Gustav Schörghofer on the exhibition


On the exhibition in JesuitenFoyer Vienna
16 February–2 April 2022

I first became acquainted with Beatrix Zobl through her photographs documenting life and work in a factory. She later showed me a series of her new works, including one she named “The Oceanic Feeling”. These works are in the tradition of photogram, a photographic technique used since the 1930s that places objects on a light-sensitive foundation, rendering their shadows visible as light after being exposed and developed. Beatrix Zobl applies a light-sensitive salt solution to wafer-thin paper and lays her own body on it, with exposure via sunlight. In addition to the artist’s body, several images also include a penis. Almost all the sheets are colored cyan blue, sometimes changing into a greenish shade. Both the body and the non-corporal objects are blurred, embedding them in a foggy field.
The term “oceanic feeling” comes from Romain Rolland, who used it in an exchange of letters with Sigmund Freud to designate a space of religious origin, a mystical experience of all-oneness. Beatrix Zobl’s works show a merging of the contained body and the stringently separated sexes into a cohesive entity. There is a sense of fragility, in part because of the very thin paper the images are created on. But the cloud-like forms and blurred contours also contribute to an overall impression of floating, instability, and immense sensitivity. Feminine and masculine are merged, with the integration of the masculine into the feminine.
The shadows of the female body appear as bright zones. Despite this transformation of the absent form into light, the images are characterized by shadows. To a certain extent, these shadows are memories of what once was, witnesses to the lost presence of someone now missing. This characteristic creates a link to experiences of death and mortality. They awaken memories of the shadows of Hiroshima, the outlines of people made at the moment the atomic bomb exploded, burning them into the wall or floor. There are no parallels to Yves Klein’s anthropometries in Zobl’s work, as both the technique and the role played by the artist and the model are entirely different. Likewise, Zobl’s work bears no resemblance to the holy cloths imprinted with the face or body of Jesus Christ that are revered within the Catholic Church, such as the Veronica or the Shroud of Turin. Instead, the tradition of Zobl’s works is one of photography, of pushing the envelope of possibilities for the medium.
How does this come about?
Zobl’s works don’t just reveal something, they cast light in a way that enables things that are separate to come together and form a unity: the body and what is around it, male and female, body and non-body. All these would otherwise be separate, yet in the medium of Zobl's works they all join to create a unit that can be perceived without erasing any of their individual differences. The images echo the ephemerality of our physicality, at the same time attesting to its existence. They bear witness to the importance of the body as the medium for our experience of the world. We are bodies and, as bodies, we are connected to the world, which communicates with us in and through our physical manifestation. With her pictures, Beatrix Zobl has succeeded in finding a vibrant form for this fundamental reality.

Gustav Schörghofer SJ