Annette Weisser

Annette Weisser talks about her exhibition at the Heidelberger Kunstverein

Left: Annette Weisser, Blockflötenmädchen 1 (Recorder Girl 1), 2012, woodcut on paper, 59 x 34”. Right: Annette Weisser, Recommendations (Ask for Help but Make It Sound like a Privilege), 2011, woodcut on paper, 37 x 25”.

Coming of age in Germany in the 1980s, Annette Weisser and her generation were caught between a genuine horror of fascism and disgust with the official national creed of repentance. Considering this almost-forgotten history is to ask oneself how, and by what turn of events, identities like “citizen” and “nation” that were once taken for granted have come to seem almost incredible. Weisser’s woodcuts, partly inspired by this history, can currently be seen in “Make Yourself Available,” the most extensive exhibition of her work to date in Germany, which is on view at the Heidelberger Kunstverein until September 1, 2013. Here she talks about the show and the genesis of these works.

THIS SHOW was partly triggered by The German Issue of Semiotext(e) that came out in 1982. It was republished in 2011, and I remain fascinated by its central idea, which seems even more apt right now: After 1989, the German situation changed so dramatically that the decade leading up to the reunification had been erased from collective memory. I strongly believe that in order to understand the present moment in Germany, you have to go back to the 1980s, to the decade leading up to German reunification.

While I was thinking about this more general, historical problem, I had a disagreement with my mother about three drawings I’d made in 1983, when I was fifteen. They show a little girl, obviously myself, saving the world from evil—very much like a comic strip. My favorite is one where the little girl stands on a bomb. There are two machine guns pointed at her from outside of the frame, and she is holding the world, stretched out between the two spheres, bomb and world. And, she’s holding this flower that she obviously walks around with. And she puts down the flower because holding up the world requires both hands.

So my mother had them framed and put up in my former room. Every time I went there to visit, I would see them and think, “I cannot stand these drawings!” They were an uncomfortable reminder of the good girl I have since tried so hard to leave behind. Whenever I visited I would take them off the wall, and then my mother would put them back up when I left. This went on for several years. At one point, I had to ask myself: “Why am I so embarrassed by these drawings?” During my last visit to my parents’ home I decided to go back to the mind-set of that time—to take the occasion of this solo show to pay a visit to my fifteen-year-old self up in her room under the roof.

There are twenty prints in the show, arranged on display elements that suggest the architecture of my childhood room. You look out at the world through false windows of an imaginary young girl’s room, or into her room, depending on your position. The pictures are of things like a girl playing the recorder; in another, she sets it on fire. Woodcuts seemed to me the right medium to deal with these issues of morality. There’s no tonality in the print; it’s a very binary world of just two colors. Plus there’s something very German about it, too. But I guess I had to move to LA to become aware of that!

The Unspecified Angst pieces are more abstract, but they relate to the global threats that were prevalent at the time. Acid rain was a big issue in Germany, especially in the Black Forest, where the firs were visibly affected. After Chernobyl, radioactivity was the next big fear. Chernobyl was the first global event that affected me in my little bubble, the first time that something happened so far away that changed the way we lived, in a very real way. My family decided to burn their whole crop that year; everything that was raised that year in our garden was burned. My family still wouldn’t pick mushrooms in the forest because of the long-term effects. I have vivid memories of the fight against the nuclear recycling plant in Wackersdorf, Bavaria. I went there with my Black Bloc buddies and the confrontation with the police was fierce. I remember this old Bavarian lady with a headscarf, coming toward us with a huge shopping bag. We thought she would bring food for the demonstrators who camped out on the construction site, but instead the bag was filled with stones for us to throw at the police!

When I talk to friends of mine who are a few years older, they would say the 1980s were the decade of cool cynicism, the seemingly never-ending Helmut Kohl era in which the lines of conflict were clearly cut and the world was going down the drain anyway. I guess I was just too young to participate in that general mood. I was protected by my naïveté, by my good girl ideals. In a sense this show is about reclaiming my naïveté as a valuable resource, because cool cynicism didn’t really get us anywhere, did it?