It is almost possible to overlook Claudia Chaseling's postcards. We are talking about a project that has accompanied her large scale paintings and drawings for some years now. The postcards — and strictly speaking we ought to refer to them as picture postcards — are collected and reworked by Chaseling. On the whole, they relate to places the artist has spent time in, or they are significant by virtue of association, triggering specific memories of her childhood. In some cases, traces of the original motif might still be visible; however, they are as such no longer identifiable. In considering the function and the importance of the picture postcard, we can see that in Chaseling's project there is a shift from a standardised image of the city to a subjective one.
Since they were first conceived of, picture postcards have characterised the identity and image of a place. They relate objects/ buildings, locations, sights and views worthy of looking at, or rather: ones that have become worthy. Consequently, it is also the case that the image presented on the picture postcard always exposes the consensus of a sanctioned visual culture. Chaseling, of course, superimposes her own particular state of mind on the original motif: the artistic gesture changes accordingly from a calm brush stroke to an aggressive action apparently intent on eradication; the colour fluctuates between tones that sit side by side in harmonious coexistence, and those that displace and mutually efface one another. In some instances, the format and the reverse side of the image provide the only reminder of the starting point. Cityscapes become abstract and dissolve into a dense sequence of brush strokes in a variety of colours. Diary—like entries, such as "Wir haben alle Angst!", "Grenzenlose Gedanken steuern die Tage", "Kein Fallschirm!", "ein Ort für F.", "harmony blur", "alone", "Blindflug", "Zerrbild", "Vakuum füllen", "Tarnung&quo;, "First, Telefonat mit Scott", serve as annotation to these picture postcards. Prescribed views contrast with a subjective appropriation of these motifs and result in a series that perpetually re-examines the possibilities of the subject within given cultural parameters.
Alongside the picture postcards, Chaseling works on large scale drawings and paintings comprising multiple parts. These depict urbanised landscapes in which architectural and technological set pieces, the symbols of social progress, such as ships, motorways, rail tracks, steel beams, construction networks, fragments of buildings, project into one another, become twisted and wedged together, in the process invalidating fundamental principles of structure. In these pieces too, colour plays an important role: colour informs the structure, rhythm and dynamism of the narrative of the image. In contrast to the paintings, the composition of the drawings is on the whole looser, the strokes are more aggressive and the areas of colour more sketchily applied. Occasionally, Chaseling pastes photographs, i.e. postcards, on to the image. These too are then subsequently reworked.
At first glance, Chaseling's work is reminiscent of American painting of the 1920s, such as the work of Charles Demuth or Charles Scheeler. Against a backdrop of expanding industrialisation, these artists devoted themselves to social reform, focusing thereby on its superficial manifestations: bridges, roads, ships, chimneys, industrial plants. Influenced by the developments within the European Avant-garde movement, they translated this sense of the dawning of a new era into a dynamic of colour and form. In Chaseling's case modernism's belief in progress gives way to a doubt that at times assumes apocalyptic proportions: rail tracks are suspended in mid-air and lead nowhere, piers tilt or are washed away (1), essentially all stability is denied. The colours vary from image to image, but also within an image, shifting abruptly from counterbalancing complementary contrasts to incongruous bright signal colours and black. The harmony and reconciliation implied on the one hand is quashed again on the other. This has consequences for the individual, who finds himself once again in a space of distortion and overlapping, surrounded by discontinuities, contingencies, and flux.
If the postcards, drawings and paintings are placed alongside one another, it is possible to ascertain a number of strategies that explore the possibilities and relative position of the individual in a global context - an individual who is conscious of his/her own precarious status from the outset. In relation to the postcards, Chaseling intervenes in an image production process that might be described as an attempt at an 'ironing out', in so far as postcards even now are conceived of as generating city images that are in and of themselves consistent and without contradiction. A commanding and identity-forming image of the city supersedes a diverging array of perceptions. Chaseling disrupts this attempt to 'iron out' and ultimately, by breaking up, augmenting, as well as painting over these images, she demolishes this cultural consensus. In addition to the cityscapes, the artist reworks motifs that remind her of her childhood. Here too, autobiographical points of reference and culturally embedded ideas impinge upon one another; one reason why unfamiliar postcards in general harbour such a powerful potential for identification. Thus, while in the context of the urban views the politics of identity of the city is subject to negotiation, in the latter case, we are dealing with an individual vision of an intact concept of identity.
Even in the large-scale drawings and paintings, Chaseling takes as her starting point fragile identities that can no longer be reconciled and a visible fragmentation that can no longer be ironed out. From the very outset, she presents inherently hybrid, urbanised landscapes, identifiable as the outcome of an industrial and capitalised remodelling. Just like the participating subjects, these landscapes are similarly pervaded by schisms and incongruities. Chaseling makes visible in her images this crisis of identity, i.e. she depicts, in the words of Arjun Appadurai, a 'new order of instability in the production of modern subjectivities'(2), and this despite the fact that her images are devoid of people. An important factor in this respect is the size of the picture: spectators enter into a conceptual space that is immediately overwhelming. As Chaseling's pieces are largely made up of an arrangement of multiple parts, this space - like the actual painted or drawn images — is itself fragmented. A picture hung diagonally intensifies this effect manifold and, in a medium that at first seems entirely unsuitable, confronts the spectator with a provisional scenario. In this way, Chaseling subjects the painting itself to a temporality.
In the displays, Chaseling translates this principle and applies it to the exhibition space. The arrangement of the exhibits is such that between the paintings, the drawings and the postcards, as well as between different formats, relationships of content and form emerge and the exhibition space itself becomes a vast negotiable and heterogeneous scene. Thus the principle of provisionality found in the paintings and drawings is communicated to the visitors of the exhibition as they move between the artworks. Furthermore, the varying heights at which the exhibits are displayed necessitate a multitude of lines of vision; enabling the eye to roam the area. The multifarious nature of the potentiality for movement and perspective demands that those recipients lingering in Chaseling's conceptual spaces perpetually relocate and re-position themselves.
Chaseling's work on relocating the individual encompasses the artistic subject and his/her potential for action. Ultimately she is concerned with the ways in which the individual is able to respond to the limits of his/her own social context. At the same time, it is only possible up to a point to have recourse to existing identifications: these too have to be perpetually recreated. What is more, there is no parachute.
(1) Swirls and wavy lines link these with Chaseling's earlier work in which water constituted a recurring theme.
(2) Arun Appadurai, Modernity At Large. Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, Minneapolis, 1996, p.4.