In a small and significant drawing, the Austrian artist and architect Friedrich Stowasser, better known as Hundertwasser, proposes that we have five skins: the epidermis, our clothes, our house, our identity (family, home, country) and the Earth. Beyond these five skins is the true exterior, the unfathomable universe.
Most of Daniela's first pieces were made with materials collected from our second skin: cottons, threads, and, above all, pieces of fabric, the material of the dress that protects, that covers our epidermis, and therefore, remind us to the body. She knotted, sewed, cut, stuffed, burned, stretched, transformed fabrics, always using her hands, thus insistently weaving that intimate relationship between her first and her (our) second skin, through long-winded processes, guided by her finesse, handled by her touch charged with undoubtedly high sensitivity.
Touching with the eyes, seeing with the skin:
All this is still present on her most recent pieces; but now another material has made its appearance, another technique: ceramics, more precisely, the use of clay, stoneware and porcelain, minerals belong to Hundertwasser’s third skin, the skin of the Earth. The artist shapes her new materials by hand, using minimal, repetitive, fast and precise kneading and squashing movements. Thus, devoid of adornment, in their raw simplicity, the resulting clay forms are unequivocal traces of that new relationship between skins, memories of the blast and tact of her fingers and hands and the reaction of the planetary mineral. That is to say, the form that the clay acquires is more a pure witness of the dialogue between skins, and less a rationally thought out design. Daniela makes the decisions along the process touching, listening to the material. Her dermis in communication with other skins, transforms and disposes. It is the sum of the forces and elasticity of hand, fabric and clay that determines the movement and the shape of each piece.
I want to underline it: Daniela works using the eyes of the skin (as the Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa would say), employing her tactile intelligence, which, unlike the cerebral one, does not intend to dominate or impose the ego on the material. In a similar way to what was proposed by the minimalists in the second half of the 20th century, the German artist does not guide the process whimsically, nor does she seek to tyrannize matter completely; on the contrary, it is the material that guides her. Therefore, as she points out, her repetitive and intuitive processes fill the gap between hand and eye. Her sculptures are born through that void, while her eyes and her hands reflect an external energy, echoing an external will. For this, very surely, she forgets herself, and thus, she becomes emptiness, a channel through which the tissue of skins that surrounds us (touch that is body that is clothing that is home that is nature that is plant that is fungus that is animal that is mineral that is Earth) takes control and expresses itself. According to Umberto Eco, these types of processes that seek to silence the artist's ego and empower the voice of everything else, are those that can generate true poetry, the most powerful art, what he called "the open work." Perhaps, for this very reason, Daniela's sculptures astonish and invite in such a way the eyes, the hand, the body, the viewer's touch. Her creatures capture our gaze, while they invite us to come closer, to touch and at the same time to keep our distance, in an intermittent game between attraction and repulsion that, in a certain way, replicates that void, the gap between eye and hand from where they arose. Her sculptures are a skin traps, for the eyes of the skin, woven with skins.
Daniela's pieces are also offsprings of a geological, telluric consciousness, of that fifth skin, that of the Earth, which Hundertwasser calls "natural" and "ecological", always reflecting the nature, the wild, mixing the known with the unknown. Her works are “strangely familiar” to us, thanks to that mix of materials (cloth, clay, for example) and the resulting unusual shapes, structures and sizes; thus, we can locate them within what Freud called the Unheimlich (for this reason, they attract and repel us at the same time). Her brooding and hybrid "organisms" seem to ask us: When do we start to fear fungi, plants and animals? When did we distance ourselves that much from the creatures of nature that we feel uncomfortable and threatened by them? What is "natural" and what if its definition is not enough to understand ourselves, understand the Earth and the relationship we have with our planet? Perhaps, her pieces, by linking dermis, fabric and earth within unexpected organic forms, are metaphors for a global, planetary symbiosis to come. Possibly, her sculptures are creatures of the future, simultaneously mineral, plant, animal and human. Furthermore, built from fragments (modular forms and repeated gestures), such creatures seem to be only a part of a larger and more complex whole, as indeed, all the inhabitants of Gaia, of Pachamama, are.
