Traces In the Snow: An Interview with Photographer Isabelle Wenzel

German-based artist Isabelle Wenzel creates colorful sets on which to enact bodily performances, the evidence of which appear only as fixed photographs. These final images depict women’s bodies fragmented and abstracted like mannequines whose limbs have not yet been pieced together. Wenzel’s figures appear inanimate, like sculptures on a plinth, but convey a sense of action, like a dancer on the cusp of movement. This oscilation between animate and inamate invokes the uncanny, pulling the viewer into a space that is both visceral and psychological. In the following interview, Wenzel talks about her process, philosophies and next projects.

Abbey Meaker: There appears to be strong performative elements in your photographs; is this intentional, and if so, can you explain the importance of performance in your process/final works? 

Isabelle Wenzel: Actually I do have a performance background. Since the age of 6 I had intense acrobatic training. I discovered photography as a medium quite late at the age of 21. I like the idea of having a performance without an audience and just showing the material evidence of this event. So my everyday routine comes still very close to performance. While photographing I’m not really looking much into the camera, I try to shape a form with my body and use photography as a technical devise only. With photography I see myself able to create an illusionary room that at the same time witnesses an action that has happened in the past. I like that photography has this indexical character. Photographs are like traces in the snow where you know that these traces belong to someone in particular. I like that photography points back in time.

One could say I’m performing an act of trial and error. Even though that my outcome is a two dimensional image I’m personally more interested in the processes behind. You have to imagine me pressing the button of the camera, running in position, having some seconds time till it clicks. Then I quickly check the outcome on the screen and repeat the action till I get to a satisfying outcome. Certainly I could use a remote release but I like this pressure of time. It pushes my creativity.

AM: The figures in your images have a sculptural quality, and although they are often wearing skirts, tights, and high heels, the qualities we associate with sexualized images of women are basically concealed. These women are fragmented, uncanny in their inanimate-like poses. Can you speak to these themes? 

IW: On one hand I'm very concerned about the signs I'm using, on the other hand I do think as an artist you do not have to be politically correct all the time and it's also not my function to explain everything. I do create my images out of an inner logic and there is no right or wrong in a rational way. You could say that I catalyze things I see in my surrounding, especially things I do not understand; gender is one of these things. And yes; sometimes I do feel a discomfort about that, too.

"Most of the time I don’t know how to start, so I stop thinking about it and just get started. I work a lot with improvisation. I also often look at my own work and wonder how I can push my ideas further. It’s really difficult to explain where my ideas are coming from but mainly it’s about not getting stuck."

AM: Are there specific theories or philosophies that inform your work? 

IW: I don’t know. Maybe there are theories matching with my way of thinking. But this is nothing of primary importance to me. I’m busy with visual language and don’t think it’s possible to translate this entirely into spoken words. I do think I’m acting like a catalyzer of my surrounding. Also there is not only one truth, I do believe that there are several ways of how to interpret my work. Even for myself meanings are changing depending on how I look at it. Let’s say I do believe in a non-logical world or in a world, which is not always explainable with logic. What is true cannot always be seen, and what we see is not always true.

AM: Are there artists whose work have been influential to your art practice? How do their concepts relate to or differ from those you employ? 

IW: I appreciate a lot to meet other artists at their studio and vice versa. To talk about work process and the personal art praxis is as important as exchanging ideas and how to encounter difficulties. And certainly other works of art inspires me, too. It’s not important that they do have necessary something to do with my own work. For me the best works are those which succeed in making me reflect about myself and at the same time I’m not really able to understand the work or the intention behind it. If I see a work that triggers this feeling in me I get a strong desire to create something new. Most of the time I don’t know how to start, so I stop thinking about it and just get started. I work a lot with improvisation. I also often look at my own work and wonder how I can push my ideas further. It’s really difficult to explain where my ideas are coming from but mainly it’s about not getting stuck. Because movement is progress. If I’m stuck with my ideas I find a strategy how to trigger my creativity. For example with my current work I decided after five years of only working in the studio to leave it and to face landscape and public.

AM: What is next for you -- are you working on anything new that you'd like to discuss? 

IW: I’m currently working on a body of work that investigates the representation of my own movements. Before I often intended to capture the perfect moment in order to shape my body like a sculpture, now I intent to look at the intervals of a certain movement. It’s on one hand an investigation on movement in general and on the other how this fascination constitutes my work. And again I use the ‘photographic’ eye as an imagination machine where I double, triple myself mechanical without sticking to a chronological order.  The outcomes are instantaneous proofs of my actions.

You can catch Isabelle Wenzel giving lessons on how to create the ideal posture for portraits at Villa Zebra in the Netherlands. Her next projects include participation in the Platform Platvorm exhibition, which will be on view from June 6 until June 28, 2015 at BART INVITES Bloemgracht 2 Amsterdam. In the fall, you can see her new series, 'Transformations,' at the Unseen Photo Fair in Amsterdam. text and interview by Abbey Meaker. FOLLOW AUTRE ON INSTAGRAM TO STAY UP TO DATE: @AUTREMAGAZINE