Cornelia Rössler’s work negotiates the frontiers of human identity. In this respect, human skin would first appear to be a natural border between the innermost and the outermost, between the ego
and its environment, the individual and society. Human skin is also the guiding theme throughout the artist’s recent works.
The central theme of Identity relates to skin as a diaphanous line between the innermost and the outermost. A number of square photos showing greatly enlarged details of skin from different members of a family are suspended at eye level, one next to the other. The uniqueness of the human face on which we rely so much in everyday life is replaced by uniqueness at the smallest level. The tiniest section of our skin, even a single flake of skin, is enough to demonstrate our uniqueness, our individuality. In the light of the genetic determination of man, the issue of individuality is broached in a different light. The segregation between the inner and the outer becomes blurred. Admittedly, with her camera Cornelia Rössler is on the outside, yet the enlargement is so striking that the step from the outermost into the innermost of man no longer seems to be very great at all.
The individuality of man undergoes yet another stretching of its limits in the installation Remembrance. Flowing out of four light boxes hanging in a row on a white wall are black cables, all of which connect up at the feet of the light boxes to give a labyrinth of cables that seems impossible to entangle. The black sketches against the white background of the light boxes emulate modern imaging processes for the visualisation of synapses in the human brain, each of the boxes distinctive for the difference in the denseness of the twists and turns. The differences in denseness of this interconnectedness relates directly to age. The older a person is, the greater his wealth of experience, the greater the density of the connections, then all the more does the light fade as it penetrates the glass pane of the light boxes. Just as experience leaves its traces on human skin, so does this phenomenon evolve in the inner part of man, in his brain. Otherwise concealed from us and generally considered by occidental philosophy to be the seat of the soul, the brain becomes an object under observation, its secrets not really seeming to be any different in nature to those engraved on human skin, visible to all and attuned to ever-increasing experience. Doubts arise as to the severance of man between body and soul. And so yet another boundary forfeits clarity. As in other oeuvres of the artist, in which the ageing of the skin is particularly highlighted by the augmentation of structures, a process of deterioration also becomes visible, one that inexorably progresses as experiences are acquired and ever deeper structures evolved: the luminance from the light boxes, the force of which can be interpreted as vitality, fades the more the synapses interlock. A dilemma of human existence would seem to be reflected here: admittedly we perpetually acquire new experience that allows us to engage in new cross-connections, opening the way towards a broader understanding, possibly even towards wisdom. Yet this growth in experience, these connections and correlations inexorably lead to death. With the advancement of age, we admittedly could be better prepared for life, yet this increment counteracts our physical state, which is unrelentingly expressed in our evermore-apparent frailty.
In the video installation Thoughts man and his environment are equally closely related. Three beamers project three different rooms of an apartment onto the wall whilst at the same time the voice of an old lady is heard. Occasionally the camera focuses on specific details from the flat, yet quickly loses itself again in the darkness. The old woman, evidently the inhabitant of the flat, is never caught by the camera. It almost seems as if the woman no longer lives there any more given the rigidity and inanimate appearance of the flat to the viewer. The numerous photographs, postcards and calendars lend the flat an almost museum-like character. In general it would appear that the items have not been moved for a very long time indeed. The inanimate nature of the flat is oddly contrasted to the convivial tone of the woman’s voice, which however repeatedly reverts into echoes of fear and loneliness, infinitely better suited to the character of the apartment. The inanimate items in the flat tell a tale in the same way as the animated voice of the woman, who relates how her nights are repeatedly disturbed by the sound of a bell. Yet even after she has the doorbell switched off by the caretaker, it continues to ring. The frontier between the innermost and the outermost is translucent here too. Although the ringing can no longer be caused by any external stimulus now that the bell has been switched off, the woman is desperate as she attempts to externalise it in her attempt to rationalise the ringing tone. However, the source of the ringing cannot be clearly localised. It is only present in the narrations of the old lady. It is only present in her voice and the rooms of her flat seem to serve as reverberating bodies. In this installation as well, it is no longer possible to effect a clear segregation of body and soul; the disruption is two-way. On the one hand, the presence of the woman is singularly mental, particularly since we never see her and to an extent she has been robbed of her natural body. On the other hand, her voice materialises in the rooms and around the fittings of her flat that are consequently vitalized. An additional factor is the recurring reference to the bell, about the reality of which the flat’s inhabitant has no doubt at all, even if there seems to be no location for this reality outside the field of the woman’s perception now that the bell has been mechanically switched off. Rössler’s work immortalises a clear allocation and localisation of what the viewer perceives; it thus opens up a path towards borderline areas of our existence that are far more interwoven with our environment than we first believe. Rössler is indicating the limitations of rationalising the world, in this case as expressed in the impossibility of locating the bell. In spite of the frontier crossings experienced in Rössler’s works, there is one boundary that remains: the fundamental limitations of the human mind.