Artist Feature – Paula Doepfner

Paula Doepfner also works with language. In neat, miniscule script she draws her letters onto gossamer-thin gampi paper. It is a “promise of legibility,” as Durs Grünbein describes it in an excellent essay on Doepfner’s work. Her frames of reference are broad: her texts are drawn from prose, poetry, theoretical writings and human rights documents. A small step back from the text reveals forms, gently undulating, organic ramifications. And in fact these are organic structures: Doepfner takes her cues from sketches she makes as an observer of autopsies and brain surgery at the Charité in Berlin.

The text in the work “YOU and ME” is the famous chapter “Breaths of a Summer’s Day” from Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. Doepfner has transcribed each of the author’s drafts for this chapter. This renders the content visible while also visualizing the process behind what’s written. But the themes of the chapter are still important: the conversation about mysticism between siblings Agathe and Ulrich is absolutely relevant for an understanding of Doepfner’s work. For in mysticism the word becomes flesh; spirituality and nature enter into a union.

Process and transformation are also central to Doepfner’s works in glass. For these she starts with sheets of armoured glass damaged during anti-capitalist demonstrations. Using clear varnish she applies pigments and pressed plants before sealing them into the glass. This generates new surfaces, the glass is changed, it has become a coherent new structure. The damage is still visible but at the same time it has given rise to a productive transformation. As with the drawings, the forms described by the pigments are based on colour sketches of certain cerebral regions, so the grand themes of politics, science and nature are again at work here.

If you’re in Berlin you can see Paula Doepfner’s work IRL, either at Galerie Nothelfer (until 26 June) or at the Haus am Kleistpark (11 June to 15 August).

Theresia Enzensberger
May 2021

Translated by
Jonathan Blower