When Philosophy and Art Intersect
David Carrier, Hyperallergic, 2020

Maria Bussmann’s elusive drawings acknowledge the impossibility of fixing philosophical terms in imagery, like bugs in amber.

[via hyperallergic.com]


Don Ihde
Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Director, The Technoscience Research Group
SUNY, Stony Brook

Maria Bussmann is a 'philosophical' artist. She wrote a Ph.D. in philosophy, while she also began practicing art. She has always combined her academic work with art making, and made a mark for herself by doing reflective drawings on major works by philosophers. Her early contribution was a set of drawings inspired by Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus. More recently, she has turned to Maurice Merleau-Ponty and his Phenomenology of Perception.
Merleau-Ponty is a philosopher who is concerned with human perceptual - and particularly bodily- experiences. Bussmann has reflected upon this important Twentieth century work, and produced this evokative series of drawings. She combines her own experience of her body with Merleau-Ponty's reflections upon 'lived experience,' corps vecu. Here philosophy and art meet incarnate.


Bruno Gironcoli
Bildhauer, Leiter der Bildhauerschule der Akademie der bildenden Künste in Wien von 1977—2004

Ich habe Maria Bußmann hier in der Bildhauerschule das erste Mal vor rund zehn Jahren getroffen und sie zeigte mir ein paar skulpturale Arbeiten, deren Syntax mir wirklich interessant erschien. Es waren dies aus einfachsten Materialsorten kombinierte und in ungewöhnlichen Materialqualitäten gefertigte Ausdrucksversuche im Mini-Themenbereich. Es waren da zu finden: ein kleines Bett für eine Maus, eben groß genug für eine Zimmermaus, der menschlichen Vorstellung, wie ein Bett auszusehen hat, trefflich abgerungen, aber aus dünnen Messingröhrchen gebogen. Das Plumeau für die Maus waren eingenähte Papier-Daunen. Das Bett der Maus wurde übertroffen von einem in normaler Löt-Arbeit gefertigten Fußballstadion. Das Stadion wurde übertroffen von einem Wettkampf-Schwimmbecken mit vier Bahnen und aus Papier und Pappdeckel ausgeschnittenen rosarot angestrichenen Kampfschwimmern, jeder seine Bahn ziehend.
Alles Arbeiten, die von so interessanter Materialwahl geprägt ihr formales Dasein einnahmen, dass man den Eindruck absoluter Selbständigkeit der Objekte hat.
Auf meine Frage, ob denn solche Arbeiten technische Zeichnungen voraussetzten, habe ich später von Bußmann Zeichnungen zu sehen bekommen, die wohl ganz interessant waren, doch keine Werksunterlage zu den bildhauerischen Arbeiten abgegeben haben.
Die Qualität dieser Blätter war ihre selbständige grafische Ausführung.
Es gab in ihnen zwei Formen einer grafischen Strategie: einmal zeigte sich Bußmann als die Sucherin ihrer persönlichen Daten und Qualitäten, in der zeichnerischen Gattung von Cartoons in weiblicher Ausschmückung, die zweite Art, ihre Zeichnungen zu gestalten, war eine strukturschaffende Zeichenform, eine Strukturqualität neben eine andere Strukturqualität stellend, entweder in formaler Zwietracht oder Eintracht. In dieser Form der strategisch verwendeten Schraffierung entstanden Zeichnungen (Formaufgaben) recht weit reichender Formgebungen. Und wo die Blätter in dieser Form-Aufgabe zur Ausführung kamen, schien mir deren Struktur an sich bereits genügend zeichnerische Qualität zu bergen, die – würde sie für sich allein genommen –
ein Werk schaffen könnte, das malerisch und grafisch sich selbst trägt.
Leider war damals, vor zehn Jahren, Maria Bußmann nicht der Meinung, dass solches genügen könnte, ihre Selbstdarstellung als ein Abzeichnen in Schablone innerhalb der Schablonenwelt waren ihr da zu wichtig.
In neuerlich von ihr gestalteten grafischen Blättern konnte ich plötzlich jene Symbiose, von der ich träumte, eine Verbindung von Strukturelementen mit persönlichen Daten und Ausdruckswünschen sehen. Diese Blätter, die sie aus New York mitbrachte, waren differenziert, sensibel, reich gestaltet – gespeist durch persönliche Mythologie, durch Philosophisches und diese Daten waren grafisch erfasste und strukturell gefiltert wiedergegeben. Eine Verbindung war hergestellt. Diese Strukturen werden ja hochinteressant – wenn es Maria Bußmann gelingt, Persönliches in sie hineinzuschaukeln, dann hat sie gewonnen.


