BY Grace Schwindt in Influences | 21 FEB 16

Portfolio: Grace Schwindt

As part of a new series, frieze invites performance artist Grace Schwindt to present a series of images that are important to her

BY Grace Schwindt in Influences | 21 FEB 16

Catherine Sullivan, The Chittendens, 2005, 16mm film still. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Catherine Bastide, Brussels

Catherine Sullivan, The Chittendens, 2005

Video and performance artist Catherine Sullivan creates worlds that are both deeply embedded in existing social structures, and deeply questioning of them: rather than present her audience with a discernable moral consensus of values and identification, she asks them to take responsibility for their own understanding of her work. She does not shy away from her own authorship, and she asks the audience to do the same.

As I understand it, Sullivan adopts strict composing methods and scoring strategies (like numerical sequencing) in order to generate the behaviour and the relationships within her scripts. She creates patterns of tension and release between her actors, asking them to operate within a structure that is both rhythmical and inclusive of the whole body, but nevertheless they remain perpetually human. Their bodies become signifiers, but are never fully abstract.

Theatre has always played a crucial role in my practice, and Sullivan makes me think about that complex relationship between theatre and cinema. How do we understand movement, repetition, rhythm, space, duration, objects, even our own gaze, on the stage as opposed to on the screen?

Victory over the Sun, 1913, production still from a performance at Fondation Beyeler, Basel, Switzerland, during Art Basel, 2015

Victory over the Sun, 1913

Even though Kazimir Malévich’s paintings have been crucial to the development of my practice, the second image for my Portfolio is a still from a recent reenactment of Victory over the Sun, a Russian Futurist opera that premiered in 1913 in Saint Petersburg. 

Victory over the Sun was the result of a collaboration between poets Alexei Kruchenykh and Velimir Khlebnikov, composer Mikhail Matyushin, and Malévich, who designed the set. Together, they invented a new world in a new language (‘zaum’), within which text, music and the art of painting merge through a process of deconstruction and reinvention. 

The opera introduced the first of Malévich’s ‘Black Square’ paintings, a pivotal series and one that has provoked endless questions about the art of representation. Looking at these works, I am drawn to think about whether a blank square can be an image, whether a movement can be more than a gesture, and so on and so forth. For me, this is the key to much of Malévich’s work: the manner in which he thinks through what representation is and what it can be, and the way that he considers what abstraction means in relation to reality. In each painting, he insists on looking at the world with care, and as a result you are constantly pushed to imagine a new order that is not determined by cruelty or exclusion, but by honesty.

Jack Smith, Untitled, c.1958-62/2011, c-type print hand printed from original colour negative, 36 x 27 cm. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels © Jack Smith Archive

Jack Smith, Untitled, c.1958-62/2011

As both a filmmaker and an artist, Jack Smith understood the importance of every single element that contributed to his work, however small, and was unwaveringly dedicated to the visual. Over the years it is something that has given me great strength and trust in my own creation of imagery. 

Other artists that have been key to my practice for similar reasons are Derek Jarman, Jean-Luc Godard, Federico Fellini and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, to name but a few.

Ian White, Trauerspiel 1, 2012, documentation of performance at Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin. Photograph: © Nina Hoffmann

Ian White, Trauerspiel 1, 2012

For my next entry I have selected a photograph of Trauerspiel 1, a work that was realised in 2012 at the Hebbel am Ufer theatre, Berlin, by Ian White, one of the most important people that I have known, as both a friend and a teacher. Until his untimely death in 2013 he performed in his own work, and his appearances on stage always affected me deeply: he was absolutely fearless when it came to exposing the fragility of his body. 

One crucial conversation that we had was about the relationship between the body on the stage and the body on the screen. Ian suggested that, while you could argue that the former is alive and the latter is not, in actual fact neither is alive, because while it is present, the body on stage is rehearsed and wholly predetermined; destined to endlessly repeat the same movements. Thus, a comparison can be drawn between the two forms, as ultimately each is dealing with the same limitations through the same repetitions.

No shortcuts were possible when Ian was around. He taught me the importance of thinking about both the details and the wider context, insisting that I look at everything with an open eye and an open heart; encouraging me to be strong through honesty and courage. He knew my practice inside out: all of my thoughts and every one of my gestures.

George Grosz, Untitled, 1919, watercolour, reed pen and ink on paper, 40 x 27.5 cm. Courtesy Richard Nagy Ltd., London; Private Collection

George Grosz, Untitled, 1919

I have always looked to drawing and painting for inspiration, including the works of those artists connected with New Objectivity, such as Christian Schad and Raoul Hausmann, and then John Heartfield, Hannah Höch and many of the dada artists.

This is a watercolour that the German artist George Grosz made when he was in his mid-twenties, and like the other works that sit around it, it demonstrates how the young artist envisaged his own reality as something of a fantasy. Flick through the collection and you will find a slew of fantastical characters lifted from fairy tales as well as an array of artists like Wilhelm Busch, Ritter von Grützner and Eduard Theodor that influenced him from an early age.

Charles Bukowski lifting weights at his apartment in Hollywood, California, 1976. Courtesy Getty Images; photograph Joan Gannij

Charles Bukowski lifting weights at his apartment in Hollywood, California, 1976, photographed by Joan Gannij

I frequently reference novels and short stories in my work, whether phrases, atmospheres, descriptions of scenes, movements, emotions, thoughts, colours or aspects of the self, and I always find myself drawn to the writing of Charles Bukowski. He somehow manages to convey both a love for people and a deep disappointment in humanity. 

The same goes for Carson McCullers, who Bukowski adored. McCullers writes from the point of view of an outsider, but she always conveys this feeling of exclusion through very delicate descriptions of bodies and their movements. In Ballad of a Sad Café (1951), for instance, McCullers uses the image of a woman singing a simple melody to point towards loneliness, futility and the overbearing evil of this world:

Somewhere in the darkness a woman sang in a high wild voice and the tune had no start and no finish and was made up of only three notes which went on and on.

'Rosemarie Trockel: A Cosmos', 2012, installation view at New Museum. Courtesy New Museum, New York; photograph: Benoit Pailley

‘Rosemarie Trockel: A Cosmos’, 2012

Another artist that I need to include in my Portfolio is Rosemarie Trockel. Using a number of different media that each introduce their own logic, she creates new worlds that seem to constantly move in and out of touch with reality. Other artists whose projects speak to me in the same way include Joëlle Tuerlinckx, Eva Hesse, Saloua Raouda Choucair and Jenny Holzer. Each of these makes me react both cerebrally and with my whole body.

Grace Schwindt (born 1979, Germany) is a London-based artist working with film, live performance and sculpture. In 2015, she had solo exhibitions at Tramway, Glasgow, UK; Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada; and Site Gallery, Sheffield, UK; and had work included in the 14th Istanbul Biennial, Turkey, and Art Unlimited at Art Basel, Switzerland. This year, Schwindt will be the subject of solo exhibitions at MARCO – Museum of Contemporary Art, Vigo, Spain, and the Institute of Contemporary Interdisciplinary Arts, Bath, UK.