Week Fifty One
Esther Teichmann (b. 1980)
Untitled, from the series Mythologies, 2012-13

Esther Teichmann is a German–American artist based in London. She works in series; her first body of work entitled ‘Viscosity’ shows men, women and children surrounded by a dark thick liquid (is it the sea? oil?) or floating half naked or unclothed in a beautiful tropical landscape. They seem lost, far from home.

That early series of figures submerged within a lake at night, rupturing the surface of the water, came from memories of swimming in the forest lake near my childhood home on humid summer nights. The exhilaration and eroticism of swimming naked in these black waters was always combined with the frightening impulse to keep swimming deeper and not resurface.

‘Mythologies’ draws upon a range of references and source material, from Orientalist paintings to literature. They show all aspects of woman as mother and lover, of fantasy and desire.

A whole chapter of the book I have written …is about skin, the skin of the image, of mother and lover, looking at what it is to feel alive through the body and skin of another. Waiting for and anticipating the return of the mother, of her touch, her skin, is a delirium first experienced in the childhood fascination with the image of the mother, and re-encountered later with that of the object of one’s love.

Teichmann is very interested in the surrealist George Bataille and his writings, especially that which says ‘a state of ecstasy may only ever be reached when we are aware (if only peripherally) of death or annihilation’; of how this links to both the death of the object, captured within a photograph, and its relationship to the description of petite mort, the French for little death, to describe orgasm.

Writing is vital to her work, as she describes so well:
Literature, cinema and my own writing are crucial to my process of making and thinking about images. I often write images before I make them as visual objects, or write stories based on the images and experiences of them. In the process of writing, my own memories and autobiography become fictionalised, characters based on existing people blur into one another taking on the shape of someone else.

She has an MA in Fine Art from the Royal College of Art in 2005, and is Senior Lecturer in Photography at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts London.

What others say about her:
“Teichmann’s utopian island-world lies somewhere between black and blue seas, between here and now and the fantasy of where one might go, or perhaps, even, where one has been. At the heart of the work is the experience of the primal loss of the mother, who necessarily turns away, as Teichmann’s mother does in some of the photograph.”
Carol Mavor Love in Black and Blue

What she says:
Rather than working directly from specific art-history I collect material from various sources, from (the) Renaissance and Orientalist paintings.., material too from newspaper clippings and film stills and pin them up in the studio. These bodies, their gestures and narrative potential, become loose references, which I then build upon.

Whether in the studio with backdrops and lighting, or out on location, I am interested in creating this otherworldly fictional space of desire and longing, and painting onto the images allowed me to loosen it from its photographic referent. Suddenly I could move more fluidly from studio to landscape. The images were no longer as clearly geographically located – whether photographed in caves in Germany, in swamps in Florida, in waterfalls in upstate NY or California, or in the jungle in Kenya or Australia – the spaces become one through palette and a working into the image, dripping in psychedelic inky hues.

Why I like her:
I love the combination of these beautiful photographs that are a mix of fact and fiction, aligned with her wonderful way with words…

Inherent to the photographic, as to desire and love, is the paradox and impossibility of grasping a body, the quest to close this gap between oneself and the other/image, and the inevitable distance, which always remains. As much as the photograph is a question of this body, it is also a moment of violence, of wanting to possess that which is always beyond reach. Momentarily photography delivers the perhaps universal and timeless desire to become one with another, sought within the lovers’ embrace. The apparatus makes this possible, makes loving pictures and picturing love a vertiginous extended moment of absolute proximity and distance at once.

Esther Teichmann Untitled, from the series Mythologies, 2012-13


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