Topographic Anatomy

The artistic works by Heike Lydia Gr represent a special combination of science and an explorer spirit, which she investigates by drawing literally on old photographs of journeys to the colonies dating from 1870 to 1930. They depict the flora and fauna at the time and show people within the structure of their families, traditions, myths of creation, religion and spiritualism, and taboos. Simultaneously, these images project a Western European perspective onto these countries at the time. Gr first worked on the subject of colonialism in the book Das Weib bei den Naturvlkern. Eine Kulturgeschichte der primitiven Frau (The Woman and the Primitives. A Cultural History of the Primitive Woman) (1931), edited by Ferdinand Freiherr von Reitzenstein. The title of her first two cycles of drawings name this influence explicitly: "Reitzenstein" (2005). Closely linked to these artistic works is an engagement with anthropological theories, in particular Edward Burnett Tylor's (1832-1917) classical definition of culture. According to Tylor, the anthropological concept of culture refers to ones expectations of the knowledge, customs, religions, morals and art of a people of a society. Tylor's term of "survivals" - the artifacts that allow a glimpse into the life of nearly forgotten societies - opens a new perspective for interpreting Heike Lydia Gr' works. We see how they draw on the images and imagination of explorers from bygone times, but have now been changed, painted over and distorted. Grotesquely and chimera-like, they are holding up a mirror to the early fascination with far-away countries. Thus Tylor's concept of "survivals" gains a new level of meaning as the artist rearranges excerpts and fragments of the photographs and creates new links, i.e., new stories about the cultures that were seemingly lost.

The engagement with the photographs opens new questions: to what extent were the images of a foreign country preconceived; to what extent does the viewer attempt to force the impressions and the discovery into the frame of his own experiences and to match them with his preconceptions? To what extent is the viewer open-minded towards the unexpected, that which does not fit into his world view? Did the European explorer create his concept of the foreign landscapes including the people living in it prior to his trip or did he search for a fulfillment of a geographic utopia?
In Gr' discussion of such questions, art becomes a territory of exploration and discovery. Looking at the old photographies being adapted, painted over and newly arranged, their multiple layers create a mis-en-scene, generating also new faces. However, the distortion of these images results also in an opening of their layers, allowing a glimpse beneath a surface which emerges as a parallel world just as valid as our regular world of experience. Step by step the drawings form markers on a path, changing themselves as a device of exploring the foreign and the familiar, the close and the far-away come together. Art becomes the vehicle of knowledge and experience.

(Ulrike Olms)                                                  (Translation by Ulrike Nichols)

To announce new shapes
transformed into new bodies
my spirit pushes me.

(Ovid. Metamorphoses. First Book)