Staring into the apparent vacant abyss beyond the eerily familiar figure, one is met with a crisp and cool unease. The intent and piercing eyes of Franziska Ostermann catch us right before we are able to venture further into the blankness. It is there Ostermann’s self-portrait becomes mine as well.
It is a curious condition to feel oneself staring back through the eyes of a stranger. That is exactly what the artist’s enthralling and enveloping images manage to express. By uneasing us just enough to pull us in even closer, it is easy to become lost within the microcosm of the artist’s snowy dreamscapes. It is this precise lostness which grants the artist even more solid footing. With nowhere else to go in the blinding lightness, there is only one way forward: towards her.
Splintering Shards of Ostermann
Ostermann’s images submerge the viewer into white, clean, clinical nothingness. However, in this blankness, the most subtle and often hidden streaks of colour start to appear. We start to recognise things hidden to the naked eye. This process of revealing the hidden in the obvious may be described as a meeting. In meeting the artist, we are introduced to ourselves. As we get to know her eyes, hair, nose, we extend these features to somehow meet our own. The reflexivity with which one approaches Ostermann’s images is thus twofold. In getting to know Franziska, acquainting ourselves with her being, these fragmented shards of herself start to splinter off alongside ours.
images supplied by the artist. credits as labeled.
Ostermann describes her way of moving through an image as uncovering and introducing new and different parts of herself which wouldn’t be granted a meeting otherwise. These introductions are done in such a seamless and eloquent way that one wouldn’t think that these splinters of self aren’t already friends.
Visual Poetry of the Gaze
The specific conversations, characteristics, overlap, and disjunction which comes from these meetings inform the subvert symbolism in the image as well. This may take the form of a myriad of objects and expressions related to the further analysis and discovery of self through the image.
Along with strong art historical references to the gaze and viewer relations, Ostermann draws strongly on poetic references. Meandering her way through the points of intersection between image and text, the poetry begins to spill over in the imagery. This phenomenon further solidifies the feeling of being introduced to the layers consisting of the artist. A diary entry evolves into a corporeal visual poem, doing and undoing the mode of careful communication in each iteration.
Ostermann’s gaze bursts through the seams of what we expect from portraiture. In doing so, it jolts us against the confines of the limitless white sphere. We are left having to grasp on to anything we can. This is where Franziska’s eyes meet ours in a flurry of friends meeting again as strangers. ‘How have you been?’ her image asks. ‘Do you remember me as I remember you?’
Written by Monique du Plessis