Glimpses of Green: Tanja Zimmermann in the Studio

July 22, 2017 by

To complement a historic, ghostly photogram of flowers, Studio Workspace Resident Tanja Zimmermann found a thin branch outside of the studios. Unsure of how to translate it into two dimensions, she and studio intern Megan Borseth flattened it with the silkscreen studio’s photocopier. When the twigs stopped crunching and the copier lid was level, the machine printed a version that could then be burned onto a screen.

Like when Susan Weil taught Robert Rauschenberg to create blueprints, or cameraless photographs, the shapes of these screenprints rely on stark presence and absence. Prints from a singular screen, with images refined to their most basic or isolated shapes, resemble shadows in different colors of light. From these, Tanja can choose which collected media—maps, photographs, floral imagery—to bring together in a fuller composition or consolidate to one screen.

For Tanja, the time to figure out how to translate the natural world into passes of ink on paper has been filled with possibility. A gallerist, educator, and painter, she does not often have the opportunity to return to printmaking, or at least the way she prefers.

“I always go back to the start—zero—to discover which way I need to go,” she says. “I have to be empty for my work to grow, like a plant.”

Making no assumptions about process and led by curiosity, Tanja printed on every possible surface to see how the ink would settle. Archival boxes, slips of paper, and even a cardboard six-pack container were repurposed as experimental canvases for her new body of work, and no two tests had the same result. Finding her way in the medium, Tanja admits she did not start with a completely blank slate, but drew inspiration from the Austrian poet Michael Donhauser’s writing and her memories of walking through a garden park.

“[Donhauser] describes leaves falling from the trees, the smells and the heat in September. People have jackets on their arms—the atmosphere reminds me of my childhood and my son’s childhood,” she says. “He writes about the rhythm and forms of the falling chestnuts and how they are a little different from one another, but he’s thinking beyond that place and about so many other things.”

Donhauser’s poems are not fully devoted to a perfect, autumn scene, instead wavering between trains of thought. Tanja does not illustrate the poetry or her memories, but transforms them into a printed assemblage. Her prints are collaged in three senses: they are layers of loosely related imagery, were cut and rearranged on the exposure table, and incorporate attached elements, such as shape of paper chestnuts. Only when pieced together as a series, they suggest a shared meaning between the different perspectives and image types. Tanja accentuates the differences intentionally in some works—for example, she placed a photograph of a child under a map of Tuileries Garden.

“I want there to be a feeling of tension when people see this little girl against the big shapes of the park. I like that it’s not so perfect.”

In conjunction with her own writing alongside making art, Tanja frequently looks to text as a subject in her work. Having been a student against the German Democratic Republic in the days of East Germany, Tanja has also responded to writings by Christa Wolf and anarchist Bert Papenfuß.

No longer interested in political art, Tanja uses her work as means of exploration. In the studio, she recreated an atmosphere by breaking down and rearranging the visual cues. Though lyrical in subject, but Tanja purposefully draws from literature and poetry, believing they are inherently opposite and balance destructive, politics-driven war.

“Artists,” she says, “edit the world.”

Tanja Zimmermann is an artists, educator, and gallerist based in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany. She studied at the College of Visual Art in Dresden under Gerhard Kettner and Johannes Heisig. Her current practice is site-specific and focuses on capturing the “invisible textures” of a location.

Find more photos from her residency on our Flickr!