Introducing Maria Bussmann, or:
About not Losing Your Balance on the Tightrope between Art and Science, by Jutta Kern

"A drawing that continues on the back side or working with extremely fine lines represents this way of pushing perception to its boundaries," Dr. Bussmann comments on her work on the philosopher Merleau-Ponty, "but sometimes I have the feeling that what I am doing is unjustified—to read philosophers in such a way. But then on the other hand, that's exactly what it's about to find new approaches; the way of trying something new instead of diligently producing some more footnotes."

[via ostina.org]


TRACKS In/Visible: The Drawings of Maria Bussmann
by Thomas Micchelli, 2007

Maria Bussmann counters the unknowable with the unseeable. Her suites of drawings—Following Heidegger, Drawings to Baruch de Spinoza_'s Ethik, Drawings to Wittgenstein's Tractatus, About the Visible and Invisible of Merleau-Ponty —address the infinity of meanings implicit in her source material by defying the ordinary parameters of visual art. The sheer number of drawings in each series—twenty in Heidegger, fifty-three in Spinoza, ninety-two in Wittgenstein, one hundred and two in Merleau-Ponty­—places most of her images, at any point in time, outside the boundaries of the viewer's comprehension, just as the philosophers' texts, thanks to the limitations of consciousness, can yield but a trickle of insights with each reading. In both instances, ideas exist first in latency and then in memory (if at all) after passing through the narrow crossing between presentation and reception. Maria Bussman, "body holes" from About the Visible and Invisble of Merleau-Ponty (2002-2004). Pencil on paper, 13.8"× 10.2". Courtesy of the artist.
Crossing, or chiasm—a concept derived from the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty that also means "intertwining"—is a fundamental principle for Bussmann. It is the intuitive spark between the verbal and the visual, the flash of awareness that collapses into a vacuum for her images to fill. Bussmann does not treat philosophy as subject matter or propose to outline a philosophy of art—two hallmarks of conceptualism—nor does she illustrate cerebral constructs, rendering them into a system of pictorial schematics. Instead, she creates a densely woven iconography—which she regards as a commentary on or "addendum to" the text—with the abandon of a saxophonist riffing on a Coltrane chord structure.
In an essay on her Merleau-Ponty series, Bussmann cites the philosopher's sense of "painting and literature as an expansion or amplification of the body." Visual art, for Merleau-Ponty, is a "philosophy of seeing" that deepens our appreciation of visual experience, which in turn informs our understanding of philosophy. Yet, as Bussmann reminds us, "there is no 'simple' seeing, no such thing as naïve seeing." Our efforts to enlarge our scope, to seek insights from literature and art, lead us into "the paradox of expression," in which we experience "the tension between the existing language and the one which is not developed yet, and/or between perception and the not-yet-perceived, i.e., the domain of the invisible."
For Bussmann, reading philosophy is not a pretext for art-making but an inextricable part of her daily routine. She absorbs a few sentences a day, slowly and meticulously, and then contemplates them, immersing herself in the chiasm, the crossing, the tension—the in-between state of creative ferment that can't be consciously examined without distorting its essence. She develops her images first in the margin of the text, then in a preparatory sketch and finally in a finished drawing (although this is a fairly cut-and-dried description of an ongoing, organic and unpredictable process). Occasionally, an image will leap spontaneously to mind, fully formed, in response to a line she read days earlier.

