I have gone back so far here because the use of lead as it occurs in the work of Eva Schlegel evokes more or less the full wealth of meanings associated with the material. And it strikes me as anything other than the kind of serendipity that sometimes brings forth interesting things in artist’s studios when Eva Schlegel, especially as a photographer but also as a painter, addresses leaden messages to us. Much has already been written about the painters who cannot do without radiant colors and who thus risk their health by unrestricted use of Cremnitz White, Cadmium Orange, and Paris Green. Those who feed their palettes a macrobiotic diet consisting solely of Italian and Bohemian clay earth pigments, French ochres, and the more harmless of the BASF color range seemingly avoid this danger. Lead in artist’s paints is, incidentally, just one of its many and varied technical presences. But Eva Schlegel does not just use lead in small, tolerable doses. Her pictures are made of lead. The walls are made of lead. The space is made of lead.
Lead is not ennobling a painting here, it is the painting – an image-body of this tangibly high density. Its molecular weight is so legendarily high that it acts as an insulating layer, blocking the subtlest of things, even radiation.
The feelings triggered by Eva Schlegel’s installation at the Secession thus oscillated between that of being in a bunker and the kind of awe probably felt by the Romans when entering the temple of Saturn. The visual impression made by the lead walls was that of a monumental, abstract, suprematist painting. The bands of lead shimmered, alluringly metallic, and had a striped appearance due to the grease smeared during the flattening process. This monument to pure earthly density, the vertical lead, was contrasted by Eva Schlegel with mirrors, the round mirrors that are a recurring motif in her work. The large mirrors lay on the floor of the Secession’s main gallery like lakes in which the ceiling, the light, and the people were reflected. Where the lead wall met a sea of mirrors, at the edge of the room, it “plunged” into the bottomless depths of its own reflection, like the plumb bob that always seeks the center of the earth. In this constellation of high / low, the lead (as a planet and as an earthly element) fully showed its Saturnine character: Saturn / lead closes and opens, threatens and protects, compresses and dissolves (salvages). This strange and at first glance also rather unfriendly confrontation between lead and mirrors (tin) assailed the visitor with such directness and physicality that the installation’s subtlety was left to develop more gradually, at a different (chronic) tempo.
The seeing eye, the official organ of modernity, dimmed to the level of its own prehistory and started echoing bile, the “organ fossil” from earth’s prehistory. Old feelings, the memory of increasing density in the tedium of thousands upon millions of years, were gently swirled together with the intellectuality of eye knowledge, with light. Time and light met. The birth of photography took place again.