09 Aug Sophia Süßmilch
Pure Artist Talk
Studio photos: Natascha Romboy
It only needs a fraction of a second and I’m captivated. What a weird photo! The adjoining, relevant, short and snappy profile in the June edition of art Magazin under the promising headline “Die Superheldin”1 clinched it for me. Sophia Süßmilch fascinates me immediately. The same day I write her a mail and enquire about a visit to her studio. She promptly replies.
It was to become a special encounter …
(1 Larissa Kikol, art Magazin, Ausgabe 06/2020, S. 100.)
Transformer (French girl), 2019
Munich. I am quite excited when I press the bell. What will she be like? Her humorous and playful photographs, performances and paintings also convey something aggressive and provocative. How much of her personality do they reflect? While still mulling over these thoughts, her warm-hearted welcome shows a side that I did not expect from the artist personality of Sophia Süßmilch.
We enter the studio she shares with two other artists. The spacious, cosy room with a view into nature conveys a comfortable working environment. An eye catcher is the installation on the wall of sculptured sagging breasts(!) of varying sizes, which communicate something surreal yet also belligerent – nipples sticking out like thorns, which, in contrast to the pink of the breast shapes, are painted bright red.
Views of the studio
The display, which appears to be in-your-face, is surrounded by delicate paintings, which initially appear to be illustrations of children’s books. Mind you, only at first glance … At a closer look, the constructions clearly show forms of private parts, repeatedly dominated by the exaggeration of the stretched out, pendulous breasts.
f.l.t.r.: The last supper (Jesus steps out of the farewell cake), 2020; Genesis (Maria Magdalene, that old cunt, creates patriarchy), 2020; Tree of knowledge, 2020
The play with the naked body is undeniably one of her most favoured fields of experimentation. I start the conversation by asking why.
Sophia: It simply makes sense to me to be naked in my works. The unadorned, naked body is universal. It is something everybody has in the whole world. As soon as one gets dressed, there is a reference to a cultural environment. From the start, I used nakedness in by photography because it makes it easier to cause emotions. If you use a prop, it sticks out first.
l.: Teddy’s girl, 2019; r.: Waldmöbel, 2020 [Forest furniture]
l.: I want you, r.: Stillleben mit Wassermelone und Sexualität [Still life with water melon and sexuality]
Indeed. The props are very particular in your works. For you, is this mainly about sexuality? Do you want to provoke?
Sophia: No. My works are by no means intended to be provocative. Neither are they primarily about sexuality. For instance, if I pose in I want you with my legs wide open and a giant snail as a pretended vaginal secretion, it is more about me making fun of women not being perceived as sexually aggressive. Essentially, I keep wondering why people are perturbed by the naked body. In my opinion, the reason is that the female body is made a subject of discussion and extremely over-sexualised everywhere. Politically, for instance, in discussions about wearing a burka or the right to abortion, socially, on ideals of beauty which – particularly via the media – are given to us as a standard. It is absurd, but it is not something one can successfully fight.
In your photos and performances, are you intentionally intervening against ideals of beauty?
Sophia: Within my art photography, I look at the body more as something incredibly funny, with which I can do silly things. As a kind of playful toy. It is a wonderful instrument and gives me many more options if it is not perfect. I can do much more with a pot belly or drooping breasts than with a body which is defined by beauty standards.
l.:Self-portrait as globules’, 2020; r.: One meter fitty (socially distanced portrait with mother), 2020
Did you need to force yourself? Is there something like shame?
Sophia: Never where my photos are concerned. More so when I perform, which I started very early. The worst I could then imagine was to be standing naked in front of three hundred people. I therefore had to do it. I think that much of me happens on the level of depth psychology. When I carry out such projects I become invulnerable. Like: You’ve seen it all …
It is important to say that you also act mercilessly when dressed, as you did, for instance, in your performance of Schnitzel Atmen [Breathing a chop]; which I watched on Instagram as a live video. I haven’t laughed that much in a long time. What is important in your performances?
Sophia: I like silly stuff and therefore love Slapstick. My main idea is that of entertainment. Improvisation is much more important to me than perfection. Perfection bores me. The content of the performance evolves spontaneously, often also from something that happens or depending on the surroundings.
Schnitzel Atmen, Performance 2020
The impulse for the idea of Schnitzel atmen is immediately obvious. Was there also a reason which lead you to the Denkmal der Beleidigungen? [Monument of insults]
Sophia: Oh yes! The idea relates to an event that happened on New Year’s Eve last year. A former fellow student, while completely drunk, thought that he needed to tell me off for being such a lousy artist. I was completely stunned and not able to react at that moment. The next morning, while still being furious I asked or rather ordered him to come and see me at home and demanded an explanation for his spewed-out opinion. The conversation, which regrettably took place only several months later, once again showed me the subjectiveness in art appreciation. I was wondering how cool it would be to be able to separate the personal insult experienced by the artist from the criticism and simply listen to it objectively. So, the idea evolved for the Denkmal der Beleidigungen. Fourteen authors and journalists were invited to write damning reviews about me, which I then read out loud at an event on the monument created by me. The interesting understanding in connection with this work was that since then I am two hundred percent committed. It was a hugely positive process that liberated me from my endless self-doubts.
Denkmal der Beleidigungen, Performance 2020
All your works, independent of the genre, contain aspects of improvisation. Is there also an artistic intent behind all this?
Sophia: Less an intent than the fact that I have too much energy bubbling inside me to stick to one thing for too long. There is a force inside me that wants to move on quickly. Because one genre alone would bore me terribly, I enjoy working in so many different areas. I do art to sort out my world and find inner peace. Even if, again, it is only short-lived … [laughs].
Then follows the second part of my visit. During the enquiry stage Sophia had expressed her wish to stage a double portrait with me. Now we want to implement the idea and become part of her new artwork, Lady in red. A red overall is waiting for me. She prepared herself with a red curly wig and a bucket of red paint. It is logical and predictable … She, of course, stages herself in the nude. During the making of all this, I may paint her. After conquering my short hesitation, I raise the brush and am immediately transported back to forgotten Kindergarten excesses. Her free spirit is plainly infectious, her humour unbeatable.
Making-of: Lady in Red
Result:Lady in Red
For our cover photo, it suddenly simply “makes sense” to me to be naked. Everything else would be artificial and false. Also, thinking about the meeting, it seems to make no sense at all to try and force the art of Sophia Süßmilch into a category or interpret it. Her humorous and self-deprecating way of staging questions of feminism, gender, history and criticism of art or current events is a reflection of herself in the world she lives in.
It is simply she, who opens up new conceptual spaces through the direct and merciless confrontation with this world view which allows the individual to reflect. Simple, pure, grandiose!
The visit of her performance regarding the opening of her solo show in Galerie Martinez in Cologne at the DC open (4 September 2020, 19h00) is highly recommended!!!!