Maria Bussman, large detail of "thoughts governed head" from About the Visible and Invisble of Merleau-Ponty (2002-2004). Pencil on paper, 13.8"× 10.2". Courtesy of the artist.
Bussmann's equation of drawing with thought compels her to push her forms toward the condition of thought—ephemeral, incorporeal, invisible—another manifestation of the "paradox of expression." She draws on thin, almost translucent paper with extremely soft pencils, continuously sharpened by hand, to achieve a fluid yet delicate breath of a line. These Ingres-like filaments caress the contours of a form with a volumetric precision that suggests the Platonic ideal of a thing rather than its quotidian reality. Sometimes she draws a line or shape on the back of a sheet so that it barely registers as a visible element on the front—pushing the concept of a visual referent for invisible thought to its physical limit.
The classicism of Bussmann's line evokes as diverse a crew as Leonardo, Klee, Beuys and Wölfli, encompassing an array of imagery from the diagrammatic to the baroque. Despite their heady pedigree, the pictures themselves are loosely structured, playful, even funny. Images roam across the page like drawings from a loopy treatise on physics or botany, combining studies of observed reality with seemingly random pictograms, numbers, words, lines and arcs. Yet Bussmann's flights of imagination, no matter how mercurial, are tempered by an incisive critical intelligence that binds the imagery within the series' conceptual framework. She sometimes employs a set of a priori signposts (the arrow emblematic of infinity in Wittgenstein, the allusions to mountain hiking in Heidegger) to impart a subliminal sense of unity to each drawing. And Surrealist compactions, like a centaur embracing a mermaid or a woman's torso composed entirely of petal-shaped eyes, are grounded by pictorial elements immersed in the day-to-day—Bussmann's own long-fingered hands, her plants, the view outside her window.
Bussmann grew up in the Bavarian town of Würzburg, where she was born in 1966, in an educated but provincial middle class household, surrounded by music and books but afflicted with childhood dyslexia, a condition that, through her struggle to read, developed her sense that a text reveals itself slowly as an embedded structure of meaning. Although she had limited exposure to the visual arts in her early years, drawing had always been a pleasure and a refuge, and when the time came to choose a career, she decided, quite implausibly in her parents' eyes, to be an artist. She enrolled first in the fine arts academy in Nuremburg and then in Vienna, where her most celebrated professor was the legendary Austrian wild man Arnulf Rainer. The academy's prevailing aesthetic was macho, malerische Neo-Expressionism, in which Bussmann felt hopelessly out of place. She turned to philosophy, entering a doctoral program at the University of Vienna and eventually writing her dissertation on "Mysticism in Abstract Painting" (focusing on Newman, Rothko and Malevich). It was during her study of philosophy, not fine art, that her sense of herself, her art and her intellectual passions flowed into a single channel—an instance of personal chiasm—and she began to draw from philosophical texts.
While a student at the Viennese academy, Bussmann turned down an offer to work as a studio assistant for Rainer, who was then involved in his notorious "overpaintings" of medieval prints. The prospect of striking an important connection, of networking or advancing her career, didn't even enter Bussmann's mind. She simply did not wish to place herself in a subservient position to an overpowering personality like Rainer's. Years later, as her work began to be known in European art circles, she refused to show in the "emerging artist" space of one of the continent's most important dealers because it shared its premises with a cell phone display counter. And when collectors started to take an interest in her work, she decided not to sell her drawings piecemeal but to retain the integrity of the suite: either the series sells in its entirety or not at all. Consequently, her most ambitious project to date, the 102 drawings of About the Visible and Invisible of Merleau-Ponty, sits unsold in a storage box in Vienna.
As much as these actions sound like the behavior of a capricious, headstrong diva, Bussmann is anything but. Soft-spoken and self-effacing, with a willowy frame, liquid eyes and dark, chin-length hair, she has lived quietly for the past two years with her husband and baby daughter in several modest rooms of an in-progress East Village renovation. The ironclad certainty that governs the integrity of her art is offset by an acute vulnerability and self-doubt. After she started drawing from philosophical tracts, it took her months before she felt confident enough to show them to her friends, and even today she fears that they may not be "consequent"—her term for logical, planned, structured—enough to approach the weightiness of the texts.
In her tiny studio, partitioned by a new wall from her daughter's room, she sits at a table between a bookshelf and a long-silent cello (she hasn't had time to touch it since the baby was born), reading and drawing. She often prefers an English translation of a text over its original German or French (her first and second languages) because she believes that the levels of meaning she needs to traverse while parsing through the translation paradoxically yields a deeper understanding of the philosopher's intent. She likens the process to her studies in Greek and Latin, in which meaning lay in the grammatical structure of declensions and cases, and not in the face-value translation of the words.
When Bussmann's baby was born, the inevitable shift in her life and worldview brought about an earthier state of things, and her art necessarily shifted as well. She began a series of unusually dense drawings of her daughter's toys that feel far more anchored to the everyday than her previous work. Still, they have a peculiarity to them—thanks to their high-contrast black-and-white rendering of brightly colored plastic—that feels both poignant and quietly absurd. The drawings come from her reading of the last chapter of Hannah Arendt's The Life of the Mind, titled "The Abyss of freedom and the novus ordo seclorum," in which Arendt focuses on the idea of natality, or the beginning of life—a sharp contrast to the fixation most philosophers have on mortality, life's end. In one trenchant passage near the end of the book, she discusses St. Augustine's City of God, in which Augustine states that human beings owe their lives "not just to the multiplication of the species, but to birth, the entry of a novel creature who as something entirely new appears in the midst of the time continuum of the world. The purpose of the creation of man was to make possible a beginning … The very capacity for beginning is rooted in natality, and by no means in creativity, not in a gift but in the fact that human beings, new men, again and again appear in the world by virtue of birth."
The gift of creativity, thereby, is humbled by the eternal cycle of creation, and each new creation is a unique entry into the endless chain of existence. Bussmann's drawings, in their multiplicity, grace, absurdity, beauty and doubt, face up to each individual soul's ultimately untenable chiasm of faith, futility and silence. In her next project, Bussman will return again to Heidegger, but instead of graphite on paper, she will use chalk on a blackboard. After each drawing is finished, she will erase it.
Thanks to Tanja Weingärtner for her assistance in making this article possible.

