Paula Doepfner’s works cross damaged goods and ill-fated Utopias. Scientific methods are picked out and combined with poetic approaches. Doepfner addresses the contradictions of subjective experience using the polarities of neuroscience and literature. Dried plants are concealed behind broken glass; drawings emerge from tiny passages of handwriting. These works counteract the incommensurability of emotions and ideas and expose the impossibility of ever completely understanding the life of the mind.
The new works exhibited in YOU and ME represent a continuation of Doepfner’s intensive engagement with Robert Musil’s other state.
At the centre of the exhibition stands the large format drawing YOU and ME (Atemzüge eines Sommertags), which the artist has been working on for an entire year. In the summer of 2016 she went to Rome to concentrate her efforts on this 240 x 230 cm drawing. YOU and ME (Atemzüge eines Sommertags) consists of ink script on Japanese paper, the threads of letters forming linear textures and grid structures. The text is a written transcription of the drafts for a chapter entitled Breaths of a Summer Day from Robert Musil’s novel The Man Without Qualities. Musil was still working on this chapter when he died. It features siblings Ulrich and Agathe in a garden continuing a conversation about a Utopia called the other state. This Utopia envisaged a boundless ecstatic state built on early Christian mysticism and love. But it also had failure written into it.
Doepfner has set out the words of these drafts on Gampi paper, in capital letters and at a script size of one millimetre. The composition of the piece is based on Michelangelo’s Last Judgement, while the individual passages go back to Doepfner’s sketches of autopsies and brain surgery at the Charité hospital in Berlin.
Postcards of Michelangelos and Fra Angelicos, sketches of dissected brains, the pages of books, transcripts and drawings with pressed flowers are installed on the wall across from the work.
On the raised level of the adjacent room, three badly damaged panes of security glass form the triptych What was it you wanted. The sheets of glass are from luxury properties in Berlin and were destroyed in nocturnal campaigns by autonomous left-wing groups. They are a reminder of the possibility of resistance. Pigment on the glass flows over plants and cracks. The form of this triptych is derived from that of the folding altarpiece, but whether the wings are open or closed is irrelevant here; the closed everyday aspect and the open festive aspect overlap, making every day a feast day. This disrupted state reaches out to Musil’s other state.
Musil’s complex writing (which always deals with science in one way or another), the corporeal movements of Michelangelo’s figures, ecstatic states, Utopian drafts, failure in the face of reality, medicine, botany, neuroscience and pathology are interwoven in Doepfner’s works into fragile tensile structures. They are her way of finding possibility in reality.