For Paula Doepfner by Dr Jenny Graser

Without magnifying glass or any other device, the artist Paula Doepfner, based in Berlin and Rome, writes in tiny block capitals on her preferred gampi paper for the series of drawings I want to take a journey to the devil down below. The letters are no bigger than a millimetre; together they form threads of text which become undulating lines which in turn become ramified networks recalling organic nerve fibres or the abstract formal compositions of German artists Wols and Bernard Schultze. While these exponents of Tachism and Informel exploited the creative potential of the subconscious, often working with eyes closed and thereby bringing an element of chance to the drawing process, Doepfner’s drawings are prepared with precision. She regularly attends brain surgeries at the Charité in Berlin, where she sketches nerve cells and regions of the brain as a silent observer of autopsies and neurosurgical procedures. These sketches serve as a basis for the text that extends across the page; here it is taken from the Istanbul Protocol of 2004, a Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. This manual details both the physical and the psychological traces of torture and shows how these traces can be properly verified, even the apparently invisible ones and those deposited in the nervous system. Doepfner combines passages from this Istanbul Protocol with lines of lyrical text by Canadian poet Anne Carson, who deals with existential questions without ever recoiling from the gruesome horrors of life. Doepfner convincingly weaves together the pervasive emotion, the rhymes and rhythms of Carson’s poetry with the rigour and detachment of the legal language of the manual. This clash of opposites is paradigmatic of her artistic practice and can be seen in her text pieces, her performances, her sculptures and her installations, all of which present the abundance but also the deprivation of life.

Dr Jenny Graser
July 2022

Translated by
Jonathan Blower