[via brooklynrail.org]


Sozialwissenschaftliche Rundschau:
Bilder für Hannah — ein Entstehungsprozess

'Maria Bussmann kommentiert Philosophie mittels Zeichnung. Dieser Artikel stellt sowohl die Herangehensweise als auch die Bilder selbst vor. Zu Hannah Arendt entstanden zwei Serien (2006 und 2012), beide mit Bleistift auf Papier, aber zu ganz unterschiedlichen Themen. Arendts Begriff der „Natalität“ steht im Zentrum der ersten vierundzwanzigteiligen Serie, die den Namen „Lucy's toys“ trägt. Sie befasst sich mit Arendts Buch „Vita activa oder Vom tätigen Leben“ (1960, englische Originalpublikation: „The Human Condition“ 1958). Teilweise im buchstäblichen Sinn, teils ironisch und humorvoll kombiniert Bussmann die Baby-Spielsachen ihrer (damals) neu geborenen Tochter mit dem, was Julia Kristeva als Arendts wichtigsten Beitrag zur Philosophie bezeichnete, nämlich der Natalität als Geschenk des Neuanfangs. Die zweite Serie mit sieben größer-formatigen Zeichnungen trägt den Titel „Hommage an Hannah Arendt“. Ein Nähkästchen von Bussmanns Großmutter wurde zur Inspiration für Zeichnungen zu Arendts Begriff der „Banalität des Bösen“. Die Zeichnungen fungieren als „Gedanken-Einfädler“, genau wie jenes kleine Utensil, das mit dem Profil einer Dame mit Locken (Hannah?) bekannt ist.'

[via sws-rundschau.at]


Of Buttons and Babies, Arendt and Eichmann
by Thomas Micchelli, Hyperallergic, 2012

'Maria Bussmann is an artist whose work is rarely seen in this country, and so her compact new show of seven large drawings and 24 small ones at NYU's Deutsches Haus represents a notable opportunity to catch a glimpse of her singular sensibility.

I first met Bussmann, who was born in Würzburg, Germany, in 1966, nearly six years ago, when a mutual friend showed me examples of her work — drawings based on phrases from Wittgenstein and others on rolls of cash register paper.

These drawings, along with others I saw in reproductions, were so formally imaginative and beautifully crafted that I immediately knew I had to write about them, which I did several months later in The Brooklyn Rail.

Bussmann has been featured in group shows at Exit Art, the Drawing Center, the James Nicholson Gallery in Chelsea, the 'temporary Museum in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and ISCP Open Studios in Bushwick. But her European exposure has been much wider, with solo exhibitions in (among other places) Paris, Nuremburg, Bremen, Salzburg and Vienna, where her continuous drawing "Long Beach" (2010), on 20 meters of telex paper, was recently shown at the Secession.

The current show is called Drawings Dedicated to Hannah Arendt, which continues Bussmann's frequent practice of basing her work on philosophical texts (along with Arendt and Wittgenstein, the artist, who holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Vienna, has made drawings from Heidegger, Spinoza, and Merleau-Ponty).

The images that arise, however, are neither conceptual nor illustrative; rather, they evoke the liminal sensuality of a dream state — fantastical imaginings caught (as Arendt has put it) in the wind of thought.

The artist is now living full-time in Vienna, but we have kept up the friendship that grew out of that initial meeting, and when we met for lunch this week I took the opportunity to ask her about the show at Deutsches Haus.'

[via hyperallergic.com]


Thomas Micchelli: What drew you to Arendt?

Maria Bussmann: It was through Heidegger. I was teaching a seminar called "Why Not Heidegger?" It was around the time of the publication of the controversial book Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy by Emmanuel Faye, which further discredited Heidegger's philosophy for its links to fascism and the Final Solution.

