Eternal themes viewed differently
They are scraps of the real world painted onto fabrics that are gathered together, attached to the wall, spread out on the floor, or shaped into flags and banners. Viewed from this perspective, Lotte Maiwald’s works are hybrid structures that defy any classical classification. They thrive on the soft material radiance of the flowing fabrics, which are often tattered at the edges and thus evoke a certain vulnerability. This makes them similar to the fabric sculptures of the artist Rosemary Mayer, for example, but only similar, because Maiwald’s works are not limited to their material effect in the way Mayer’s are. Maiwald’s works combine the effect of the material—fabric—with the effect of the images painted on them. They enter into a unity with the fabric, although this is not free from contradiction; on the one hand is the often ephemeral, impermanent, frayed nature of the fabrics, on the other is the often harsh reality of the painted images. This effect imbued with contradiction and tension characterises Maiwald’s oeuvre and is heightened further by the painted motifs, sometimes creating the impression that the layered fabrics are about to collapse under their weight.
But what exactly are the images that mistreat these flowing fabrics? They are representative of an entire cosmos from which they seem to have been mercilessly snatched. Take the hand motif, for example. It appears again and again. A fist clad in a leather glove hovers in front of a sky-blue background, pointing into the depths at one point, then underneath at another (Handschuhgeste, Glove Gesture, 2022); a different hand appears behind a vivid green lawn as if pleading for help, while two boxing gloves rest on a glass plate balanced on two elegantly raised fingers (Wer verbirgt sich hinter der grünen Fläche?, Who Is Hiding behind the Green Surface?, 2022).
A hand hovering in empty space—the cosmos—above the events taking place below was an integral element of early Christian imagery. It was the guiding hand of the Pantocrator, the ruler of the world. In Maiwald’s images it is unequivocally a human hand. But what is it guiding? It is clenched into a fist, a sign of protest that can turn into violence—which is what the boxing gloves represent. But why is it wearing a glove? And what does the pleading hand mean? Rather than a call for people to intervene in global events, these images of a lone human hand against an endless background seem rather powerless. But if we consider the work Hand gegen Handfeuerwaffe (Hand vs Handgun) from 2022, which shows a raised fist in a leather glove on a base made of colourful scraps of fabric, framed by equally colourful hanging flags, this image of a fist attempting to confront a firearm does not miss the mark; its absurdity is what makes it provocative.
The work Hier Paintball, da tödliche Realität (Here Paintball, There Deadly Reality) from 2021 is also absurd, even a little sinister. This landscape painted on a flag with ocher-coloured Earth and a bright blue sky is supposed to be deadly reality? It’s not—until you discover a gun on the horizon line, pointed directly at the viewer. And that’s not all: a green target with a bullet hole in the middle floats above the gun. Who is shooting at whom here? Who is the victim here, and who is the attacker? The amiably sinister feel encountered by the viewer here is precisely calculated; rather than bringing Maiwald closer to surrealism, it aligns her with the artist Rosemarie Trockel, who always manages to add a startlingly sinister touch to her works in a similarly elegant way with feminine subtlety.
Maiwald’s images featuring doves are equally subtle. These also belong to her idiosyncratic cosmos, the artist daring to bring this well-worn symbol of peace back into the picture. Against a bright red background, a hand holds a white dove with outstretched wings. The dove seems to want to fly, but it does not fly away. Taube im Griff (Dove in Hand) is the title of this work from 2022, and in another painting from 2020 titled Taubenformation (Dove Formation), five white doves are flying in front of a dark blue background formed of assembled scraps of blue and black fabric. Because of the tattered pieces of fabric and their dark colours, the resulting formation seems rather threatening, again undermining the message of peace traditionally attributed to the white dove and thus causing the overall effect of the work to slip into the absurd. And it is precisely this moment of toppling into absurdity that saves the otherwise inherently banal work by lending it a contradictory ambiguity. This ability to skillfully stage such a moment is evidence of the provocative humour that, despite the sometimes uncomfortable messages, can conjure up a smile on the faces of the viewers, thus establishing a critical distance to what is depicted and, ultimately, to itself.
Maiwald’s works are about peace, violence and hope, but also about threats to Earth, whether through environmental pollution, as indicated by the depictions of the planet surrounded by space debris, or, as in recent times, through war in Europe, which is referenced in the image … am Strand entlang rennen … (… running along the beach …), which was created in 2023 and portrays a girl running along the beach with a helicopter buzzing above her head like a harmless insect in the crystal clear sky. In other words, they deal with eternal themes whose depiction can easily slip into a simplistic boldness. But this is precisely what sets this artist apart: her images never fall into this trap, because the contradictory and ambiguous elements revealed at the moment that the works topple into absurdity give them a provocative quality. A quality that repeatedly eludes any attempt at grasping it or tracing what is depicted back to familiar territory. Maiwald’s oeuvre thus becomes a catalyst for a slightly different yet ultimately identical way of viewing these eternal themes.