As I have already pointed out, Daniela makes her pieces by hand. Hand that touches, that models, that sews, that squeezes, that transforms. Hands covered with skin and hands full of bones, of joints. Her most recent sculptures, built with thin porcelain slabs, are similar to mineral and/or animal bone structures; but they also resemble her hand, in certain places they look like the bones and joints under the epidermis. Undoubtedly, the artist has watched her hand work, she is aware of her fundamental tool. Perhaps for this reason, her new “creatures” are more complex, with a set of calcareous, rigid elements, trapped between the soft and flexible fabric; they have something like a “bone structure” that also underlines a sculptural concern: the impulse to create something that stands on its own, that rises from the ground (in that sense, they are closer to us, closer to skeletonized beings), and moves. Then, these pieces reflect at the same time our exterior and our interior, in terms of bone and in terms of skin, in terms of structure, limit and support. And what a wonderful organ the skin is! It surrounds us (it is the most extensive organ of our body) in a flexible and permeable way, shaping us, protecting us and, at the same time, allowing us to touch, feel the exterior, feel other skins, feel the world and interact with it. Maybe the skin of the whole, the skin of the Earth (which contains the other four skins) is the object a of the artist, that which according to Lacan, by marking the subject with the individualization of its existence, is, fundamentally, the unattainable object of desire. That would explain, to some extent, her obsession with the skins and touch. But, isn’t it true that the skin individualizes all of us? The curious thing about Daniela is that, judging by the way she relates to the material, by the way she feels and transforms what she touches, she seems to have her skin a lot more open, much more sensitive and porous, more empathetic, in order to search within her skin for the traces of, and the interactions with the skins that surround her.
Porcelain and spike:
Daniela Bergschneider began using clay in her second semester of the MFA at the University of Bergen, just attracted by the good atmosphere of the workshop. This, which seems anecdotal, indicates, again, both her search for contact and empathy as well as her high intuition. In such a way, she approached ceramics (or rather, ceramics approached her, the skin of the Earth chose her). The first sculpture that she exhibited and in which she used clay was “A moment between” (2019). To made it, she kneaded wet clay balls, and immediately tied one by one and contiguously to a dense and elastic fabric, and then crushed them. This action made them shape each other -following the natural principle by which the shape of bodies in change and growth is modeled both by their environment and by other surrounding bodies- and generating, when drying, an organic surface, flexible and hard at the same time, resembling both the cracked desert and the scaly skin of a reptile. This work was extended on the floor, "crawling" on it, building a significant bridge between these two references: the geological and the animal. After all, reptiles crawl over the earth, they are completely linked to it. And perhaps, for that very reason, this piece asks us to bend down, get closer to the floor to see it in detail. Thus, the skin of the Earth, the animal skin and the human skin come closer and intersect once more.
Months later, Hybridia (2020) appeared, a series in which the artist used for the first time pieces of porcelain molded by hand, in the shape of thin and long tacks that pierce fabrics, assembling creatures that refer in part to the Radiolaria, those marine protists with intricate mineral skeletons of silica -which were beautifully illustrated by Ernst Haekel in the late 19th century-, or to the sea urchins. These pieces of delicate and shiny spikes with different diameters, lengths and shades, directly attack the eye and the touch of the viewer. The porcelain (the clay, the mud) ceases to be skin and rises perpendicular to the fabric, breaking it. The bone, coming out from under the epidermis, became a lance, a defense and attack apparatus. It is significant that these spears are made using a powder that mixes kaolin, feldspar and quartz, the three ingredients of porcelain, a type of ceramic with a characteristic shine and resistance to chemicals and high temperatures. Of course, porcelain is also very fragile, even more so when modeled into thin filaments. The resulting pieces, which appear to be dangerous and hurtful, are, in fact, extremely fragile and belong to a highly decorative tradition associated with the feminine and the domestic. Usually, the porcelain is worked to be pleasant to the eye and to the touch. Its shine, its smoothness caress the hand and seduce the eye. But in Daniela's works, porcelain appears shiny and beautiful, but also strange and threatening. Besides, let us not forget that in the center of the Earth is fire, fire, which transforms everything, and porcelain is baked to achieve its hardness. The appearance of heat that eliminates all kinds of water and crystallizes the minerals in the transformation is also meaningful. This baking process brings Daniela's work closer to the domestic universe once again, inhabited by the decorative elements of the house (Hundertwasser's third skin). But here, the porcelain appears to us wild, untamed, as if it came from another world, a world that we feel distant but of which, whether we like it or not, we are still part of.
