Anna ReisenbichlerDeutsche AusgabeEnglische Ausgabe

I like to think that I always work from facts. But I always proceed from the understanding that there are different kinds of facts; some facts are historical, some are sociological, some are emotional, some are economic, and some are aesthetic. And some of these facts can sometimes only be experienced in a place we call fiction. I rarely think in terms of fact versus fiction. I tend to think in terms of different kinds of facts and the places that permit their emergence.                                       

Walid Raad



The past is never where you think you left it.

Katherine Anne Porter



Furthermore. if worlds are as much made as found. so also knowing is as much remaking as reporting. All the processes of worldmaking I have discussed enter into knowing. Perceiving motion [...] often consists in producing it. Discovering laws involves drafting them. Recognizing patterns is very much a matter of inventing and imposing them. Com­prehension and creation go on together.

Nelson Goodman: Words, Worlds, Works




Anna Reisenbichler: Drawings and Books

Delicate lineal structures in pencil, crayon, or ink merge with collages and diverse texts: it is often personal experiences and memories that flow into Anna Reisenbichler’s drawings and find themselves interwoven with passages from poems or lyrics from songs. While Reisenbichler’s reflections on her own situation play a fundamental role here, her most important source of inspiration is nature: trees, branches, knotted bark, walls overgrown with vegetation, natural-scientific engravings – all these are recurrent motifs in her art. Indeed structural engagement with vegetal growth and patterns is the thread that binds her work together. This manifests itself in the rose forms of gothic tracery or in her Geo-series, which, inspired by maps and aerial photographs, translates monumental geographical formations into delicate microstructures.


Reisenbichler is concerned above all with the potentialities of communication: her integration of textual passages is unhierarchical; no one text is more important than another – it represents merely another form of expression within a drawing. Moreover, such texts are comprehensible only for readers of a specific language, as indeed Reisenbichler sometimes emphasizes with her pseudo-scripts, which extend the given drawing without, however, in any sense explaining it. Visual citations of art-historical nature also frequently find a place in her work – hardly a coincidence given her academic background and Ph.D.: figures of medieval saints find a collage-like application and, along with baroque brocade patterns, enter into dialogue with other elements of the drawing. Removed from their original iconographical context, these citations act as stimulating additions or as somewhat surreal disruptions, as eye-catching breaks in the pictorial structure. This reveals the impact on Reisenbichler’s work of artists such as Fischli & Weiss, Jorinde Voigt, and Matt Mullican, who all take a similarly reflective and conceptual approach to their material.


A further means of expression used by Reisenbichler is industrially produced colour stickers. The brightly coloured dots contrast with her monochrome drawings and lend them rhythm, sometimes even assuming a leading role and replacing lines. Here she is less concerned with exhibiting manual skill than with integrating new formal elements and creating communicative structures. This is also why embroidery and seams have sometimes replaced drawn lines in her recent work: apart from the haptic quality of such lines, “drawing with threads” enables a playful interference with the reverse side of the sheet. This is why Reisenbichler also enjoys drawing on or embroidering transparent paper. In the double-sided works that result, it is not only the two sides of the sheet that are brought into dynamic relations with one another, but also the layers of paper that lie beneath. Her openness to such interactions and to coincidence allows Reisenbichler constantly to broaden and vary her own formal language. The same applies to her collaboration with her son, whose drawings form a basis for some of her works. The childish lines of the seven-year-old form an attractive contrast to the refinement and perfection of the artist’s hand. Such notions of cooperative dialogue reach a highpoint in Reisenbichler’s collaboration with Angela Strohberger, where the two artists make alternating contributions to a single work.


Anna Reisenbichler is also innovative in terms of presentation. She folds her drawings and hangs them on glass walls or ceilings, so that the double-sided works can be observed from both sides. An apparently logical consequence of this presentational form and of her earlier folder works are the books that Reisenbichler has created since summer 2013. These are always based around a specific theme that is then subjected to associative development. She is concerned here primarily with the nature of the object: what is a book, or what can it be? Is it defined purely by the binding of its pages? Can a book claim to be an embodiment of knowledge? How can it mediate such knowledge? And what demands does it make of its users?


