Unheard-Of Things

Approaching the Drawings of Karoline Schreiber
by  Samuel Herzog

I often envision my own life like the furrow that a plow leaves in the ground—a more or less straight line along the world, an enormous path for me, the boulevard of my existence, but altogether a modest incision in the great principle of the vital, a minor scratch in the endless field of possibilities. On either side of this furrow, small mountains of soil are heaped, with the one arising more or less smoothly from the other. In my imagination, these mountains stand for all the things that I do not completely understand from inside the furrow, that are not consistent with my vision of life, for which I am ashamed of myself, that I find irrational or even completely unacceptable. They might be pieces of dreams that I am not able or do not want to interpret. They might, however, also be feelings that I do not want to have; distractions that do not bring me any further; annoyances that I see as troublemakers; thoughts that do not contribute anything.

Precisely there, in the area of these small earthen walls that flank the furrow of life, is where I would also like to situate the drawings of Karoline Schreiber. It is the realm of the unseen or the unsightly, of the unheard or the unheard-of, of the brazen, the improper, or the incongruous. It is the other that one sometimes only reluctantly wants to acknowledge as also being part of one’s own life. It is the other in which one, however, sometimes also recognizes an opportunity, the potential of a detour, of an expanding of prevailing perceptions, of something refreshing.

Let us take drawing 18022013 as an example. A man and a woman meet in water that is only knee-deep. He has sat himself down on the ground; she is wearing a bathing suit and standing next to him. He is softly grasping her between her legs with his right hand with obvious pleasure. His eyes are closed with desire, his mouth open expectantly, his left hand raised, perhaps to retain his balance. She stands there as if turned to stone. Her eyes are also closed, but her features do not express any desire; she instead seems to tolerate, to endure it. Her arms are dangling next to her body and seem incredibly tense, all of her sinews and muscles tensed under her skin. “Anatomie des Lebens” (Anatomy of Life) is written above them—but what is being cut open here, what is being brought to light? Everything, it seems, is connected with this touch, since the touching hand is huge and clearly the center of the composition. Its fingers disappear behind the woman’s leg; they could just as easily be stuck into her thigh. We feel reminded of a scene from the Bible, picturing Thomas the Apostle, who does not want to believe in the resurrection of Christ—until he is able to sink his fingers into his wounds. We do not know whether this man is searching for evidence on the woman’s body—nor do we know why she permits this. But what we clearly sense is the tension between these two people, which can resolve itself in either a pleasant or a dangerous direction.

Sheet 09052014 therefore makes a very different impression. Here we see two figures on the left side wearing black burkas with grilles covering the eyes—we assume that they are two strictly religious Muslim women. One of them is standing, while the other seems to be sitting on something or to be slightly contorted for some other reason. They are looking at a curious scene: a cow is carrying on its back a kind of sack, which is tied together in the middle. Two feet, from which something is trickling to the ground, are sticking out of the top of this sack. The sack is vaguely reminiscent of a human being standing on its head on the back of the cow—no head is visible, but the outlines of two large hands perhaps seem to be indicated. The scene eludes any direct interpretation. What can be said is that something is keeping a low profile or hiding itself on the left side, while something is revealed, something is leaking out, on the right. This also corresponds to the graphic style: the two women on the left are drawn with dense hatchings, dark and solid bodies; the cow with the sack of feet is drawn in short strokes, appearing light and sparse, almost a bit provisional. Mixed-up body parts is an element that is also found in other drawings. On sheet 24112014 , two figures are standing at a stove. The one has a hand in place of its head and, in exchange, heads as hands—and feet that also look like hands. The other figure has legs in place of arms and a female breast as its head. In contrast to this, what is standing on the stove is clearly identifiable: two large legs of meat and a pot of potatoes. I could imagine that this drawing was created based on a feeling of momentary disorientation. There are days when I feel that there is a strong difference between myself and the world that surrounds. At such moments, everything about me seems to have gotten mixed up. I then no longer know where my head is—or my hands. To me, the outside world, the reality of things, then seems to be almost unbearably organized as measured against my confusion, and as measured against my inconsistencies, upsettingly consistent. And it then seems to me as if I had lost—in the truest sense of the word—my selfevident quality.

The fact that the contradiction in the area of the earthen walls of our furrow of existence represents a kind of harmony goes without saying. This is found exemplarily in drawing 24012013 : we see a man who has hung himself from a beam structure with a rope. His eyes strain from his head like buttons. Under him, we read: “sich jeden Tag neu erfinden” (inventing oneself anew each day). One might at first think that the man has failed at precisely this task, that he was not successful in inventing himself one day and drew the conclusion from this. But we then notice that the wooden structure is not anchored anywhere, so that the man has hung himself in nothingness or, put another way, is floating in the air along with his gallows, in freedom. There is yet another second contradiction in the image—the contradiction between the carefully presented materiality of the wooden structure and the quickly sketched body of the man. The draughtswoman apparently occupied herself more intensively with the “gallows” than with the person hanging—is the hanging man therefore subject to a sudden malaise, an acute rage? Might we regard him on a more general level than the discomfort in everyday life? Or, optimistically, even understand him as the threat under whose pressure we are first prepared to invent?

The drawings of Karoline Schreiber present something of the aggregations that flank our furrow in life. This must perforce remain ambiguous, and perhaps also menacing—the elements of the hidden that one scratches out, and thus brings to the light of the world, can at first only be uncanny. But it is also quite possible that, without what now and then rolls from the earthen walls into the furrow, no fruit would be possible.