What is ready to weave
Weave what needs to be woven
A “mother's heart”, but woven. You cannot read the tapestry from left to right. Somewhere, someday, you'd get stuck. Hannah Ryggen's picture stories cannot actually be told at all. They are never in line. In one place they lose themselves, in the other they find themselves again. And always these parts that only hint at a whole. Perhaps one can structure and analyze a triptych by Max Beckmann. "Mother's heart" does not.
The figures spread out a little stiffly like dolls in the picture. The one who holds her heart must be the mother. You don't really know who Mona, the daughter, is in the midst of the crowd. But so much is clear that the mother is below and the daughter, the difficult one, who could do more with the father, at the top.
For the young curators of the Frankfurt Ryggen exhibition, the tapestry is one of the strongest mother-child portrayals in European art history, long before feminism fought for such motifs and themes to be included in art. Apart from the fact that it was definitely not feminism that brought the mother-child theme into the canon, the certainty of interpretation seems a little bold. The artist put it better herself: “A mother's heart grows so big. She herself disappears, the child comes first. Lightning strikes. The heart breaks. The mother is deep, deep down. Lonely. Everyone is lonely. The mother stands up. She wears what she has to wear. ”Hannah Ryggen weaves what she has to weave.
Born in Malmö in 1904. Working class family. Not very successful as a primary school teacher. Takes evening classes with an academic painter. In 1922 she left for Dresden, met the Norwegian painter Hans Ryggen, lived with him for a while in Munich, studied the old masters. After getting married in Oslo, they build a house in Ørlandet, a good hour by boat from Trondheim. Far out, far away. 50 square meters, no electricity, no water. Hans Ryggen paints and takes care of the chickens, geese and sheep. She gives lessons: "We struggled desperately to pay our debts, to provide ourselves with food and clothing and for what we believed we were living for in this world ..."
Hannah starts weaving. It is not known why she gave up painting. Does she shy away from competition with her husband, who cannot succeed with his somewhat simple-minded pictures and is much more gripping in agriculture than in front of the easel? They are both socialists and communists - for the rest of their lives. And maybe only this one time has it been possible to go on an artistic search for truth with unswerving convictions. So that you still stand in front of these tapestries as if enchanted, spellbound by their profusion of confession, by the kilometer-long threads of wool from which Hannah Ryggen spins the threads of fate like a mythical Norn.
Anyone who spends his days and nights denouncing the warfare of the USA in Vietnam with red blood stains in the poisoned grass carpet and a sinister square skull named Lyndon B. Johnson is not simply protesting as his conscience dictates. Rather, the horror is written in the weaving hands. “I can't,” she says, “understand this miserable president in Lincoln's Land of Freedom.” This is Hannah Ryggen. She is outraged, hurt, hit. She cannot understand. She weaves the incomprehensible.
She does not hold up any banners, does not go on a sit-in, does not know how to use the microphone, and does not bring out a cutting argument in the panel discussion. This is what makes her so unique, Hannah Ryggen's political art, that she does not share all of the strenuous owed duty that the genre always makes foreseeable.
She does not know the pleasure with which a Georges Grosz throws his Weimar citizens stink bombs in the moral backyards. She does not agree to the noble complaints with which her colleague Kollwitz can get on the nerves of even the most benevolent. She doesn't speculate on horror like the futurist Marinetti when he praises war as the only hygiene in the world. She doesn't drum like Klaus Staeck, immune to disappointment for the SPD.
And she doesn't want to make the headlines like Philipp Ruch with the black spots on his face and the Holocaust Memorial Repilk that he has put up in front of the Höcke property. Hannah Ryggen would be completely incapable of weaving the socialist symbols of progress in a really existing workers 'and peasants' state, despite all her unwavering left-wing convictions.
What is missing in this stubborn work is the strikingly unmistakable element that otherwise characterizes political art. It hardly ever works without instructions. The blood grid in the grass is immediately incomprehensible, and without a hint, it would be hard to imagine that it is the American President who makes everything so incomprehensible.
As entwined as Hannah Ryggen draws her woolen lines through the warp threads, her picture stories also tangle. Suddenly you discover a hand or a face without being able to say which body it belongs to. Quite different from what the simple symbolism of the characters suggests, the dramaturgy appears highly complex and never developed according to an agitating blueprint. There are also - and this is absolutely astonishing - no drawings or drafts for the tapestries. Weaving here is not simply a design based on a picture idea. This is what distinguishes them so radically from handicraft and, above all, from what is somewhat contemptuously called handicraft.
Everything happens in the head. And the endlessly laborious and lengthy process of weaving is at the same time a process of scrupulous mental work. The artist spends days, weeks, and months with herself, watching the growth of her picture, the ripening of her story, the congestion of thoughts and feelings. The artist at the loom, it's like a retreat. And the magic of her pictures stems from the inextricable contradiction between the will to say, the must to say and a pictorial technique in which a lot cannot be said easily.
Hannah Ryggen is outraged by Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia, by the ignorance with which Europe is suppressing the calls for help from the attacked country. But that it is possibly the French ambassador and the emperor Haile Selassi who do gymnastics at the top of the tapestry like puppet figures behind the frame of a puppet stage, you have to be told. And that it is a Mussolini caricature with a black man sticking a spear through his skull, the accompanying text is the only way to get started
Painted, the monumental, almost four-meter-wide scene does not need to be interpreted any further. Anyone who, like Hannah Ryggen, studied the old masters in museums for years and attended evening classes with an academic teacher would have no problems with either Kaiser or Dictator. It is the weaving that never completely fulfills the wish for a statement.
So Hannah Ryggen made it difficult, fully aware of the consequences. She needed resistance, looked for it and is possibly almost desperate at the task she had set herself, to also weave something like movement into the body and depth of space behind her. This almost unbelievable work against all the casualness that can be gained from tradition, convention, genius and technical perfection - it is, as it were, the script of this art.
In fact, it takes a while to discover that in many jobs, the knotted fringe edges are on the side and not above and below. Which can only mean that the artist must have woven her scenes in 90-degree inversion. How it is possible to weave a "Jul Kvale" lying down from one outstretched hand to the other, so that when erect it is credible to the image of the Norwegian who took to the streets in 1955 against the rearmament of his country, that borders on supernatural Image will.
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