Lena Schmidt's »Broken Places« series: Disasters without Incident
Broken streets, collapsed buildings, destroyed power networks, immersed in a gloomy atmosphere of temporal indeterminacy. In her work series »Broken Places«, the Hamburg artist Lena Schmidt shows pictures of catastrophes as they have been inscribed in cultural memory. The drama of the immersive scenes, however, does not result from the insight into human fates, because the urban views are deserted. Instead, the abandonment of the destroyed evidence of human lives and dwellings as well as the ambiguous temporality of the scenes generate a disturbing moment of tension: the traces of a catastrophic event point at the same time into a disastrous future. Inspired by documentary photographs of current events of destruction, Lena Schmidt transfers her collected visual impressions into her sculptural and painterly woodwork. In doing so, she transforms the technical images to a haptic sensuality that updates what is shown. In the traces of the destruction, the previous violence is still present and palpable. Even the artistic material, consisting of collected pieces of wood, does not seem safe from the devastating destruction that rages within it, the counterpart of which, however, is (artistic) creation.
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Lena Schmidt, Art, Kunst

© Lena Schmidt

»Autobahn No.5«, Lena Schmidt 2022, acrylic marker and paint, ink, varnish,  charcoal and carvings on found ply wood

Lena Schmidt, Kunst, Art

© Lena Schmidt

»Autobahn No.4«, Lena Schmidt 2022, acrylic marker and paint, ink, varnish,  charcoal and carvings on found ply wood, 89 × 100 cm

© Lena Schmidt

»Giant No. 7«, 2022, handprinted linoprint, ink, acrylic, varnish and carvings on found ply wood, 137 × 253 cm

© Lena Schmidt

»Giant No. 6«, 2022, handprinted linoprint, ink, acrylic, varnish and carvings on found ply wood, 154 × 110 cm

© Lena Schmidt

»Giant No. 5«, 2022, handprinted linoprint, ink, acrylic, varnish and carvings on found ply wood, 55,5 × 124 cm

© Lena Schmidt

»Giant No. 4«, 2022, handprinted linoprint, ink, acrylic, varnish and carvings on found ply wood, 55 × 120 cm

Lena Schmidt

© Lena Schmidt

»Giant No. 3«, 2022, handprinted linoprint, ink, acrylic, varnish and carvings on found ply wood, 137 × 253 cm

Lena Schmidt, Kunst, Art
© Lena Schmidt
»Giant No. 2«, Lena Schmidt, 2022, handprinted linoprint, ink, acrylic, varnish and carvings on found ply wood, 253 × 137 cm

Lena Schmidt, Kunst, Art
© Lena Schmidt
»Giant No. 1«, Lena Schmidt, 2021, ink, acrylic marker, varnish and carvings on found ply wood, 64 × 167 cm

Protruding from the darkness of rectangular forms, the name-giving power line rises into the air. In front of Lena Schmidt’s work »Giant No.1«, the gaze follows the clear, geometric struts at the foot of the giant, which in their engineered form bear witness to the influence of humans, as they increasingly dissolve into organic forms with the bend of the pole. The masts, through which today’s world is connected, are thus dissolved in a form of decline and takeover by natural-temporal forces – storm or time – and thus pose questions about the permanence of a man-made, mechanized modernity. At the same time, the theme of the impact of humans (e.g. the artist) on nature takes on a productive character through the use of plywood. The movement of the gaze in the picture intertwines, through light and color direction, the darkness in the foreground with the almost metaphysical bluish-beige brightness. In this way, the time of construction (at the base) and the time of demise (at the top) are interwoven and the distinction between simultaneous and sequential events is dissolved. The construction does not break as a single event, but is in the process of breaking over time - and thus seems to inscribe itself in the steadily advancing but climaxless catastrophe of the decline of human civilization.
Text: Jule Haas


Lena Schmidt
© Lena Schmidt
»Fire No.2«, Lena Schmidt, 2021, marker, ink, acrylic paint on wood, carved into wood
The work »Fire No.2« (2021) consists of three wooden poles of different sizes. On the painted wood, brightly blazing flames can be seen between dark tree trunks. Red-orange colour pigments stand out in the carved lines, which spread like wildfire over the painted wooden surface due to the dark background. In this way, the artist creates a strong light-dark contrast and reveals a silhouette-like scenery of isolated trees, which are faced with their immediate destruction. Particularly noteworthy is the imitation of burnt wood due to the dark color on a smooth surface. As a result, the motif and the carrier material overlap, giving an impression of already charred remains of wood. The catastrophe that leads to such a burning of the wood is artistically transferred to the carrier material. This ruinous appearance of the poles after a fire acts as a vanitas motif and refers to the transience of life. As a disastrous conflagration, »Fire No.2« is part of the series »Broken Places«, which deals with the natural disasters that are increasingly shaking our world as a result of climate change. The viewer is primarily confronted with the question of resource limitations and confronted with sustainability.
Text: Selina Herrmann


