Transitional areas

2012 // Gerhard Habarta

The art of the moment, of the immediate, is dominated by a great tendency to verbosity. Every documenta and biennale is packed with speech bubbles so as to conceal the lack of pleasure in art. Not only pleasure, but fear, longings, memories, injuries and damage caused by co-existence with other humans, a co-existence that can be sublimated through art. None of that has any value in instant art. ‘Life’ is replaced by political tirades, in the same way that action and reaction to life is replaced by tirades in the political sphere.
These emotions in life are more deeply buried under layers of theoretical constructs than are Sigmund Freud’s ‘dirty little gods’ in the debris of civilisations. The painter and illustrator Katrin Alvarez is an excavator. She reveals to us the pieces in life’s puzzle. With apparently unconnected material she points up interconnections by creating the transitional areas of impulsivity and instability in interpersonal relationships, in moods and in self-image, as it is called in the literature of clinical psychology. Her picture in Vienna’s Phantastenmuseum collection is tellingly called ‘Borderline’.

The artist worked for a long time as a journalist, and so one might dismiss her works as reflections on a door-to-door inquiry. But that’s not what they are. They are universally valid comments on the transitional area between the outside world and the inner world.
Unlike other fantastic artists who seek their subjects in mythological legend or who see themselves as visionaries or healers creating their own natural religion in paint, Alvarez paints pictures of psychotraumatology.

Traumatic experiences are a basic human experience. The mental effects of global and personal catastrophes have been expressed in the collective unconscious. The painful losses and mental disturbances resulting from these events have led to numerous attempts to mitigate the negative mental effects through intuitive methods. Modern psychotraumatology is reckoned to have begun with a lecture by Professor Sigmund Freud ‘On the etiology of hysteria’ (1896). In it, Freud deals with the connection between hysteria and sexual child abuse. Sigmund Freud never understood why the Surrealists hailed him as their prophet: had he known the paintings of Karin Alvarez, he would have understood it better. But the Surrealists themselves were largely to blame for the lack of understanding on the part of the psychiatrist they so revered, because of their emphasis on the unconscious and dreams. Alvarez works differently. Here the damage to mental life is directly sublimated. Not as therapy but, as the artist herself puts it ‘as a journalist describing life, not with words but with colours and lines. The overwhelming beauty of existence as well as its gruesome dark side – I try to observe as many aspects as possible and recreate them in my visual language. The melding of new virtual dimensions with good old reality is a source of great fascination for me’ And this fascination is conveyed to her viewers, making them find new ways of reading pictures.