by Bärbel Praun

© Christiane Peschek, from the series ‘13 Children’, courtesy of Anzenberger Gallery

You studied Transmediale Kunst at the University of Applied Arts and Scenography at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, and graduated in 2014. Have you always been working with photography? What are your main interests/topics in photography?

Christiane Peschek (CP): No, not at all. I was doing site-specific installations and performances for some years as well as interdisciplinary projects. I was always interested in the interaction with the space and the dialogue between image and observer. With the years it turned more and more into photography as the medium to present my work. But still I wouldn’t consider myself as a photographer. I am more interested in visual processes then in the production of photographic images. I am trying to explore different ways of using the medium photography, expand the borders of seeing, producing and reflecting images. In my artistic practice I am asking for the additional values of photography, like in my book ‘Invisibles’, where I used photographs as a commemoration system. 

Another important aspect in my work is the visualization of imagination and absence. As photography doesn’t necessarily reflect reality I am playing with the gap between reality and imagination.

You recently had a solo exhibition showing your series ‘13 Children’ in Hamburg, Germany as part of the Triennale Hamburg. Also, this particular work is currently presented at The Copper House Gallery in Dublin, part of this year’s PhotoIreland. Children are dressed up in fanciful costumes portrayed in front of colored cloths, some of them have their faces hidden
behind masks or have their heads turned to the camera only slightly. Something dreamy, mythic and melancholic lies within these images. Can you tell us what the story is about here?

CP: In the past I did some works about the relation between mother and child and the roles of both. While dealing with the theme of absence I did a research on how children orientate themselves when they don’t have a role model like the mother or father to rely on, when they live beside a family structure. I was curious if their imagination of a self was more open or different. That’s how I got in contact with different orphanages in Vienna and started to work with orphans on their imaginary ego. I asked them how they see themselves or how they want to be seen. For several months I discovered with them a way of expressing themselves. Showing portraits of children beside clear family structures, as those children are part of the society that is quite invisible, I was interested in the imaginary processes and the way to transform the children’s visions into something visible. To give them the opportunity to present themselves as they want to be seen was a more honest way of using thesujet of portrait photography, also questioning the practice of portraits from the pure capture of humans to a more “inner-reflecting” process. I can imagine that this could be a possible aspect of rethinking photography.

© Christiane Peschek, from the series ‘13 Children’, courtesy of Anzenberger Gallery

The body of work with the title ‘10 HOMES’ seems to be linked to your
‘13 CHILDREN’ thematically, which shows stills of colorful objects made
from different material, hardly to identify what they might represent. How
did you evolve this project?

CP: I met Krzysztof Candrowicz last year in Dublin and he was interested in showing the project ‘13 Children’ at the Triennale of Photography in Hamburg. So he invited me to come to Hamburg to continue my work with orphans. Soon I figured out, that, through a law that prohibits to show orphans on photographs, that it was very hard to find orphanages in Hamburg that allowed me to take pictures from their children, so I needed to change the project into something more abstract. I was searching for way to portrait the children without physically showing them. Like this I came to the question: how they imagine their perfect home, if they would have one. The images of ‘10 Homes’ show the orphans idea of living, safety and desire. I like the idea of using the psychotherapeutic practice of seeing the house as a reflexion of the personality. In that case, the models that orphans created changed my idea of thinking a house or a home. I was surprised about the openness and the imaginative
potential these children had, even though they are very abstract and leave a lot of space for interpretation.

In your recently published book ‘Invisibles’ (EINER Books) you are recalling and visualizing memories of yours, told in multiple layers like images of different series and text. Please tell us about the story and your approach turning it into a book. 

CP: I normally work in smaller series that are not obviously connected to each other, so I was searching for a way to combine them to a bigger topic or story. ‘Invisibles’ now collects 4 of my works that all deal with absence and imagination on different layers: Formal absence, emotional and physical absence until the total absence of the photographic image and the shift to the imagined picture or memories. Through reading Lacan I was trying to explore his theories in a visual way, playing with the framing of reality and the ambivalence of hiding and projecting space, reality and fantasies.
Another work of the book shows interior rooms, pictures I took with my mobile, so called “leftover scenes”, rooms, after something happened like stories and scenes related to my everyday life. In a second layer I entered these photos like entering a crime scene, collecting all the leftovers, memories and traces by highlighting them with different colourmarks. In that way the images relates directly to memory, communicates on different layers, asks for the viewers imagination to recreate scenes that deal with human absence. 

© Christiane Peschek, book ‘Invisibles’, Einer Books 2015

The book also collects 5 texts on transparent pages. In these texts I transformed images of my memory where there is no photograph existing. The text as a substitute of the absent picture is for me a method to recall memories. Even though memory is constantly changing, in fact can only be remembered once before it changes, the text will remain the same, like a photograph, a frozen moment in the own biography.

When looking through the book, obviously another focus within your work
lies on landscape. Where did you take these landscape images and what role do they play in your book in specific?

CP: In the last years I’ve been doing some artist in residency programs in Iceland and found a deep connection to the Icelandic landscape that slowly entered my work. It’s not landscape in general, that interests me, it’s more the relation that it has to reality. Since 2011 I return to Iceland every year to continue my idea of rethinking, recreating, reenacting landscape. So in fact, the landscapes in ‘Invisibles’ was the first work I did in Iceland and about landscape in general. It is linked to the process of memory, the moment, when memory is fading and the construction of remembrance relates to imagination. But this process also works on a formal layer. By covering parts of the image, we have to recreate, imagine, construct possible realities. Also thinking the image a bit further, as a sequence of reality, that deletes all it’s surrounding.

© Christiane Peschek, from the series ‘Invisibles’

After an exciting first half of the year with lots of things going on with your work - are there any future projects on your schedule already? 

CP: Actually yes. I am currently working on a few things. My new project is a discourse into more abstract fields of love. I try to create an collection of formal examination to this emotional topic. Also I’m writing on my first novel that I want
to finish by the end of the year. It will be about the construction of relationships and of course absence will play a big role in it as well. Beside this I entered my photographic archive and started playing with the fading of connection to personal images. It’s a big work in progress where I explore different ways of deleting images, physically and mentally as well as digitally. So that process of remembrance and absence will stay with me for the next months. I’m very excited where all this leads me to.

© Christiane Peschek, from the series ‘10 Homes’

The next show of my work will be in September at the Encontros da Imagem in Braga, where I will do an installation around ‘Invisibles’ combining texts, images, sound and smell, like a multi-layered memory room.  

Thanks for the interview and lots of success for your future projects, Christiane!

Christiane Peschek is an Austrian artist, currently living and working in Vienna. Her exhibition ‚13 Children’ in Dublin is still on display until 31/07/2015 at Photo Ireland. Her book ‘Invisibles’ is also available as a portfolio edition of 50 by VOIES OFF Galerie, Arles. 


Christiane Peschek