Beta Siebel, Günther Heilfurth
message from next door


Fred Licht, Coll. Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia

Heilfurth and Siebel. Exhibition in Pistoia (excerpts)

…The current exhibition represents … a collaboration of parallel worlds. Both Siebel and Heilfurth express themselves in different languages, both have a different perception of light and space, both use differing materials. Even more importantly, each treats the theme of the human face in a different way. It is a conversation, driven by the will to know and understand each other.

… The style of Heilfurth is closely related….to the tradition of sculpture of the German Expressionism (Kokoschka) …Heilfurth draws from a constant in German art, which is the capacity to separate the body from the head, the physical from the spiritual, in order to reach for the tortured experience of fearful isolation of humanity.

…The expression of the face is completely identical with the true expression of the soul only in those moments of ecstasy or desperation…such as that which the heads experience, that Heilfurth insets into each of his blocks of stone.

…In the sculptures of Heilfurth, the form (and these are forms free of any idealization) creates a unity with the material, which surrounds it. The prisoner is inseparable from his prison.

Extremely interesting is the difference between the heads, which are presented as wall stones and those, which are worked into the blocks. In the former, we see the heads on a horizontal axis. This is what we are accustomed to when we find ourselves in conversation with another individual. In the latter case, we are looking down upon them on a vertical axis … we are looking metaphorically and literally "into the depths". Are we looking through a fissure in a grave? Or are we seeing, like Narcissus leaning over the water, the mirror image of our own face? Who of us has not at some time worn a mask similar to those heads of Günther Heilfurth?

…Photography as well as sculpture requires the active intervention of the artist. However, when the work on a sculpture is done, it is "there", whereas a photograph "develops". The secretive action of the light on the photographic paper and the just as secretive developing process in the darkroom characterize photography and differentiate it from every other form of picture. Even … journalistic photography retains an ephemeral effect, as if something should be succeeding it. Beta Siebel uses this suggestion of continuity in an extraordinarily expressive manner. Her photographs embrace the sculptures of the exhibition and set a counterpoint of continuity and expansiveness against the limitations and immobility of the stones.

… Perhaps because she is a woman, Beta Siebel can perceive the individual as a component of togetherness. In her photographs, undefined space, light, and I would say, also a sense of temperature are permeated with parts of physiognomies. In the dialog between the two artists of the exhibition, I could feel the vibrations of a strong desire to console that emanated from the works of Beta Siebel.

I don't know how this exhibition will be perceived in other places, but in Italy, a part of the fascination of these works is Italians' disposition of inserting themselves in others' conversations. This desire to communicate and, even if only for a short moment, to create a human connection, has always been one of the most beautiful and admirable quality of the Italian. This could be a serious warning, which is expressed in this dialog between Beta Siebel and Günther Heilfurth, to conserve this gift of the "Latin civilization".



Massimo Durante, University of Turin / Sorbonne Paris

The Difficulty Of Beauty And The Beauty Of Difficulty
Sculptures and photos by Günther Heilfurth and Beta Siebel

In his essay "Culture and Anarchy" (1869, chapter IV), Matthew Arnold, one of the great intellectuals of the 19th century, dedicates chapter 4 to the comparison between Hellenism and Judaism and their fundamental contributions to our concept of beauty.

In Hellenism beauty lies in the perfection of the form: The work is separated from its history and the process of creation.
In Judaism the product is not separate from its history. The beauty is in the process of its creation. It is this which Arnold defines as the "beauty of difficulty", which gives value to the work.

"The Beauty of Difficulty", the Judaic inheritance of the "Spirituality of work" profoundly inspires the art of Günther Heifurth and Beta Siebel. They reflect on the theme of the face and the "difficulty of beauty" after Auschwitz. Is there still a place for beauty after Auschwitz? Is the human face still recognizable after the damage of a century of blood and war?

From this face one must start again to think of a human utopia.
If the idea of beauty is still possible, it is not beauty of form but beauty of difficulty, the difficulty of working a material to obtain an image and the difficulty of pausing at the right moment to prevent it from vanishing.

Günther Heilfurth and Beta Siebel are conscious of the necessity to demonstrate the "difficulty of beauty", the hope that art can bring new life. Their reflection on the face - his with sculpture, hers with photography - is inspired by the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas.
In his sculpture Günther Heilfuth does not wish to eliminate the material of the block of granite to obtain an image as in the Greek tradition. It is discovered in the material and comes to light through a slow process. This hard material, thought of being the opposite of spirituality, here guards and supports such spirituality. Günther Heilfurth searches the ultimate affirmation in the heart of negation.

In the sculptures we meet a face along an axis horizontal and vertical. We meet it like an interviewer, who questions and brings back to us our responsibility. We meet it as something in our power but which returns to us from the depths of a mirror our image deformed. In the face excavated from the granite a dark and unfathomable dimension, an involvement of man with the evil to which one must also testify.

The photos of Beta Siebel photos only hint at the human face: It is not a portrait but the suggestion of something that only appears to disappear, asking to be saved. This face reflects different feelings of temperature and need. Each version is slightly different as if each time the photo could only catch a single tiny human characteristic.
Each photo is a triplicate remembrance: a remembrance of what is gone, a remembrance of what has created the remembrance and what is still to come. It is this last fleeting remembrance that has value as a testimony, as an offering that someone may receive, that interests Beta Siebel. This is the face that delivers hope, the possibility of a new arrival. In the cycle of Beta Siebel's photos, the fragility of this face shows another aspect of the beauty of difficulty.

Some years ago Günther Heilfurth and Beta Siebel left Berlin to live in Tuscany, Italy. Their artwork equals a testimony. In their artistic journey each work is a 'work-in-progress', the creative process being more valuable than its result and also symbolizing the 'difficulty of living', as if with each 'difficulty of doing' life itself had to invent its own beginning all over again.