ON THE SELF-SUFFICIENCY OF ARTISTIC EXPRESSION

By Emily Amodeo

 

In December of 2010, when Saskia Hahn riffed onstage with electro-rapper Peaches at Art Basil in Miami during the Peaches Laser Show, the mise-en-scène recalled a wormhole, with aliens spilling out from some distant galaxy, Mongo perhaps—if the costumes were any indication. The antics of the fans suggested the humans found conquest an intensely pleasurable act.

By that time, Hahn, musician, artist, and an autodidact with a fearsome and obsessive intelligence had already shown art in London and Berlin. Her inaugural New York exhibition, $ASKIA: ICONS!?, was to follow less than two years later. Hahn, a Berlin native, has toured with Peaches since they met on the Berlin music scene in 2008 and Dave Catching (Queens Of The Stone Age, Eagles Of Death Metal) has said of her: “One of the coolest women on the planet with chops from beyond time and space.” With her stern, soul-piercing gaze, there is something otherworldly about the artist, as if she knows a secret. The messenger may be soft-spoken, but her words, like her work, are unfailingly, sometimes painfully, to the point, often drawing the viewers’ gaze, with all the gravitational pull of a planet, to liminal terrains: linguistic subtexts within foregrounded objects, and ominous white voids, lag-spaces between the object and the frame, appearance and reality. The silkscreen and canvas worlds evoke pop art, street art, and abstract expressionism, with a siren note of rebellion that hearkens back to the punk movement in rock. Like her music, her art is a seductive invasion of the soul and the senses.

The following dialogue was conducted through a series of epistles over email during which I spent a fair amount of time spastically dancing around my laptop to The Teaches of Peaches, trying to think up ways of distracting the dedicated artist from her labors in her solitary Berlin studio. Her work has been likened to that of Andy Warhol and Jamie Reid. Shepard Fairey also comes to mind, for its controversial appropriation of historical figures and glowing splashes of color. A selection of the artist’s work—and the inspiration behind much of our exchange—is currently on view at the East Village art project space, Peanut Underground.

 

Emily: Peaches said that you used to take photographs while on tour. Was this the first manifestation of your urge to express yourself through a visual medium or did your relationship to art begin earlier than that?

 

Saskia: Yes, that’s true. I mostly took pictures of our everyday tour life: behind the scenes, different settings or situations, taken from different angles.

Almost everything inspires me. It can be a person with a certain look, a group of people, objects, parts of a city or nature, being photographed at a certain moment. But photography is just one of the many mediums I like to work with.

I’ve been drawing and painting ever since I was a child but music always came first until a few years ago. It wasn’t a certain event that all of a sudden made me jump up, grab the brushes and paint.

Being on tour and traveling the world inspired me tremendously plus Peaches and I always tried to make some time in between shows to go to new exhibitions or art openings.

I also took some time off in London, LA, and New York, to check out the local art and music scene. All of this had a huge impact on me and over time the urge to express myself through visual art grew undeniable.

My first exhibition was a solo show—a mix of abstract and op art paintings, digital photo collages, and an installation (LIGHTBOX)—at KIM in Berlin, Mitte. That was in October 2010.

 

Emily: Op art, as in optical illusion art? Which makes use of various techniques—e.g., geometry, lines, colors, patterns—to play with perceptual processes and manufacture illusions, of movement, hidden images, or unsettling effects like warping. The term first appeared in print in an anonymously written 1964 Time Magazine article, “Op Art: Pictures that Attack the Eye.” Although, since I wasn’t alive then, my first experience of it was through the magic eye painting craze of the 80s. Your installation, TRIANGLES reminds me of what Bridget Riley said about the way op art forces the viewer to acknowledge the connection between the eye and the body, “Even smells, noise, and so on have a visual equivalent and can be presented through a certain vocabulary of signs.”  Do you remember what first attracted you to this micro movement?

 

Saskia: I simply wanted to create artwork with more depth by painting on layers of objects instead of using a flat canvas. So I experimented with different colors and shapes and that’s how I created the STRIPES&SQUARES painting and TRIANGLES. I had a couple of ideas and this is how they turned out. I am not a big fan of over-thinking art too much. To me art is self-explanatory. Either you like it or you don’t. I would rather listen to what others are thinking when they look at my work. Art that needs a description bores me.

I like what Josef Albers once said about it: “The description of any visual art as ‘optical art’ is as senseless as speaking of ‘acoustic music’ or ‘haptic sculpture.’”

 

Emily: When it comes to the self-sufficiency of artistic expression, I think textual artists would agree with you, too. Flannery O’Connor said something similar about the short story as “a way to say something that can’t be said any other way,” and Leonard Cohen about the poem as, “just the evidence of life.”

Though I wouldn’t describe your work as retro, I do come away with a sense of nostalgia. Do you feel a connection to the art movements of the sixties?

 

Saskia: Yes, I appreciate the work of Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein. Those artists inspired later generations of artists, like Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, who wielded a powerful influence over pop culture. Not only within the sphere of art but also music. Just think about the eighties and the beginning of MTV. Their work is still everywhere today.

But I wouldn’t consider myself a nostalgic artist. I am always on the  lookout for something new, and different ways to experiment with materials and techniques. Since we’re talking about contemporary artists, Olafur Eliasson, Jeff Koons, and Gerhard Richter, as well as the street artists Nomad and Banksy, are also referenced within the bandwidth of my work.

 

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© Holger Talinsky

© Holger Talinsky