Lena Schmidt, Kunst, Art, Fine Art
© Lena Schmidt
»The Other Side No. 2«, Lena Schmidt, 2021, acrylic marker, acrylic paint, bitumen, enamel and carvings on found plywood, 124 × 107 cm

Lena Schmidt
© Lena Schmidt
»Fire No. 1«, Lena Schmidt, acrylic marker, acrylic paint and carvings on found plywood, 164 × 122 cm
The work »Fire No.1« appears very haunting and somber due to its dark coloring and coarse carvings. The view falls directly onto a building, behind the windows of which a blazing fire can be seen, which is clearly distinguished from the rest of the work in terms of colour. The building as a dark, almost blackened shell conveys a feeling of hopelessness. Although the work leaves many questions unanswered, such as how the fire started, possible victims or when it happened, it makes one understand that a catastrophe is taking place here, the outcome of which is uncertain. It doesn’t need visible characters or other living beings to evoke pity or a sense of uneasiness. That’s an impressive feature that runs through the entire »Broken Places« series. The work »Fire No.1« makes it clear that the force of nature - here fire - is capable of wiping out entire existences.
Text: Angelina Kothe


Lena Schmidt
© Lena Schmidt
»Broken Street No.5«, Lena Schmidt, 2020, mixed media on found wood 165 × 120 cm
»Broken Street No. 5« (2020) shows a winding torn-up street at night lined with power poles. The large pools of water suggest that a tidal wave is the catalyst for the destruction. The artwork captivates with its light-dark contrast, which is created quite significantly by the material used. On her nocturnal forays through neighbouring forests and industrial areas, the Hamburg artist collects not only inspiration for her motifs, but also wood, which is the basis of her artistic work. The material has the advantage of a natural colourfulness, which in »Broken Street No. 5« is visible in the surface of the broken street. This contrasts with the greenish-bluish coloration of the rest of the painting, which is based on industrial colours. The artist also uses her sculpting tools to give her wooden surfaces a relief-like character and a strong sense of depth. Lena Schmidt’s catastrophe paintings convey to us that the security in which we imagine ourselves to be is only an illusion. The cracked wood symbolizes the fragility of our living space, which can be shaken completely unexpectedly.
Text: Kristina Sieling


Lena Schmidt
© Lena Schmidt
»Broken Street No. 6«, Lena Schmidt, 2020, mixed media on found wood, 122 × 72 cm

Lena Schmidt
© Lena Schmidt
»Storm No.2«, Lena Schmidt, 2019, mixed media on found wood, 164 × 163 cm

Lena Schmidt
© Lena Schmidt
»Broken Street No.3«, Lena Schmidt, 2017, mixed technique on wood 72 × 94 cm
As the series title »Broken Places« suggests, »Broken Street No.3« shows an apocalyptic landscape. Through this landscape a partially destroyed and grafftitied street curves vertically, bordered by dense vegetation. Tearing through the street and graffito, which covers the painting underneath, the destruction practically gapes like an open wound. It opens up the street into an undefined depth. Through this crack, both the fragility of the material and of human creation itself are presented. The sudden end of the curve caused by the crack forms a barrier to the view. The path to the horizon, to which the lines in the picture lead, is apparently denied. This feeling of isolation is reinforced by the unclear definition of space and time. This results from the landscape, which does not allow a view beyond the horizon, and from the destruction. On the one hand, the crack could have just appeared. On the other hand, it could be the remnant of a past or the harbinger of a coming catastrophe. Evidently trapped at the very epicenter of destruction, a sense of catastrophe unfolds that is in no way banal but rather inevitable and deeply intimate, figuratively shattering viewers’ self-perception and sense of safety.
Text: Naomi Müller


Lena Schmidt
© Lena Schmidt
»Broken Street No.2«, Lena Schmidt, 2017, mixed technique on wood, 72 × 94 cm

Lena Schmidt
© Lena Schmidt
»Storm No.1«, 2016, Lena Schmidt, acrylic paint and marker on wood, carved into wood (found object), 122 × 142 cm
Lena Schmidt
© Lena Schmidt
»The Other Side«, Lena Schmidt, 2016, acrylic marker and paint on wood, carved into wood (found object), 66 × 33 cm
In »The Other Side«, the artist Lena Schmidt impressively depicts a destroyed, deserted area with a slanted power pole. A poignant gloom settles like a black veil over the urban, destroyed city skyline, swallowing a piece of human-shaped world and part of the bright blue firmament. Loose, torn power lines that originally signified functionality and civilization dangle from the pole. All life has been extinguished, everything has gone out of joint, because stability has become an illusion. The inky blackness of the objects in the work reinforces the impression of irretrievable loss. A piece of the world has collapsed and is carrying its kind back »to earth« to return to its initial, natural roots. A bright contrast to the darkness in the work is provided by the wooden appearance gleaming through and the exposed upper corner, which has not yet been captured by the spreading darkness. Where the blackness in the lower area has already irreversibly eaten into the material, a diagonal seems to point from it to a lighter side; a side that gives hope like a streak of light in the sky.
Text: Rebecca Großmann


