Sabine Moritz – Concrete and Dust

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Closed: December 22 till January 9
Sabine Moritz

In the winter of 2009, I visited Sabine Moritz in her studio in Cologne. Having followed Sabine’s practice as a painter for many years, it was during this visit that I discovered a folder of drawings resting upon a table. The extraordinary beauty of the works took me aback. The drawings published in Lobeda date back to 1992 and 1993, a time when Moritz was still studying in Offenbach and Düsseldorf. Drawn from memory, the works relate to the surroundings of Jena-Lobeda, where Moritz lived until 1985. Her childhood home was a flat in an enormous, anonymous Plattensiedlung, one of the hundreds of giant housing blocks that proliferated in the towns and cities of East Germany. Among the vivid details of everyday life that feature in the drawings, we find neighbourhood playgrounds, the apartment block, the artist’s kindergarten and school, and the laboratory where her late father used to work.

Sabine Moritz’s drawings are, on the one hand, an encyclopaedic attempt to recall her life in Jena. On the other hand, they explore the dynamics of how memory is constituted and the way in which it is subject to a continual process of deformation and reformation. As memories made visual – the fleeting impulses of the past made concrete as art – the drawings activate an awareness of time. They are records of specific experiences that open out onto the general horizon of a collective history. As a protest against forgetting, Moritz’s drawings lead us to Israel Rosenfield who has worked, for many decades, at the powerful intersection between history and neuroscience. He has continually sought to discover how human memories are created, stored and retrieved. As Rosenfield explained:

‘Memory is obviously the ability to recall people, events and objects. More importantly, memory in a human sense, as opposed to memory in a machine, is context dependent. In a machine we can store specific “memories” and access them at will. This is not true of human and (probably) animal memory. The context in which the memory was acquired, as well as the context in which we try to recall it, are important factors in our ability to become aware of the memory. Human memory is incredibly dynamic – it is caught in a process of perpetual transformation and is for this reason very fragile and prone to erasure. Memories of spaces, in particular, have a clear mnemonic function.’

Lobeda shows us a way of concretising memory, whilst retaining all the fragility of its immaterial sources. It also is an attempt to rein in the dynamic process of memory by way of externalisation, and drawing is an incredibly valuable way of doing this because memory is dependent upon physical and sensory perception. The drawings tell us, above all, about the inscrutability of memory. Drawing is way of spacialising memory, as is evident in Lobeda, and also a crucial means of fostering the active processes of remembering.

Processuality is also captured in the series of flower drawings and paintings. Sabine Moritz depicts flowers, often lilies, roses and tulips, in her studio. The architecture of the room sometimes forms part of the picture, or there is a glimpse of the buildings beyond the window. Generally speaking, the flower drawings are still lifes, but they exude a brittle atmosphere which, when paired with the sharp-edged stalks and petals, alludes to a much deeper narrative. Despite being isolated on the page, the flowers do not appear to be accurate botanical studies made from nature. Nor do they possess a spiritual dimension, as flowers do, for example, in Christian iconography. The drawings, which seem as though they were jotted down in an attempt to capture an elusive moment, are reminiscent of those in the Lobeda series. This is because something dynamic, just like a memory, has been brought to a halt. The drawings immortalise the ephemeral nature of the flowers on the page, while the artist’s quick, sensitive brushstrokes mirror their fragility.

Flowers in full bloom and those in a state of withered decay are given equal attention. Thus the drawings, as an ensemble, comprise a portrait of the different ages of flowers. The sequence of images within the book, and the repetitive motion required to turn the pages, generates a conceptual context that is suggestive of development and movement. Through the variations in type and age, the flowers turn into symbols of growth. The seriality of the motifs, and the numbers noted in the titles of the drawings, might suggest that Moritz takes an objective, empirical approach to her subject but, just as Lobeda is not a geographical map of her hometown, it is an illusion that is shattered by the highly personal way she puts pencil to paper.

Hans Ulrich Obrist