to the shine of the body

Reflections on the work of Casmina Magdalena Haas

Certainly to see enlightened things, not the light.
Goethe, Pandora



The beauty has a precarious state in art today. At a time when beauty as the smooth and pleasing has permeated all life and thing worlds and perfect surfaces cover our existence, art seems suspicious with every movement of the beautiful to make: With the beautiful appearance and merely decorative, which is based on aesthetic enjoyment and quick consumption, it seems to be as incompatible as the unreflected return to an – as tempting as delicate – idea of beauty as one with true and good related appearance is denied.


If in recent times in the philosophical aesthetics and also in the feature pages there have been isolated pleadings for a “salvation of the beautiful” (Byung-Chul Han 2016), this resumption of a supposedly abandoned category must therefore make you listen. It is characterized by shared experiences of an absence of meaning or the deprivation of that which is true and good and (again) focuses on a concept of beauty as an expression of an unavailability. Their design and experience in the medium of art, it is expected, can guide a different way of seeing and possibly also experience moments of the unavailable in other areas of life – in thinking, political or religious – in the work of Casmina Magdalena Haas in a first approximation, it is not primarily about making beautiful things. Rather, their concern and constant theme seems to be to highlight the beautiful in things. In various media formats – whether in photography, painting, plastic or readymade – everything is shown that is already present in the found natural and cultural objects as well as in the materials and also in the carrier medium itself. In the salvage of the inalienable beauty of the respective object, something that appears in the individual work appears at the same time (Haas calls this “embodied essence”) without being revealed. This principle of representation is exemplified in a “ at the beginning the light “installation is clear. On the photograph of freshly laid turtle eggs inserted into a gold-plated honeycomb frame, these are not immediately recognizable as such. The cut-out close-up of the nest does not reproduce the eggs with naturalistic sharpness. The photographic view does not expose them, but shows the milky-appearing round eggs in their delicacy in their being embedded and resting in themselves. In this way, the careful view of things and the world itself becomes thematic. In other words, the salvation of her beauty takes place in the conveyance of her security. This mediation work also always focuses on that “something” that appears in the individual work and eludes it at the same time. His withdrawal – his unavailability – is depicted as such in the art of Casmina Magdalena Haas: The golden color that recurs in many of her works, which half covers the photograph with uneven plastic paint application, refers to everything Access Withdrawal, to a beauty of a different, higher kind. Haas designs this interweaving of diaphanem and latencies in various variations and thus enables the experience of a closeness-distance, which is perhaps comparable to the experience of the sacred. The mystic Simone Weil described the quiescent, non-intentional experience of the beautiful in this sense as a gateway to the experience of the divine, as “a kind of incarnation of God in the world”: “The beautiful is what one desires without wanting to consume it. We desire that it be. ”
This erotic and at the same time keeping a distance view of the world is particularly expressed in Haas ’“ objects of evolution ”. The natural materials attached to canvas or wood – rice and cereal grains, pine needles, twigs and woods, hair, wax, sand and various soils – are carefully arranged and seem to have grown up in their respective composition. In their physicality and reduction to one natural material each, they appear as organic life forms, as if nature had organized itself into a work of art. These “objects of evolution” present themselves as variations on the same subject, namely the careful emphasis on “natural beauty”, as is also the case for a group of works made from different woods. They refer to a mystery, to that impenetrable ‘something’ that shines in the individual nature installations to a certain extent. This afterglow is also manifested in the “objects of evolution” in the gold leaf material with which they are partially completely covered. The value of the material gold expresses an appreciation of the gilded natural objects. The gilding also highlights the materiality and sensuality of the natural materials from which the pictures or installations are made, also by virtue of the light reflections they generate, and at the same time deprives them of the eye’s direct analytical access. The “objects of evolution” thus indirectly reflect a kind of indirect immediacy. In other words, the artist addresses that other seeing that can perceive meaning in the sensual, light in the enlightened. Simone Weil aptly wrote about such an unintentional view of art and natural beauty that one had to “look at it until light breaks out”. In the gloss of the body, which the artist highlights in her multifaceted work, a common visual habit of hidden light emerges – and is at the same time restored in its unavailability and as a secret. The motif of the veil can therefore be central to Haas’ work to be viewed as. Whether through the use of semi-transparent paper and gauze bandages in her mixed media works, wax and opaque oil paints or textured layers of gold and gold leaf: the artist’s works give something to see by not showing it entirely. If an installation made of vertically arranged branches and covered with a layer of oil and wax like a cloth is called “behind the veil”, then the title seems to reflect on it, namely the depiction of a ‘behind’ as last removed and unavailable . In this rhythm of concealment and concealment, immanence and transcendence, sensuality and meaning, a game takes place with increasingly unstable dualities that seem to expand into a space of threshold that we humans inhabit. It therefore only makes sense that in a series of captivatingly beautiful photographs taken in the Wahiba Desert, the artist herself is hiding behind a veil.