Francisca Rosner is an Amsterdam-based visual artist. She started out as a photographer and gradually moved her practice to paintings and sculptures. Her fascination for the interdisciplinary is tangible in her works of art. She places herself in between multiple disciplines and comes across the limits of the different materials she encompasses in her works. Rosner embraces these limitations by crossing the formal boundaries. This results in layered, almost transcendental works with subtle and less subtle contrasts in color and form. In this interview we talk about her inspiration, her use of textiles and her recently made paintings.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
The materials and colors of the paintings are based on family photos, propaganda brochures and magazines from the time of the former DDR. Mixed with elements of Saxon Folklore, I give my vision of a time that I have only experienced remotely through the eyes of my relatives who lived behind the Iron Curtain. The sparse and colored information that seeped into the Netherlands gave an insight into a protected and fully controlled world: a newly designed culture, based on an ideology. Function was more important than form and art, products and other expressions had to serve the communist ideal. The community spirit that was formed on the basis of efficiency, togetherness and the desire to excel in performance (like sports or science) shaped the community where the acceleration and advancement of the group prevailed over the individual.
The perception of the “low countries” with the bright light and the flat polders are mixed with the warm and gray tones from another world. If you assume that the cultural identity is passed on from parents to their children, you can also assume that the communities are based on a common past. Every society has a group connection that defines itself on the basis of common values and norms. I believe this identity is anchored in textiles, colors and shapes.
So identity is an important theme in your work?
It always has been a focus point in my work, but at a certain age and during certain circumstances in my life it got enhanced. Whenever once surroundings chance, for example when the people around you leave this world, your identity gets questioned. This raises so many questions about the individual and the other. Is your identity formed by the people that raise you and is it the environment that shapes your personality? Or is it through those elements, like making choices, that your character gets formed and the ego transcends to the true identity? Is it culture, people, family and friends or something inherent and dormant in a person that shapes your identity?
Just as a person is coated with layers of experience and rituals that form their identity, my works consists of several layers of materials. Each piece of fabric and each color has its own memory, atmosphere and value.
Your work had different themes before – how did you come up with this? And what triggered this to dive in here?
After the death of my father Hans – born in Leipzig – I came across enormous archives with visual material, like folders and photos from the DDR period. I decided to do something with these materials and started to research them and put them into a context. Growing up in the Netherlands with a colored view of a constructed society that was not very accessible gave me confusing insights as a child. Every evening Hans listened to the radio messages of “Stimme der DDR” in his study. The creaking and tinny sound – because the signal was disturbed by West German jammers – became a symbol for that other world. A wold close by – but never really known. I still can’t stand it if a radio is not properly tuned and produces a distorted sound. The propaganda channel reported on achievements in sports, science and solidarity.
The brochures and magazines that were eagerly collected gave a picture of this ideology. The archives of this era brought up the painful experiences of the rare holidays that were granted us after endless requests. Holidays that, invariably supervised by a team of Stasie employees, were colored by a mixture of false optimism. The control over our family, because my father had left the country before the wall was built and was regarded as a traitor in doing so, was incomprehensible to me. In the photos taken during those holidays, the brown, gray and pale orange colors predominate.
How do you proceed? What is your process and what do you want to say with your work?
My research consists of putting all the information – no matter how filtered it has come to me – in a cultural context. Due to the intrusion of another culture – that was physically inaccessible to me – I started mapping a small part of that period, sort of like an archaeologist. The atmosphere and cheerfulness of the “Salvation State” could not conceal the poverty and sadness of being in a straitjacket of restrictions on life. It raises questions about reality and truth. When you develop an identity, partly determined by culture, what happens when you look at the world through a propaganda filter? And how do I look at that? From my sober and brightly lit world? Is that a reality or a world in which everything is clear and possibly easier to live in? Are there deeper layers that cannot be seen because they’re bleached by washing powder white light? This is how I came to working with textiles, because they have a lyrical and metaphysical layer unlike other materials.
How do you go about creating your work?
I distill colors and shapes from image and fabric. Like an archivist and archeologist, I re-order shapes, colors and moods into new pieces.
Could you elaborate on the different techniques and materials you work with?
I work with used, found and collected fabrics and haberdasheries. Each one of them is loaded with memories and has its own history. Some of them are rough, others are delicate and precious, some used to be precious, but are mended and washed many times.
What is the role of the tactile quality in your work?
It touches (no pun intended) upon another sense then seeing. Through touch you can feel the past memories the materials encompass. In combination with sight the experience is raised to a different level – different from looking at a painting or photograph for example.
Who are you inspired by?
I love to zoom in on details of the work of Sheila Hicks for example. The way she delicately weaves very coarse material with refined and delicate material. This, he beautifully combines into one piece. I like that stark contrast. You see the feminine touch studded with masculine, solid and condensed objects.
What’s up with all these kitchen items or images?
The kitchens, traditionally the domain of women, are centers and hearts of a home. They represent stability. Every kitchen is basically the same. There’s always water, a sink, a cooker and some space for storage. The cultural exponent comes from the textiles and patterns on decorated pots and china. Depicting domestic objects or even use found objects, like in the sculpture ‘drum roll’, transcends the female quality of these objects into another realm. They no longer represent a useful object or practical everyday item. Like Annette Messager uses domestic items in her sculptures to take them out of the female realm and examines conventional perceptions of women by society. Being a woman myself I feel connected to that paradigm. Another artist that I examine and follow closely is Rosemarie Trockel. I appreciate the way she challenges traditional notions of femininity and culture in a delightful and humorous way. Lastly, Nick Cave’s work is very interesting to my cultural biases concerning representing cultural identity.