Two articles about Emma Hauck by Miranda Argyle
Unseen and Unheard
Emma Hauck and her Legacy
Just over one hundred years ago a young woman from Southern Germany called Emma Hauck (1878-1920) was placed in the Psychiatric University Clinic in Heidelberg. She was suffering from a severe mental disturbance and at the time of her restraint she believed that she had been contaminated and poisoned by her husband’s kiss. Within a few months she was diagnosed with Dementia Praecox and sent to an asylum for the incurable in Wiesloch where she died eleven years later at the age of forty-two. Read more
I Can Change
Emma Hauck’s three small letters that were shown in the Hayward Gallery in 1996 had a powerful impact on my work. In 2009, many years after I had seen them, I made a stitched piece in response. Her letters have always seemed more like woven pieces of cloth than the simple graphite on paper that was her allocation. With her unique way of utilising the poor materials, the text seems to occupy space three dimensionally and the repetition of the simple phrases, Herzenschatzi Komm or simply Komm resembles the links and hooking of a needle and thread.
My piece, I Can Change was sewn in haste. Occasionally the words run into one another or overlap so that the physical urgency dominates the text. Unlike Hauck I had the luxury of choosing my own materials. Stitched text does modify the meaning as it is usually read as image first and the threads or lines themselves underpin the intention. For this reason stitching is rarely used to document, write letters or instructions. It can be a time-consuming activity but in this piece it was the only way that I could come close to Hauck’s intensity. The denseness of Hauck’s writing and the speed with which she seems to have written reinforce the visual and emotional impact of the letters.
After my piece was exhibited, Lucy Bethune a dancer and choreographer with the Ballet Rambert, created a short dance piece called My Beating Heart -My Changing Mind. At the time she was unaware of the connection with Emma Hauck and focused on the positive intention of the text. The pace of the dance is rapid and joyful and retraces the journey of her life previously seen in the first half of the piece, My Beating Heart. Later as if she is in a reverie, fragments of it return with movements that lightly touch on the earlier more robust actions. The picture is on an wheeled easel throughout the piece and towards the end it is pushed to the back of the room or stage. Finally the dancer silently sheds a layer of clothing, moves the easel aside and walks through the open doorway.
In 2011 I made a further stitched piece From Where I’m Looking which was also related to Hauck’s letters but this time the text did not reach from edge to edge. The words slip out of the frame or enter into it as if one were casting one’s eyes quickly over the page. Again the whole piece resembles a woven cloth and refers to Hauck’s singular vision of the world.
Miranda Argyle 2012
These pieces of sewn text have developed from a visual diary when each day was documented with two images on paper for the space of a year. Sewing is a slow process through which one becomes aware of the marking of time in a different way. One piece takes days to complete and hours can be measured in stitches. During the process one is aware of time passing and the heart beating. By the age of fifty the average human heart will have beaten one and a half billion times by seventy five the average number of beats will be two and three quarter billion. These numbers are almost inconceivable and the stitched sampler, traditionally used to record names and birth dates can be used to highlight and emphasise their temporality. Read more
The Question of the Addressee
An incantation disguised as a postcard and a letter disguised as a handkerchief: I have been to hell and back. And let me tell you, it was wonderful.
Louise Bourgeois’s (1911 – 2010) early life has been well documented and her childhood story interweaves her work. She was 75 when she stitched her now famous piece of text on to a handkerchief. ‘I have been to hell and back...’ but whom is she addressing? It is feasible that we, the audience are overhearing a private conversation between her and her husband who died in 1973. Or are we eavesdropping on a conversation that she is having with herself?Read more
Hans Bellmer and The Games of the Doll
In 1934 Hans Bellmer together with his brother Fritz constructed their first doll. This was followed by the publication of “Die Puppe” a pocket-sized book of ten photographs of the doll in various states of assemblage and in a variety of settings with an introductory text written by Hans called “Memories of a Doll Theme”... Read more
Art and Psychosis
The essayist Robert Pinsky writes:
(An artist) needs not so much an audience, as to feel a need to answer, a promise to respond. The promise may be a contradiction, it may be unwanted, it may go unheeded.... but it is owed, and the sense that it is owed is a basic requirement for the poet’s good feeling about the art. This need to answer, as firm as a borrowed object or a cash debt, is the ground where the centaur walks. (1) Read more