No One Should Have to Suffer by Dr Hans-Jörg Clement

Paula Doepfner develops images and contexts that are nothing more and nothing less than a challenge in the conventional sense. For instance, the minute garlands of text that she draws and traces are based on the Istanbul Protocol, a disturbing global documentation of torture, and on autopsies and neurosurgical operations observed at the Charité. This background is only bearable because no awareness of it is necessary for an understanding of the work, and because Doepfner counterposes it with an aesthetic enchantment which, pervaded though it is by profound melancholy, allows the viewer to breathe freely. ‘No one should have to suffer’, says Doepfner, in conversation with the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, without a trace of sentimentality, grappling with the mystery of life between moments of happiness and suffering.

So too the panes of glass at the centre of the installation in the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, which bear witness to violence and destruction but are juxtaposed with the ethereal beauty of delicate blossoms, a highly aesthetic score for a world of many voices – a world marred by war. But beyond this context, where interpretation seems like a formality and becomes form in its own right, the work always retains its universal validity.

This is also why Doepfner always comes back to glass: the armoured glass becomes a documentation of the various impacts sustained during demonstrations; it may get cracked and damaged, but it never shatters completely. Likewise the lava rocks, which originate from Etruscan volcanoes and the volcanic parts of the Eifel region: in the variety of their surfaces, these too recall brain scans, unique finger prints and, above all, an archaic whole, the value of which is underscored by the Giottesque coloration, culminating in a single golden specimen that lies some distance from the other stones.

What sets this work apart is its substance, an aesthetic conviction and a pervasive ambivalence with respect to violence and injury, beauty and volatility. The fact that it’s inexhaustible, that it keeps posing new questions, virtually predestines the work, which is highly prismatic in both form and content, for presentation in the foyer and the courtyard of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung on Klingelhöferstraße. As an enduring source of inspiration for staff and visitors alike, this interplay of interior and exterior speaks to an awareness that political education is inconceivable without cultural education. While Doepfner consistently steers clear of didactic gestures, pithy political slogans and superficial provocations, the work acquires a subtle political charge from the very outset and thus mirrors the kind of art that allows its socio-political impetus to resonate and never relinquishes what it is first and foremost, namely absolutely free.

Doepfner, who studied in Berlin and London and graduated from the masterclass of Rebecca Horn, relishes this freedom and attests to it in her work, in the diverse formal vocabulary of her drawings, sculptures, objects and performances. The fraught questions she addresses through these modes of expression, transforming them with apparent ease into complex artificial structures, are drawn from the fields of neuroscience, literature and politics. The work is held together by its concern for humanity and its existential conditions, by a poetic timbre that’s content to make gentle suggestions and liable to evaporate at the slightest vibration.

That which we see is absolutely new, and yet it still makes finely encrypted allusions to literary and art historical markers; it’s full of passion and respect, but with such self-assurance that we invariably witness an innovative creative act that never fails to surprise.

In particular, the deft combination of timely content and strategic form fascinates and fixes the gaze; intoxicated by their colours and structures, we engage with these works and enter the world of an artist who has no need for the superficial or the spectacular.

When she applied to the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung for an artist’s stipend from the EHF Trustee Programme in 2010, it wasn’t by chance that Doepfner quoted Paul Celan’s ‘Engführung’ (Stretto):

Nahtstellen, fühlbar, hier
klafft es weit auseinander, hier
wuchs es wieder zusammen – wer
deckte es zu?

(sutures, palpable, here
it gapes wide open, here
it grew back together — who
covered it up?)

Doepfner’s permanent installation at the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung presents a world that’s aware of its ties and obligations to democracy – in the knowledge of its vulnerability, in its creative imagination.

Dr Hans-Jörg Clement
November 2022

Text for Paula Doepfner’s installations at the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung.

Translation by Jonathan Blower