MAIL from 8th September 2008


Vienna, 8th September 2008, late at night

Dear Kati,

What can I tell you -- this morning at nine o'clock on the dot; ding-dong, the art transport men arrived, right at the apartment door.
And I had cancelled all sorts of alarm calls on my mobile, because I thought the boys would come later.
And the way I looked...
Luckily I had just dropped in to bed at about four o'clock in the morning, still dressed.
Good; a least the collages are now on their way to the ESSL Museum.
5 big boxes, two smaller ones. A total of about 40 works. 7 short pornos and over 30 new collages.
Today I feel as though I have a "day off" for the first time in ages.
It feels good to know that the pictures have gone, are in motion -- outside my own environment here. Good if it happens sometime! And to be able to think of something else at last. After all, there is still a lot to do before the big exhibition on the 13th November.
But I don't need to tell you that... You do so much for me anyway, often at really short notice, when I call up and say: Help, Kati, as fast as you can – and - what's a "pdf"? And then I send things twice, and I'm still quite proud...
But now, after all the papers and collages -- do some washing, buy some fish-heads and potatoes, have visiting cards printed, write some emails at last, clear up, get up on the ladder and dispose of the worst of the cobwebs, buy Christmas presents... joke!
Yesterday, last night I mean, I packed up the collage boxes for the art transport guys with my own strength, tied them up and sealed them -- literally fought with them, I would say. Turning huge cardboard boxes around and around on all sides, holding on to them and at the same time somehow wrapping tape around them. Thank God I found absolutely everything I needed to do the packing -- and it is quite a lot -- over in a container at M's place. I also had bubble-wrap and choking band.

Then in the end it was all piled up here, like when you're moving house. And I swear I was completely out of it, lying on the sofa afterwards with my arms down at my sides, as if dead.
All my creativity, my income, my entire pride INSIDE these seven boxes in front of me. What a long road I have travelled until now, incredible. Almost makes me feel religious. Feel like embracing the boxes. Anyway, saying farewell to them inside with great respect, saying: hey, sweet things, see you again in the museum! Wow!

And you and all the rest - apart from Pilo, who photographed the collages -- won't see the pictures until the exhibition! I'm really curious to see what you will all think of them.

But before it could all set off on its journey -- yesterday evening, or rather this morning -- AT LAST MY MASTERPIECE!!!
One final collage I really want to send along as well, that I have already - even though I hadn't actually made it at all - entered in all the lists!

Started it a long time ago, early this working month. But I couldn't get the whole thing done the way it should be, I felt -- I can always see from the corner of my eye exactly whether it's working or not, and in this case it simply wasn't.
Well, I had already glued the picture, and for two weeks it was lying on the floor here next to some others. While I was walking round I would stand it a little -- very affectionately of course -- to get a feeling about what IT is -- what's wrong and what doesn't quite fit.
It went on like that for weeks.
And then, by the gods, after a long time I dreamt up THE solution in the middle of the night.

It started with the "sky", which was hardly present. In the dream I saw a really full, dark-blue, Afghan/Hindu Kush sky (the filthy Taliban couldn't do anything about that, anything at all - probably the only thing they and other despots have no influence over).
The sky, the rocks, the two caves - I would have to arrange them differently. Much higher, so the imposing nature of the two figures could be seen and felt. The brown rock wasn't big enough for the format of the picture. So it had to go. And then I realise that I had taken all that packing material out of the paper container at M's place… including some soft grey, crumpled paper. All of a sudden it was obvious that it should be used in the bottom part of the picture. Rocky landscape, boulders, as they really do exist in Bamyian.
In a nutshell, I put the kettle on and use the scheme to loosen the whole collage again, so I could rebuild the whole thing.
It wasn't easy, gluing this big, soft paper area. I managed it by carefully using a spreading knife to distribute three tubes of glue. Now the landscape and the rocks were finished. An incredible feeling of happiness!
Absolute clarity. Everything RIGHT, the solution in a dream, me back at work, and IT worked! Thanks, dream!

Of course I also made the two caves higher, where the beautiful Buddhas had "survived" the centuries, when Buddhism was the religion in this fascinating country instead of an evil, twisted fundamentalist Islam.
In contrast to the first draft, I glued the caves so they were touching each other. Then the smaller Buddha statues in its niche, followed by the bigger one.