In the Theatre of Reality, or Hanging and Falling Curtains, Targets and Corruptible Hearts
Notes on the work of Lotte Maiwald and her exhibition The Opposite of Peace is the Weapon, the Opposite of the Weapon is the Heart
Ambush, spy on or outsmart them, and in the end, cut the ground from under their feet. Or rather just chew ‘em out? In any case, keep in target! Or are they just bone after all? Because they’re bootlickers?
Raze everything to the ground. And stay on the look-out, so that no one gets wind of it.
The shot unfortunately backfired, therefore they chose the nuclear option. Better pull yourself up by the bootstraps and keep the remaining powder dry for safety’s sake. Not that we end up on the hit list.
Shots and their bullets—whether imagined, expressed, or actually fired—strike at the heart of what drives Lotte Maiwald’s artistic work: who are we and what kind of world do we want to live in? For the artist, these kinds of reflections are directly related to concerns about the influence of violence on our thoughts and actions. What does this mean for the progressive destruction of our planet? And how much hope can still be placed in human nature?
Lotte Maiwald’s artistic practice is shaped by her interest in contemporary literature, sociology, and critical feminist theory; it is informed by her exploration of the many dimensions of violence and its effects within capitalist culture. Taking a social and ecological approach, she translates these preoccupations into an abstract language that articulates a civil resistance.
Borrowed set pieces from the artist’s lyrical works, like the one that appears at the beginning of this text, can be traced back to military modes of communication or phrases from the world of hunting. They are expressions that are inscribed into our everyday language as harmless idioms. Interrogating language such as this leads Maiwald to the underlying coordinates of violence that function as internalised scripts of ‘psychological warfare’ in our interactions with each other.
Continuing on from this, another essential component of the artist’s aesthetic practice is the scope of violence and its narratives in a global context; this includes the exploitation of natural resources as well as human rights violations and the mass extinction of species. In this way, violence is ultimately revealed as the text and modus operandi of a theatre of power, which is often closely intertwined with its own concealment and becomes manifest in the chasm between actual lived reality and its illusory dramatisations. These are narratives dressed up as fairy-tale promises, constructed causalities, deceptive manoeuvres, staged attempts at legitimisation or scenarios that provoke a readiness to use violence.
‘The world fell down when we tried to hang it on a ladder so that we could photograph it in better light.’ As this passage from one of her poems suggests, Maiwald is aware of the omnipresence of the frames and framings used to produce reality in the media and counters this with a practice of resistant mapping.
In the process of establishing a site-specific reference, the unframed textiles of her paintings merge both visually and materially into scenic subjects that express violated openings, build bridges, take on the appearance of peaceful protest banners, form protective shields, or function as confrontational mirrors. They make up the ensemble of an imaginary stage production and give rise to hybrid entities that seem to take on traits of the fictional protagonists within as well as elements of the stage set itself.
The work Hand gegen Handfeuerwaffe (Hand vs Handgun) articulates the poetic cartography of a call to protest. Maiwald sets the scene of this narrative installation by collaging various textile elements, such as the sleeve of a costume, a piece of sky, and other scraps that seem to clothe a clenched fist.
In contrast to this, other works such as Lampenreperatur (Lamp Repair) or Panzersperre (Tank Barrier) are reminiscent of contemporary trompe l’œils. During the Renaissance, these illusory wall paintings were used to represent false architectural features or to create views through pretend windows and domes, thus extending spaces by means of these fictional landscapes. Taking a different imaginative cue, the vistas that Maiwald places in space offer a rebuttal to the violent ways in which the world is appropriated. These include the physical presence of the tank barrier depicted or the post-apocalyptic scene of a lamp maintenance. The latter could refer to the potential repair of the planet perhaps already underway, together with the idea of humanity itself under construction.
The fragmented compositions of works such as Fusionenman im Wald (Fusion Man in the Forest) are themselves references to violations of nature, such as the harm done to the water cycle; Maiwald narrates this damage through cuttings in the fabric of her image carrier.
The line from Maiwald’s lyrical work that gives the exhibition its title—The Opposite of Peace is the Weapon, the Opposite of the Weapon is the Heart—alludes to the contradictory nature of existence that leads us to believe one thing yet do another. This type of behaviour has devastating consequences that are a constant feature of the artist’s work. The gun is a recurring motif that she uses to try to ascertain the degree to which our hearts can be corrupted.
Striving to confront our collective detachment to the circumstances that are degrading the planet, the artist constructs a hybrid ensemble that momentarily weaves together this fragmented and disjointed whole.
1 The introduction to this text is a free adaptation of the lyrical text ‘Ein Fähnchen, ein Mensch und eine solarbetriebene Überwachugssäule’ (A Flag, a Person, and a Solar-Powered Surveillance Post) by Lotte Maiwald. 2 Taubenformation (Dove Formation), 2020 3 Kurz vorm Ziel in der Schlange stehen (Standing in Line in Front of the Target), 2020 4 Blauer Planet (Blue Planet), 2022; Weltraumschrott (Space Junk), 2022 5 Panzersperre (Tank Barrier), 2022 6 Hier paintball, da tödliche Realität? (Here Paintball, There Deadly Reality?), 2021