Lena Schmidt's work series »Broken Places« is part of a specific genre of art that has only recently been identified as such and is attracting increasing attention in exhibitions and research projects. Images of catastrophes are not only evidence of individual tragic events, but are perceived in public discourse as icons of our time. Now, that there is an overall awareness of the climate crisis and the importance of humans as the dominant geological force in the age of the Anthropocene, the boundary between natural disasters and those made by humans has dissolved. In the »Broken Places« work series, too, the reason for the destruction remains unclear, but it hits the basics of our lives: the crumbling architecture does not invite imaginary completion in the sense of a romantic ruin aesthetic, but points to an impending irretrievable loss. No individuals are shown who have lost their homes; Rather, it is the faceless and shapeless human race as such that have to look for new perspectives in a time of global catastrophes, i.e. without anchoring or safe retreat.
Life as a refugee will no longer be the exception in the future, that is what Lena Schmidt's works seem to communicate, through an apocalyptic foreboding glow on the horizon in the vanishing point of the broken streets or an apparently flaming inferno raging behind the windows of a dark house wall. We are confronted with the gaping abysses of impenetrable blackness, the threatening depth of which the artist evokes with varnish and marker pen.
The artist's interest in destroyed infrastructure and damaged architecture is symptomatic of the understanding of catastrophes as not just incisive, but ongoing events. As a means of communication, the roads and masts are symbols of the connection and technical achievements of civilization. Through them, humans inscribe themselves into nature and produce perspectivated landscapes. They symbolically mark the structures of human progress and ability to shape the earth. By showing fallen or falling masts and torn cables hanging uselessly from extinguished traffic lights, the artist poses the question of the future of human communities, their demarcation from one another and their integration into the world around them.
At the same time, the works address the collapse of human sign and symbol systems not only on a motivic, but also on a material level. The cryptic signs, sometimes written like graffiti over the cracked street surfaces, symbolise namely a spatial and material tipping point in the work. Here the viewer's gaze, following the unyielding deep suction of the images, is suddenly directed to a destruction that also affects the image carrier like an erosion. Analogous to the crumbling facades of the pictorial worlds, the woodwork is also part of a natural as well as man-made process of destruction. The age and history of the wooden finds are evident in their grain and damage. In addition, the artist attacked them with an ax and chisel. And yet the moment of violence is also the moment of creation. The destruction increases as the artist's physical violence on the pieces of wood is transformed into visual worlds of renewed destruction. The hope for a new beginning is carved into the images of the catastrophe, as is the certainty of their unstoppable repetition. Traces of physical violence are transformed into a meditation on the individual meaning of specific places, their exemplary nature and impermanence.
Since the current climate change, our awareness has sharpened that a catastrophe can no longer be assigned to a specific event, but means a permanent state of the world and thus eludes immediate perception. The visualization of catastrophes is therefore an increasing challenge for artists. Lena Schmidt meets this challenge by giving the objects and infrastructures of her urban scenes their own agency. Equipped with an uncanny liveliness, which is articulated in its sublime color and agitated form, the detached traffic lights, sloping power lines and crumbling streets become actors in a process that is rising to the surface. As a result, the destroyed streets, despite their abandonment, appear to be permeated by an inner movement that makes the recipients aware of the increasing loss of their own, once safe standpoint.
When looking at Lena Schmidt's works in the »Broken Places« series, viewers see themselves in the spirit of Bruno Latour as someone who is earthbound, who has lost his ground, that is, his home and the connection to his environment. And yet when looking at the sensually affecting works it becomes clear that in art, through the experience of wood as a natural material and at the same time limited ressource, a connection between nature and civilization is essentially possible. The future of our time, Lena Schmidt's placeless and decontextualized images of catastrophes (certainly with Donna Harraway) suggest, is uncertain and requires new ways of reflection and connectivity. Lena Schmidt's »Broken Places« series is thus an active component of a visual discourse that is subject to a particular urgency. Not as images of a dramatic event, but as objects that affect the senses, they are media of the timelessness and limitlessness of a contemporary awareness of catastrophes, which the works help to shape in simultaneously.

Text: Dr. Anne Hemkendreis
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