But my nerves were kicking was a large sculptural installation of brittle branches and bushes of thyme. The installation was then removed from the gallery piece by piece by the audience, to be transformed into a bonfire that was lit by the artist. The residual trace of this work was an ashen silver disc on the ground outside the gallery.

Paula Doepfner’s work disappears before you. Her work is fugacious and suspenseful, and in turn, draws you into the present moment and quietly demands your accountability as a spectator. Her work operates like the pinprick touch of a flame.

Doepfner’s practice consists of drawing, performance and installation. She is interested in the internalised processes of thoughts and feelings, in oppositional tensions, and sensual experiences (1). Earlier works include Ohne Mich (2010), an ice sculpture suspended from the gallery ceiling that melted away with an incessant drip. A series of nine drawings were also exhibited with this sculpture. These framed images of biological nerve cells, titled Whatever you wish to keep you better grab it fast (2010) contrasted to the materiality of the melting sculpture. Both Ohne Mich and But my nerves were kicking, are premised on the dissolution of natural materials. It is in the transformation of these sculptural objects that Doepfner’s ideas are realised.

But my nerves were kicking was presented at Ionion Center for the Arts (Greece) earlier this year. At the conclusion of the exhibition Doepfner gave an artist talk and when there were no more questions from the audience the bonfire was lit; the performance took place when there was nothing more to say. Through the action of destroying her sculpture and the symbolic power of lighting a fire, Doepfner’s performance provokes the oppositional tensions between the futility of the art object and the importance of an artist’s action, between hope and despair, between life and death.

Frances Barrett
September, 2011

Text for an artist feature in ‘Super Kaleidoscope’, Sydney.