PHANTASMA. THE DREAMLIKE NARRATIVES OF VERA COMPLOJ AND CORNELIA LOCHMANN
The Greek root of the term Phantasma is the verb to appear (phantaso, “I appear”): it signifies both apparition and dream, in reference above all to mental images produced by the imagination.
Those who tell stories often use ghosts and spectres, exploiting motifs and archetypes from our innermost dimension that others can engage with emotionally. In contemporary art we are now witnessing a widespread revival of storytelling, and even if the narratives of the artists of the present are often more fragmented and less linear than those we are traditionally used to, they respond to the same need to relate to our cultural space with methods that offer an alternative to seemingly objective and rational statements of fact. Storytelling is a cognitive practice that uses memory, dream-like imagery and make-believe: it is an invitation to detach temporarily and metaphorically from the reality of everyday life and perceive it from a different perspective. When narratives use imaginary apparitions, time can be dilated and space may allude to other dimensions.
This can be seen in the works of Cornelia Lochmann, which interweave fragments of real life with dreamlike aspects, and also manifest events of the past and present or elements of literary culture transfigured by the artist’s reading. The phrase attributed to Madame Pompadour – Après moi, le déluge (after me comes the flood) – for example, is taken up by the artist, who forms her own personal, mystery-infused interpretation of it. The quote – not without irony – conveys the image of an artist firmly anchored to the here and now, and not overly concerned with what is around her. But it also affords a key insight into Lochmann’s art: her invitation to reflect on the vague, clichéd concept of the “political artist”, and the way she calls attention to our inevitably subjective ways of perceiving the world. Indeed, current affairs like the dramatic attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices also feature in her paintings, but are embedded in a personal, emotive dimension, alluding to the way we react to the events that take place around us. In Cornelia Lochmann’s paintings the emotions, feelings and impulses that arise in the relationship between the self and the world are entrusted to the female subjects who dominate her paintings. These inevitably evoke the artist herself, but at the same time resonate with a universal vision of the female figure, her innermost feelings, sexuality, anger and cruelty. In formal terms, these expressive paintings are characterised by spontaneous, at times violent gestures, and the various elements Lochmann alludes to emerge like islands in an archipelago: small, separate microcosms united by her evocation, the meaning of which can be continuously reworked by the viewer.
Meanwhile Vera Comploj, in her new project Conversation pieces, analyses her status as “migrant” and explores the notion of “Heimat”, the idea of a homeland where one feels one belongs. Photographer by training, in her works Vera Comploj adopts a detached yet empathetic perspective to examine issues connected to the search for personal identity. In her new work using the medium of film and photographic stills, the identity in question is above all her own: that of a young woman born with a twin sister in the Ladin ethnic minority in a remote valley in northern Italy, who emigrated first to Paris and then to New York. Her reflections are entrusted to a series of conversations held in the three languages of South Tyrol (Italian, German and Ladin). They reject an objective, documentary angle, opting instead for an open-ended approach reminiscent of dream sequences, dream-like evocations. Experimenting with a dilated time frame, the artist tries to blur the distinction between imagined material and testimony, fact and fiction. The first part of the project consists in a series of short videos, leading into the second part: a group conversation around a table laden with food, a traditional setting for social interaction. The various sequences draw on the artist’s life story, but could easily regard the lives of others and are deliberately edited to enable the viewer to form his or her own subjective associations.
Despite the differences between their work, both Cornelia Lochmann and Vera Comploj reject the traditional dividing line between the artist as storyteller and the audience as listener: in their distinctive heterogeneous careers both artists set out to invite viewers into a dreamlike dimension where they can appropriate the stories presented and create new ones of their own.