St. John's is not only an island in the Caribbean. It's also the name of a medicinal plant traditionally used to treat depression and anxiety. Doesn't it seem fitting, then, for the plant itself to be very robust? St. John's wort can be found all over the world, and even grows next to highways. Lena Inken Schaefer found the plant next to a German autobahn that cuts through an industrial park. In her studio, she dried, soaked and boiled the plant, using the decoction to dye fabric which she then had made into a pair of pyjamas. Pyjamas, by the way, have a long history. They were brought from India to Europe in the 17th century by the English, and over time replaced men's nightshirts. It’s questionable whether anyone will ever have a jolly slumber party wearing Lena Inken Schaefer's pyjamas, a so-called shorty with short sleeves und legs. Even though the St. John's wort-soaked fabric promises comfort, it does not cover the whole body; a chill remains.
Opposite the pyjamas is a little cupboard made of walnut, holding two wadded (or intentionally arranged?) pieces of woolen material dyed using walnut shells. The visual resemblance between a walnut and a human brain is clear. The arrangement of the folds in this case also bears resemblance to the brain and its cortical convolutions. The difference in color–one piece is lushly brown, the other one more dim, and greyish–is a result of the first and second dye baths, respectively. A reference, perhaps, to our spontaneously expressed first thoughts, and those that follow, subject to consideration, objection, and doubt and less powerful and glorious as a result. The doors on the cupboard are open for the time being, though they can be closed at any moment – leaving the pieces of material protected in darkness like a closely held secret.
Lena Inken Schaefer has also dyed handkerchiefs – using onion skins, of all things. It would seem that the artist is self-ironically commenting on her artistic use of ancient dyeing methods.The title of this work in German– "Gestauchter Spross (Taschentücher)"– refers to the botanical term of a bulb. (In English: Compacted Sprout (Handkerchiefs)). Inevitably, the German word Sprössling comes to mind, meaning not just "sprout" in the botanical sense, but also in the sense of "offspring". One might think of a child shedding tears after being scolded (zusammengestaucht, literally: "compacted") by stern parents.
In the hallway is a simple table made of beech wood, its only decorative elements being four identical turnery legs. A close look reveals that the outlines of the turnery work resemble a facial profile – the artist's face, to be exact. It's an unusual type of self-portrait, quadruple in nature, but still not recognizable at first glance; located beneath the principal matter, but still fundamental.
In both the small and the large exhibition space, Lena Inken Schaefer returns to a subject she has been concerned with for a long period of time. She has repeatedly chosen and enlarged motifs and patterns from German banknotes issued between 1914 and 1923, years of rampant inflation. Two of these pieces are displayed in the large exhibition space. Even the seemingly cheerful paper curls and whorls covering the walls stem from these banknotes. Most of us have seen the historical images of a man wallpapering a room with worthless banknotes, or of a woman burning them in her stove as fuel. Stoves you can find in the exhibition spaces as well, and the curls and whorls might very well remind us of little clouds of smoke. Something is disappearing into thin air, a value, a guaranty, a system.
Or a human being. Lying in the centre of the small exhibition space is a mat on the ground, grey as the floor itself, its cover made from fern-dyed cotton. Fern seeds, legend says, will make you invisible. In fact, fern plants are one of the oldest plants on earth; they've been here way before us, and will still be here long after we are gone. Again we feel reminded of the pyjamas, and we wonder if the mat will make anyone sleep happily ever after. Next to the mat, bedside table position, are ten fossilized ferns, the plants recognizable only by the rigid impressions left behind. They in no way resemble the vertebrae that they are equated with in the doctrine of signatures. "Back then, it grew as tall as the trees in whose shade it now resides (Fern)"– this mysterious and equally melancholy title evokes the idea of something disappearing, a notion which may very well be associated with the process of inflation, the fern seeds, and the self-portrait as a table leg.
Translation: Gregor Runge