Kloster St. Marienberg, Helmstedt, 1999

A mere gentle breeze could destroy the delicate structures made of transparent paper. Thread holds them together and penetrates them with seams that follow an ornamental logic. Thin twine and small nails are the connection to the wall, which is more background than carrier for the sheets that always move in the draft.

Isabel Schmiga calls these works drawings. But they lack the immediacy of the stroke, the handwritten quality is translated by the sowing machine, the flow of the line is subdivided into rows of stitches. Mechanisation as a distancing procedure pushes itself between the hand of the artist and the eye of the beholder, without breaking the seductive power of the workmanship that is inherent to these fragile compositions.

Like the drawings, the sculptures are also characterised by a peculiar contradiction: they are classically rigorous, and yet at the same time playful. The classicism comes from, how could it be otherwise, the well-balanced and clear proportioned forms, the calmness of their arrangement. But it is not the calmness of stored mass, rather, it is a calmness on the border of movement, a calmness in suspense. The playfulness is caused by the choice and treatments of the material. The sculptures are made of fabric, of soft mantles, which get their necessary weight only from their fillings of sand. Rubber bands, buttons, little hooks and eyelets are the connecting elements that create symmetrical orders and a fragile balance.

These delicate works are like an ironic commentary on the rhetoric of men's work and the sweat that only too often sticks to sculptural works. Here, not masses collide, but textures that always become also visible as volume. Isabel Schmiga once described how her imagination always is directed to the three-dimensional: she cannot paint, not work on a flat surface, she says, because immediately she sees the fibre of the canvass in front of her, grasping for a particle of paint.

The contrast between classical rigour and play that characterises the work is also to be found in the artist's persona. It is a contrast that reminds one of a literary figure, of Kleist's Käthchen of Heilbronn. With the same imperturbability, Isabel Schmiga makes her way, with the same irony, the seriousness of the endeavour is crossed. This seriousness is not broken, but it must face up to a constant, though playful, challenge. For example, the reference to the site for which Isabel Schmiga works is never direct or unambigious. Her sculptures take possession of the space without however appropriating it entirely, and sometimes they bring hidden characteristics to the fore.
In the sculptures for the exhibition Himmel und Bauch [Heaven and Stomach] at the monastery St. Marienberg, the fish is a leitmotif. As a symbol that in Christian iconography stood first for the faithful, then for Christ Himself, the fish forges a connection to heaven, but also to the stomach. As the representative of Christ, it opens an eschatological perspective, signifies a promise of salvation. But it also reminds us of the story of Jonah and the whale, which in earlier times was also called a whalefish; a story which prefigures Christ's death and resurrection. A second motif is that of the mantle. The site itself, the monastery, is a mantle which envelops a world in the world. This mantle in turn is currently enveloped by the scaffolding and the tarpaulins of the restoration works. The motif of being enveloped appears in the variations of the basic form of the egg which is covered in soft materials. They form a contrast to the expansive hoses made of orange rubber cloth, the ironic reflex of the building going on.


Professor of history of art at Ruhr-Universität Bochum