Negotiating cultural identities in the participatory and textile works of Nadin Reschke
“Why am I in Dresden?” In 2006, this question was the starting point for the project So und so viel Gründe, hier zu sein [Such and such reasons to be here]. At the time a master-class student of Ulrike Grossarth and a graduate of the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts, Nadin Reschke addressed this question first to herself, and then to others. At hours-long arranged interviews, she spoke to the interviewees about their reasons for living in Dresden and for staying there. While the artist herself left Dresden after concluding her research – to live in Istanbul, Berlin, and elsewhere – she kept the sound recordings of the interviews in her archives.
Ten years later, these recordings have become the starting material for further interviews that will ultimately culminate in the artist’s Dresden studio and exhibition project und the same name as the original project. Nadin Reschke is once again speaking to residents of Dresden, this time approaching them directly on the street in most cases, to probe their motivations for adopting the city as their home. The conversations themselves take place in a “storytelling café” specially created by the artist and at the Monday café at the Kleines Haus of the Staatsschauspiel Dresden, a theater. The artist selects one statement each from a group of seven earlier and recent interviews. Fragmentary statements such as “total safety” and “since the children were born, there’s no getting away any more,” “my freedom” and “a chance for a normal life” reflect perspectives rooted in life experiences as well as existential pressures and possibilities that are closely connected to the city, extending far beyond tendencies toward local pride in Dresden. Using a screen-printing technique, the artist transfers these distilled quotes onto large-format panels of fabric that she processes in various colors and then hangs in the exhibition space as a floating installation.
In her artistic practice, Nadin Reschke makes frequent use of fabrics as a versatile and changeable sculptural material. She uses them to render identities, collective histories and individual experiences visible. The fabric serves both as a base and as a means of artistic expression. This was evident as early as her project so far so good (2004–2005), for which the artist traveled the Silk Road with a tent made of white, almost transparent parachute silk, which she had designed herself and made to fit her own measurements. On her two-year journey, she passed through fourteen countries including Iran, Pakistan and India. She offered local artists along the route the chance to use the tent temporarily for their own purposes and to affix images and texts to its walls. These images and texts could then be read by others as border-crossing artistic and personal messages, and they entered into dialogue with other writings on the tent walls.
During her five-month German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) residency in Istanbul, Nadin Reschke conversed with second-generation Turkish-Germans who had returned to their parents’ home country for various reasons. In 2009, she presented interwoven fragments from these conversations at the bautzner69 exhibition space as a fictional audio work entitled second life, which was placed around a round table. A tablecloth embroidered with images of a large stockpot and some plates combined with the non-hierarchical seating arrangements to accentuate the things that connected the dialogue partners: cooking together, eating, and engaging in an open exchange of ideas regardless of the differences in the life stories and effects of lived transnationality among so-called repatriates.
As part of her project Gitterware (2007–2009), Nadin Reschke created cloth handkerchiefs in close collaboration with female prison inmates. The stripped-down imagery of the handkerchiefs visually rendered the women’s visions of the day of their release from prison.
Nadin Reschke has described her project vest. Mode – handgefertigt in Castrop-Rauxel (2013) as “collective research on identity” and a “story workshop.” Clothes designed by women are joined with the same women’s immigration stories and current local life experiences. During her two-month residency in Rauma, Finland, too, the artist designed, sewed and dyed pieces of clothing together with unemployed women. The form and patterns of the clothing took up characteristic features of the local culture. Later, they were presented under the title Paikallisväri (Lokalkolorit) (2017) on a clothes rail suspended in the air. Photographs of the women dressed in the clothes they had sewn for themselves, interacting with the spaces of the Marela city museum, were also part of the presentation.
Most of Nadin Reschke’s research projects start from questions about the life and work situations of a group of people in connection with their individual biographies and specific local circumstances. The artist brings out personal and historical narratives through questions such as “How would a piece of clothing that expresses something about me, my cultural identity and what’s distinctive about that identity look?” Over the course of her projects, she connects conversations and encounters with encouraging and guiding people who are in most cases relatively unfamiliar with art to engage in creative action and implement artistic projects. This community engagement is ultimately expressed through selecting among fabrics that differ in their materiality and structure, choosing a specific color, designing patterns and decoration, and in the case of textiles choosing a sewing pattern. The clothing from Paikallisväri, for example, draws on women’s clothing in historical photographs from Finland and makes specific references to the distinctive facades of Rauma’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed wooden houses in its silhouettes and colors. The appliqués and design refer to the sea and the other powerful natural elements of the city, which lies on the Baltic Sea coast. Some pieces of clothing reproduce, while at the same time subverting, folkloric traditions, and others are tailored in the bright blue-and-orange jersey colors of the local favorite ice hockey team.
In her work So und so viel Gründe, hier zu sein [Such and such reasons to be here], Nadin Reschke draws attention to individuals’ statements and stories about their city on a stylized level. Here the fabrics and colors vicariously represent the people who were interviewed; they likewise become abstract portraits. Presented close together on bamboo poles hanging from the ceiling, the panels of fabric divide the exhibition space into intimate zones that limit one’s lines of vision and ability to gain an overall view. At the same time, the way the panels are hung makes it difficult to read the visualized texts. Nuances of color reflect the ambivalence in the mixture of positive and negative takes on life in Dresden against the backdrop of individual life experiences. These nuances arise from the dyeing process itself as well as from the overlapping of two cloths on each pole. Subjective differences and particularities are signaled through this. Through the use of identical materials with the same font and font size, as well as the concept of equal presentation of the individual fabrics, a group picture is also imparted, making commonalities legible.
Clothing and fabrics have an identity-creating function, which serves to mark subjects and make them visible as well as to delineate social groups and designate who belongs to them. By transforming the processes of designing and producing textiles into visible collective actions — in So und so viel Gründe, hier zu sein [Such and such reasons to be here], the public storytelling café, especially the dyeing and printing of fabrics in her studio, visible through the display window, and the documentary photographs in this publication – she does not only underscore existing blueprints for identity but also designates cultural identity(identities) as a social construct that is perpetually being manufactured and negotiated and must constantly be re-articulated. Fabrics and textiles not only serve to transmit knowledge and attributions but also – just like traditional, putatively “feminine” handicraft processes such as embroidery, sewing and dyeing – themselves play a part in the production of meaning, which is transferred (back) to the individual body.
Nadin Reschke’s artistic practice creates space for speaking freely and remembering the past unimpeded by taboos. Above all, she supports the participants in her projects toward empowering themselves to pose unfamiliar questions, find new forms of expression and consequently venture and lay claim to a new perspective on life for themselves.