Traditionally and particularly in the Middle Ages, art served to create living objects, and thus, for Reisenbichler, should not necessarily be hung on walls. And herein lies the appeal of the book as an artistic medium, since it is already a familiar object in the everyday life of its users – albeit one with wide-ranging contents. The potential to be touched, moved, and turned are fundamental and self-evident characteristics of the book, and also distinguish it from a framed drawing: a book can only be accessed by the turning of its pages in one of two directions, and for this reason can always be experienced anew. This is why Reisenbichler is so fascinated by the book as a medium – because the choice of pages and the order in which they are viewed are determined by the viewer alone.


One consequence of the viewer’s freedom is to undermine the enlightenment concept of the encyclopedia, which sought to compress as much of the world as possible into the ordered form of a book. This is why Reisenbichler takes a somewhat ironic look at the question of systematization and classification in her books: several works are developed from illustrations from the Thesaurus of the Amsterdam pharmacist Albertus Seba (1665–1736), a forerunner of later encyclopedias with depictions of objects in Seba’s extensive natural-scientific collection. Screen prints based on the Thesaurus illustrations are extended by means of texts, drawings, and embroidery – the latter now clearly referring to traditional bookbinding, while the playfulness of line forms an interesting contrast to the strictly anatomical formal language of Seba.


Particularly in the age of the internet, the constant availability of information raises the fundamental issue of “useful“ and “reliable” knowledge in books. Reference can be made here, on the one hand, to the (fictional) Library of Babel in the short story of the same name by Jorge Luis Borges (1941): the library contains every book in existence, but its texts are almost completely incomprehensible for its users, and therefore useless. On the other hand, one thinks of such contrasting concepts as those underlying medieval and modern science: all of these claim to represent “reality” in one form or another, thus revealing their own relativity. Reisenbichler explores such questions of knowledge generation and its arbitrary nature with works that integrate symbols, where the insider knowledge of a specific user group stands in opposition to social consensus. In doing so, she never adopts a position of authority: far from attempting to distinguish between relevant and trivial knowledge, her books offer just as much space for the “meaningless” as for anything else. Highly personal, almost diary-like passages can be followed by seemingly arbitrary series of drawings and pseudo-scripts. Layers of transparent paper with drawings and embroideries follow pages that are deliberately inserted upside down, inviting viewers to approach the books primarily in terms of perception and meaning.


With her books, Reisenbichler is creating a constantly growing archive. And this does not imply a fixed place, but rather an active, circulating, and mobile system that is never complete and remains as fragmentary-momentary as the individual books it contains. Her archive holds material potentially both relevant and irrelevant for the future – here, too, there can be no distinction, since her collection is not a place of authority. In this way, she draws attention to a paradoxical situation: the equivalence and simultaneity of the material gathered, along with the constant potential for reordering, call into question the very meaning of the archive and highlight the inherent selectivity of its practices. The condition of being unarchived and unarchivable (in both positive and negative senses) invites discussion of the archive’s role as a place of memory.

Eva Michel, April 2014

(Translation: Tim Juckes)




Anna Reisenbichler. Drawings.


Gothic rosettes, saints, and numerous trees: the motifs found in Anna Reisenbichler’s work are hardly typical of contemporary graphic art. She kills dragons: if only aesthetically, she decapitates and breaks on the wheel; blood decorates a number of white sheets. This sounds gruesome but the result is often humorous, perhaps because of some almost comical medieval figures and bitter-sweet passages of text. Lines of poetry from Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath are used by the artist as further pictorial elements, along with song lyrics from Radiohead or Conor Oberst ‒ often foreshortened or in the form of a scroll. The texts generally have a self-searching character: why am I here and not there? In graphic terms, localisation and orientation are achieved with a few space-defining lines, through pictorial citations or symbols reminiscent of paper lanterns. In the same way as the frequent views out across landscapes, these refer to feelings of longing that lie outside a rigid structure. The theme of breaking out and up is most strikingly present in the immaculately constructed but unfinished traceries of the rosettes. The Christian symbol of perfection fragments; the structure of a world and also our own sense of order are called into question.


The only proof of our existence in the here and now seems, for Reisenbichler, to be trees. With unusual strength and self-awareness, they strike their roots, are here and not there. But “there” is also visualised in concrete terms by the artist: it is outside, in the recurring window views, or on a remote island called “paradise” on her map Unknown Land. The artist controls such romantically tinged elements in her drawings by means of strict geometric structures, exclusive use of hard pencil, and limited application of colour. The result is a meeting of exuberant desire and minimalism, romanticism and Durer-esque enlightenment, child-like narrative and intellectuality.

Marlene Gölz, June 2011