There were still two strips of brown paper left, and these became a kind of stage for the watching Taliban, who I had "appearing" in two rows, to watch the horrible spectacle.
But what were these "Taliban" to look like -- how to make them visible? What could I use for that?
Black heads/hats from my findings, if you please.
Right on the left at the edge of the Taliban stage I placed a dried, army-green leaf. Part of it had broken off.
Arranged vertically, for me it symbolises the whole broken, sick "masculinity" there.

But then came the worst part: I had to put "explosive charges" around the necks of the two Buddhas, which really did upset me a lot. I don't want to do it - but I have to! So let's get it over with quickly. Now I couldn't place them on the bodies, where I wanted to, because the strings wouldn't stick - which meant I had to move them! On a small scale I was working the way the Taleban did in reality: thinking very carefully about where to place the explosives in order to guarantee the biggest possible effect, the destruction of both statues with one blast. So the filthy guys in American Jeeps could race back to the Western-financed football stadium in Kabul as quickly as possible in order to shoot more women and men there, to hack off their hands and arms.

Putting these fuses in place was a horrible job for me. I think it's the most difficult thing I have had to do on a collage so far.
I placed one around the head of the smaller stature, because the paper seems to demand this. A revolting feeling! Almost unbearable. After a while I had to remove the explosive cable from the neck, because the sight was so oppressive. My feelings so horrific. With a great effort I put it in a different position. Even that was bad enough!

I was wishing I never had to make a picture like this! Never!
And never had to make "Srebrenica", "Strange Fruit Forest", "Women kneeling in Kabul football stadium",
"we die silent an slow", "2 rifles in American cornfield", "Massed tents of Chinese migrant workers' camp, men and women, at the straightened Yellow River", "Stalingrad", "Hofburg balcony on Anschluss day 1938"...

But it was very soothing for me to take the last step on the collage: applying the dried blood. Not usual blood, no. Because this gentle little thing has the shape of the female sex.
The phallic leaf was stuck at the bottom of the picture to the left, so I placed the FEMALE at the top right, INSIDE the rocks. It is enclosed by the stone, while the male lunges out freely in the air.
Hommage to all the women of Afghanistan who have to bear the unbelievable -- and achieve the even more unbelievable.

It is there, the feminine - even if it is enclosed, restricted, literally walled in.
And in Afghanistan it functions mainly in secret. Women visit each other secretly in order to read books, to teach each other -- to make each other up, laugh, chat, simply have fun, listen to music -- without being veiled in the prison of the burka.
Yet if they are caught it can mean death. At least mistreatment by the Taliban.
There are a courageous women from all social levels who dare to venture out despite everything. They start schools for girls, treat the sick, they are doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists, authors.
But my admiration goes above all to those millions of mothers who have to organise their lives - and those of their children and families - on a day-to-day basis under the most humiliating and terrible conditions.

All my respect goes to these women and also the many brave men in Afghanistan. This collage, together with several others I have done already on the subject of Afghanistan, is for them.

So there it was, this picture, which had occupied me more than all the others -- quite innocent, silent and beautiful.
It was very moist from all the glue, but in the end I lifted it up carefully, placed it on a smooth surface in the bathroom - and dried it with a hairdryer!
What a feeling of joy, after all those weeks! I had almost given up hope of being able to finish it in time. But it was obvious to me that it really had to go in the ESSL exhibition!

The finishing touch: I wrote the title and date underneath it in pencil.
B.Vögel, 8.9.2008

And then I sat in front of it for quite a while longer in the light of dawn. Everything around me quite silent: I felt as though I could float.
Soon I had to pack it up, though, because they would come to fetch it in a few hours and take it to the museum.

And once that had all been done -- the dried picture packed up -- I knew that I had finished. That was it. No more collages for the next few weeks. For the last two months I had worked every night until early in the morning. All through the summer.
A beautiful time, I must say. Several rituals. Work, pause, stomp around, do some shopping - paper, glue, something to eat. And then scrape together a few pennies and go to "Mokka Abdul" late in the afternoon for the highlight of the day, drinking Turkish coffee under the oriental awning. My manna from heaven. Write my diary, enjoy life - including the twilight, the sky and clouds in pink-violet strips with LONGING written in very big letters. Warm wind, sounds of the desert and extremely good-looking men and waiters around me.
And then back to work without a break again, from eight o'clock at night until four in the morning.
Oh yes, my collages "see" many nights, "hear" very many silences.

But now – I close the glue pot, put away the brushes and pencils, tidy up a little – and lie down.
I know I have come to the end of my work.
At least for NOW.
A little sad.

And my dear friend, I thank you once again for everything. Your work for me and the way you do it. Your style, your ideas and suggestions – fantastic!


© Barbara Vögel