What is ironic is that Arendt, a German Jew, was his smartest student and they fell in love. Heidegger was handsome then, not the ugly man we see in later photographs. They had a secret affair that lasted for a while. Hannah knew that their relationship could jeopardize his career, and so she moved to another city. Still, they remained friends. At the end of the course I brought the letters between Arendt and Heidegger to the class. They are sweet and touching: each remained fascinated by the other.

But it was during another seminar, "The Female Genius," which I taught a little later, that I began to think about Arendt's work in any kind of depth. The course title came from the book by Julia Kristeva [Female Genius: Life, Madness, Words: Hannah Arendt, Melanie Klein, Colette: A Trilogy, Columbia University Press, 2001]. Kristeva believed that Arendt's greatest contribution was the idea of natality – the state of being born – which is the opposite of Heidegger's mortality, with its implications of destiny, hopelessness and darkness, of endings and what comes after death.

Natality is instead the gift of beginning again.

TM: In a sense it is a more contemporary idea — what comes after death is hardly the intellectual obsession it once was.

MB: Heidegger talks a lot about mortality. Arendt doesn't ask what is after death. It is not about endings for her. Our being born endows us with freedom, and in that freedom is rebirth.

TM: In the show there are two sets of drawings. The smaller drawings are of your daughter's baby toys and the second is of your grandmother's sewing kit.

Maria Bussmann, "Drawing on Hannah Arendt (Sewing Kit)" (2012). Pencil on paper, 50 x 70 cm.
MB: My grandmother would have been around the same age as Arendt. But it is interesting that neither Arendt, who gave us the idea of natality, nor Kristeva had children of her own. Arendt was very much a feminist but not in the way we think of feminism today. She had to be tough to make her way in a male profession. Although she was a classically trained philosopher, her outlook differed so much from Heidegger's that she took up a position based on birth instead of death.

I read Female Genius when I was pregnant, and so it had a special meaning for me. And from there I read a great deal of Arendt. My daughter was born and she was given all of these baby toys. I thought they were mostly horrid and I wanted to ban them. Instead, I was invited by a Swiss gallery to participate in a show called "Geburt" ("Birth"), and so I made drawings of them.

I soon found myself writing Arendt's concepts on them, like "thinking willing judging." It was almost a joke, really, with a triangular toy labeled "God" and a toy duck becoming human possibility. It became a game of picking the right toy for the right quote. I'm not sure what I think of these drawings.

Maria Bussmann, "Drawing on Hannah Arendt (Needle)" (2012). Pencil on paper, 50 x 70 cm. (Click to enlarge)
That was six years ago. The larger drawings were made more recently, since January. They are on flip chart paper from Staples. These are more like tributes to Arendt, rather than based on any one text. There is one of a sewing tool – its name in German means "putting the thread through the needle." It is a little metal disk with a clip at the end that helps you direct the thread through the eye of a sewing needle. There is always a cameo-style classical profile of a woman decorating the disk. I substituted Arendt's portrait, but I'm not very good at portraits. The idea was that, like the thread, she gets your thought going in the right direction. I believe, though, that the image must stand on its own. You don't need to know where it came from. I'm not sure of what I think of these drawings either.

TM: There is a one simply of buttons that I found magnetic —

MB: Any pile of innocuous objects makes me think of the concentration camps – the terrible photos of shoes and clothes. Everyone knows that Arendt coined the term "the banality of evil" about Eichmann, and these banal household items become metaphors for me. When I was teaching "The Female Genius," the entire Eichmann trial was broadcast on YouTube. You know, Arendt was attacked for using that phrase. Eichmann was made out to be evil incarnate, not someone like any of us. They said you can't make it that easy. And in fact Eichmann did put on an act, playing the harmless order-taker.

But normal things can be sinister, like the IBM cards used in the concentration camps. The buttons, the needles puncturing the sewing cushion. These drawings are much larger in scale than almost anything I've ever done. There's one of a very large needle, taking up the whole sheet. It is not based on a text, but on the ideas that connect us to the text. It looks as if ready to inflict pain. I think of Francis Bacon's paintings as the moment after the pain is inflicted. These are the moment before.

Drawings Dedicated to Hannah Arendt by Maria Bussmann continues at Deutsches Haus (NYU, 42 Washington Mews, Greenwich Village, Manhattan) through January 15, 2013.


Lessons from Maria Bussmann
Drawing Center, 2013

Visitor Services Manager Genevieve Wollenbecker reflects on the drawings of Maria Bussmann, which were included in a 2003 group exhibition at The Drawing Center and in a recent solo exhibition at New York University’s Deutsches Haus.

Though people say we think in pictures, thought is also linked to language — so drawings are also language pictures. – Maria Bussmann

[via thebottomline.drawingcenter.org]