The artist also endangers most of her fierce but delicate thorny creatures, by dramatically displaying them in precarious balance (how did those critters climb there?) on metallic linear structures, like modern design furniture, putting in tension and blending the organic, the monstrous, the vulnerable, the aggressive, the abstract, the fragile, the rational, the irrational, the decorative, the artisanal and the industrial. Would it be unreasonable to say that in this series the skin of the Earth has bristled while getting up, moving away from the ground and getting in touch with the cold, vertical, phallic modernity? In that sense they reflect us very well: at the end of the day we also get up from the soil, we move away from it, our dream is to be on the highest floor of the building. The most curious piece in this series seems to illustrate the precarious and unnatural, the unsustainable of such displacement when exiting the wall and heading to the horizontal plane, or -the direction of the creature is not obvious, it is not known if it goes up or down- as it rises from the horizontal plane and leans against the wall. Thinking about the inevitable fall, the spikes in this sculpture were made using stoneware, another type of clay, a little darker and of high hardness.
Bone and stone:
Later, Daniela turns the spike, the bone that becomes external and threatening, into a kind of blade, edge (even a feather?), by crushing it by a ridge, so it preserves, as usual, the trace of the artist's finger when deformed. The coincidence between spike and blade as dangerous objects is meaningful, and a little disturbing: they not only injure the viewer's gaze, they can also cut the artist’s hands. Inside the sculpture, these thin, almost transparent porcelain pieces can be read like semi-internal bones, and, at the same time, like calcareous sheets, like hardened sediments, like thin slabs. These creatures also seem to be the results of excavations, they are like fossil bones turned into stone, torn from the earth, like prehistoric creatures without internal organs, without flesh, only skin and bone, skin and stone. In such a way, these pieces also unite the present and past, life and death. Are they corpses or are they living beings? Are they an object or are they a subject? Are they vestiges, fossils or are they contemporary creatures? These sculptures seem to promise us, once again, their displacement by crawling through the earth; but strangely, they seem also to be earth. They seem like fragments of soil, as if the ground itself inhabited them, as if they were its nest and their being. They are, after all, creatures that mix all the skins proposed by Hundertwasser: they are creatures from the earth, from the Earth. For this reason, they directly allude to our true relationship with the planet, our true link with Gaia, a link that our dominator, exploiter, extractionist ego refuses to accept.
Between the living and the dead, between the inert and the mobile, these pieces that are strangely located among the animal and the mineral, echo contemporary theories about the Earth, about the planet as a single living being, a super organism capable of self-regulation (as proposed by James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis or Donna Haraway). Of course, our mind keeps telling us that man is one thing and nature is another, that I am one thing, and the neighbor is another; but the facts show the opposite (even more so in these pandemic times): we are part of a complex and delicate living tissue, made between skins, between innumerable hides, part of a system that we have altered and that only recently we have begun to understand.
Finally, these new sculptures that resemble dry, dehydrated bodies -like mummies unable to shift- seem to move, but really slow, internally. As noted before, the structures that results from knotting the porcelain pieces and the fabric, resemble the presence of bone and the joints, structures that suggest the possibility of movement. A possibility that may be in the past, or even in the future. These creatures, like new Adams, made of clay, porcelain and cloth, seem to promise us transformation, a new world to come. Perhaps, with all their joints, with their knits of hard and flexible structures knitted together, they want to move us slowly, change our paradigms and make us their twins: so we can recognize ourselves as skins within another skin, within another skin, so we can feel as animal, vegetable and mineral beings at the same time. Maybe Daniela Bergschneider's sculptures propose that our skin extends to cover the dress, to cover the house, to cover the planet. Because we are one being and everything is interconnected. Donna Haraway points this out when she writes that “we have never been human”, because only 20% of the cells inside our body have the human genome. We are permeable reservoirs of life, within a planet that is, of course, another reservoir of life. Hundreds of indigenous cultures around the world have said it, and the Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal wrote it when he defined the mythical as "that astonishing connection between all things in the world." Now myth and contemporary science coincide in pointing out that everything is interconnected. We are just a part of a superorganism. An organism whose skin envelops us, as well as the rivers and clouds, as well as the sea and the jungle. Everything is alive. Thereby, every fetus is a fossil and every fossil is a fetus. Thereby, the stones and the mountains are alive, they move inside and they will also move outside; we just have to wait.
Bogotá, 17th of August, 2021