Esther Teichmann is a London-based artist whose large format photography and multimedia installations trace a lyrical investigation into the nature of loss, desire, and fantasy.
Teichmann creates a world of womb-like sanctuaries: dripping caves, forest swamps, canopied beds. Bodies are turned away, always just beyond reach. The viewer is immersed in details of light and skin: silky twilight shadows, soft hair on a lover’s neck, the intricate pattern of a mother’s stretch marks. Here, the mother and lover are deeply connected through the sensation that Teichmann describes in her writing as “homesickness”, a primordial longing to return to a place before birth.
Narratives are fractured, paralleled, and interwoven, blurring the boundaries between fiction and autobiography. Real and imagined experiences are intimately staged and mythologized in an evocative exploration of the origins of fantasy.
SMBH: Can you tell us about your process of conceptualising and making work?
ES: My studio based and written practice examines the relationship between loss, desire and the imaginary. Across writing, photographic works, film pieces, painting and sculpture, we move from real to imagined spaces, exploring the boundaries between autobiography and fiction within the alternate orphic worlds evoked. Within staged fantastical images, the subjects are turned-away figures of loss, desired but always already beyond reach. The photographic medium is worked upon with painting, collage and montage, narrative voice over juxtaposed with moving image. Here, the photographic is loosened from its referent, slipping in and out of darkness, cloaked in dripping inks and bathed in subtle hues of tinted light.
My process continually moves between these different registers and ways of making, always thinking about how the fragments fit together to create a larger but always fluid whole.
SMBH: The images are often set in womblike spaces: caves, swamps, canopied beds. As you’ve mentioned in your writing, these environments also mirror the space of the darkroom. What do these spaces symbolize to you, and how does the time you spend in the darkroom effect the content of your work?
ES: The spaces inhabited within the films and images are womb-like liquid spaces of night, moving from beds to swamps and caves, from the mother to the lover in search of a primordial return. Central to the work lies an exploration of the origins of fantasy and desire and how these are bound to experiences of loss and representation. These wet, dark other worldly spaces exist in parallel but separate to our everyday existence and it is here that the imaginary manifests itself into images and objects. The darkroom, studio, projector and screen within the editing suite are extensions of these spaces, in which I am absorbed by and into the image. The time spent with the work in different ways informs how I work with the material and how the different images, objects and films relate to one another.
SMBH: Do you consider your work to be rooted in narrative?
ES: Yes, definitely – in a wider understanding of what narrative might mean, as all the work stems from autobiography and the fictionalizing and mythologizing of my own and others’ experiences. The work doesn’t tell one linear narrative, but rather interweaves multiple narratives, which intersect and echo one another.
SMBH: Your exhibitions often incorporate multimedia elements like collage, video, text, objects, and paint. What do you think the images gain from being engaged with through multiple mediums?
ES: I’m not sure I think about it in that way exactly, but rather need to be excited about working in new and different ways, and certain works and ideas seem right in different mediums. The works all move out from the still or moving photographic image, playing with the relationship between mediums. In recent and forthcoming exhibition installations I am increasingly trying to create immersive spaces, in which all the fragments of work come together as one piece.
TB: Your work, while intimate, seems more concerned with metaphor than documentation— something seen more often in paintings than photographs. Would you agree with this? How do you navigate your subjective approach through a medium that inherently strives towards objectivity (or the illusion of objectivity)?
ES: I am really interested in this loosening of the photographic from its referent, whilst there is still of course always some form of indexicality. So yes, absolutely, it is a form of gesture and metaphoric expression in the way I approach the medium as opposed to having any relationship to objective documentation.
SMBH: What artists have you been most influenced by?
ES: So many – the films of Claire Denis, Marguerite Duras writing, Carol Mavor’s incredible interweaving of references and ideas, Marvin Gaye Chetwynd’s approach to life and being an artist, Marlene Dumas’ paintings.. the things I saw last week in NYC like my favourite painting by Gerome at the Met. Fellini’s Satyricon that I could watch again and again.
SMBH:Would you tell us a bit about your upcoming monograph and book, Falling – On Loss, Desire and the Photographic?
ES: I’m currently working on a first larger monograph, which will be published in conjunction with a book of my writing, a collection of essays looking at the relationship between loss, desire and the photographic. The writing combines fictional stories with more theoretical texts, which interweave psychoanalysis, philosophy and literature. The two volumes will be separate books but will be published together, echoing one another.
See more of her work here
Teichmann’s first solo museum show, Mondschwimmen, was shown at Zephyr, Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen Mannheim in the summer of 2015. The museum published a book to accompany the exhibition – copies of the book are available here. Last copies of the limited edition with accompanying prints are still available.
Transformer Station in Cleveland will show new works in Teichmann’s first US solo public space show from Jan- May 2017.
Words by Tessa Bolsover