual forms of expression within the two different cultures and combining the aesthetics of East-European graphics and illustration with the Western narrative tradition of the comic. Feuchtenberger's work has many outlets and includes paintings, drawings, posters, prints, costume, puppets, cartoon films – as well as comics, of course.

Her first comics drawings are dominated by angular contours, portraying characters and objects in hard lines. Their design is reminiscent of woodcut and linocut prints. Her colouration ranges from strong to garish; individual surfaces further accentuated by means of vegetative opulence or graphically minimal ornamentation.

Later, the artist used charcoal or pencil for drawing. On coarse-grained paper or canvas, her strokes blur and meld with the shadows’ and contours’ fine, powdery nuances of grey. The artist, who studied commercial graphics, joined word and image together into a graphically cohesive texture while providing – asynchronously - only an indirect connection on the narrative level. Anke Feuchtenberger cooperated occasionally with the author Katrin de Vries. Together they developed narratives such as Die kleine Dame (1997), Die Hure H (1996), Die Hure H zieht ihre Bahnen (2003) and Die Hure H wirft den Handschuh (2007). Her enigmatic portrayals have a somnambulistic character, which is reflected in both the surreal motifs and in the cryptic combinations of words.

Sexuality and physicality are the central themes that Anke Feuchtenberger confronts in her comics. In Das Haus (2001), she divides the human body into thirty parts. In five to six pictures for each part, she reduces and condenses individual terms with the aid of metaphors and symbols. Instead of telling a story, Feuchtenberger creates visual and textual chains of associations, which appear to be separate from each other, but which achieve a profound or ambiguous expressive power when combined.

In 1997 Feuchtenberger was made Professor of Illustration at the Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften in Hamburg. Since then her teaching has shaped and supported a new generation of German illustrators and comic-book illustrators such as Sascha Hommer, Arne Bellstorf and Birgit Weyhe. Then, together with Stefano Ricci, she founded the MamiVerlag publishing house with the aim of publishing not only her own stories but in particular the stories of younger illustrators, as there are very few publishing opportunities for more experimental creations.

Alongside books by Gosia Machon, Jul Gordon, Birgit Weyhe, Stefan Ricci and an anthology of work by her students, MamiVerlag also published a book by Feuchtenberger herself. The collection of pictures wehwehwehsupertraene.de arose between 2006 and 2008 as a preliminary work for Feuchtenbergers new character, Supertears. In the book each drawing stands alone and at the same time is connected to the others. “How the pictures come together, in which space they developed, was important to me” says Feuchtenberger. And the space that exists between the very expressive pictures pulls the observer in, as do the expressive motifs.

In wehwehwehsupertraene.de Anke Feuchtenberger has created an idiosyncratic hybrid. On the one hand each picture stands alone and on the basis of the power of that picture offers a wealth of stories. On the other hand, the observers knows that the pictures are all connected to each other and so makes that connection. And as there is no text and no apparent narrative, this happens at a very subliminal level. And so one dives into a surreal world of pictures that conceals a wealth of secretive stories within it.

In Die Spaziergängerin (i.e. a woman taking a walk), Feuchtenberger links her travel experiences from Guimareas (Portugal) and Tel Aviv (Israel) with her experiences of the metropolis of Berlin into subtle loosely interwoven narratives. The postcards, comic strips and graphic essays merge observations of everyday life with fantastic elements and provide insight into the artist’s wide range of style forms.

Matthias Schneider is a cultural scientist, freelance cultural journalist and curator of film programs and exhibitions about comics.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
Dezember 2012

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