‘You Can’t Put Everything Into Words’: Studio Visit with Textile Artist, Anna Virnich.
We recently jumped on the U8 south to visit Anna Virnich’s sun-filled Kreuzberg studio. We talked of her childhood dream of being an MTV music video director, her obsession with textiles, and the evolution of her unique artistic practice.
Before meeting Anna I’d read an article about her work in which she was identified as a ‘fabric painter’. I was curious if the artist herself aligns with this description.
“I mean, I don’t have a brush in my hand, but for me, this is definitely a painterly way of art… But a lot of people have a problem accepting it as painting because it’s not classical… In a way, it’s even getting a little bit more like sculpture when I’m working with transparent textiles as I can work with the space behind the piece.”
I asked what it is she finds so fascinating about textiles.
“For me, it’s the perfect tool. I am fascinated about spaces and weight of compression and how sharp a blank space can be in contrast to that. I can easily generate that with my ‘tool’ and through the different surfaces of the materials work with even more depth or three-dimensionality.”
“Textiles are so personal, but on the other side, so common. We live with textiles and we have them so close to us that they can be charged with memories. In a sexual way, a harsh way, or a comfortable way… We know the touch of textiles because we always have them on our body, and so the observer of the work gets a physical reaction.”
We then spoke of her early life aspirations.
“When I was young I wanted to be a movie director. That was my big dream. I wanted to do music videos for MTV. I’d watch so many movies with my parents — from trash to high class arthouse movies… To tell a story with this moving image with sound and to create these dreams on screen is actually still one of my biggest obsessions; to create a fake world and tell a true story. I love it. Maybe someday I will shoot a movie.”
I was curious why she never pursued a career in film — but it turns out she did.
“I worked for a short time in the movie business, but you always had this big team — which is nice — but also it was so distracting for me. I’m somebody who is easily distracted and so I felt like it’s better when I’m working on my own.”
This realisation guided her down the path of more independently focused artistic endeavours.
“I did a lot of photography and ended up in an art academy in Braunschweig. It’s one of the ugliest towns in the world, so all you could do was go in the studio. So really fast I stopped working with only the camera and thinking like ‘ok, what is my material?’. Textile was always something that I had around me in a way — I always had a fetish for it — so I started to work with textile and transparent paper. I studied there for four or five years in the class of Walter Dahn, and it was so free that you could do everything. He was the one who really kicked me. After that, I moved to Berlin and had my studio.”
Are there ever any filmic influences which play a role in your process? I ask.
“There are always some scenes or movies where I steal the colors or the shapes. Or just the mood… Like there was this body of work I did in 2015 when I saw the movie Inherent Vice. It was a super hot summer night in Berlin and after I came out of the theatre it was like I was on speed. Then there was this body of work developing after with this same feeling of nervousness which is in the movie. This mood where reality is shifting.”
I wondered when she ‘knows’ a piece is finished. Her answer was intriguing. “I don’t really. It’s when I’m in front of the work, and the work says ‘stop'”. It then became apparent that Anna perceives a kind of sentience in her pieces — a consciousness — that guides the process. It led me to wonder: who’s really in control of the work?
“I would say in the beginning, it’s me making the decision — but then the piece takes over and I let the textile lead my way. So then, when I make the wrong decision, it gets really angry. It comes to a point when I need to let go.”
“I sew each piece by hand and the sewing itself is an important part of the work. The diffrent extensibility or fragility of the pieces of fabric is then taking over and so I have to let go and react on the material and so the piece itself.”
“I start my day with an idea of a picture and it always ends up different. And that’s amazing. It’s sometimes annoying because I want something else — but that’s what the piece demands.”
We spoke about the process of beginning new pieces, and how she seeks inspiration.
“Time between works sometimes gets really dark. I have all this extra doubt. Sometimes I’m a little stressed with finding inspiration and everything is blocked. But then, suddenly, I’m at a corner on a street and there’s just this strange, quiet moment that you sometimes have in Berlin between all the cars and all the stress, and then there is a light or a colour or a sound — and I’m in awe… Like when the sun goes down but you still have the neon from the traffic lights. The combination is unbelievable… Sometimes, in ten minutes, the light can change so much that it makes a whole story in your head.”
We went on to discuss how she navigates the perceptions of her work, as well as her personal approaches to practice.
“I would say I have an intuitional superpower. Of course, there are things behind it that you could describe as theoretical — and although these steps of the process are in the background, they’re part of the fundament. I work visually intuitively and I don’t like much description before people see my work. I think they speak for themselves. You can’t put everything into words.”
Thank you to Anna for the delightful conversation. You can find her links below.
Words & photography by Ewan Waddell.