Joan Chen

Remembering Doris Schöttler-Boll
The Innovative Deconstructivist Artist Died in January 2015 

Doris Schöttler-Boll, a German artist born in Nördlingen but with roots in the Ruhr District (her mother was apparently evacuated to South Germany at the end of the war) became known since the late 1970s for her de-constructivist works that she initially described as a result of photomontage and collage. Since her days as an art student, she was known for her strong interest in gender issues and her commitment to social issues, including women's rights. This led, among other things, to a friendship with Claudia Gehrke, the chief editor of the Konkursbuch who featured her work in two special issues, issue 12, 1984 on "Women('s)POWER" and issue 20, 1988 on "The Sexual, Women, and Art."

In the late 1960s, Doris Schoettler-Boll lived in Bochum, Germany where her husband Peter Schöttler was enrolled in the history department of the Ruhr University. She studied art with Professor Wamper at the Folkwang Academy (now the Folkwang University of the Arts), and simultaneously attendeded lectures in Bochum. Her thirst for knowledge and understanding of intricate contexts, whether in the fields of art, philosophy, psychology, or sociology, was insatiable. She was also an avid ''cinéaste'' who spent much time seeing art films at the Bochum university film club. It was here that she encountered Wolfgang Beilenhof, Sebastian Feldmann, and Andreas Weiland with whom she formed a life-long, intimate friendship. Others who became important for her were Urs Jaeggi and Jürgen Link but also the philosopher Jürgen Frese. 

In Bochum, Doris became part of a circle of Althusserians and briefly joined a left-wing party as a student, but was soon excluded because of her 'radicalism' together with the other members of the circle that studied and discussed the works of Louis Althusser. Her husband subsequently became an important translator of Althusser's works and it was with him that she was to move to Paris later on, though, as her husband notes, she was not steadily living with him in Paris but moved back and forth, between France and Germany.
During her student days in Bochum, she also formed friendships with Gerhard Plumpe, Klaus Krone, Klaus-Michael Bogdal and others that would matter to her.

After finishing her studies at the Folkwang Academy, Doris Schöttler-Boll studied at the Düsseldorf Art Academy from 1970 until her graduation in 1974. She was accepted as an art student by Professor Borbeck but soon was accepted by Joseph Beuys who became her mentor and who thought highly of her. It was Beuys' free approach to art (and to art education, seen more as a way of providing an example and an inspiration) that attracted her, and due to her political engagement (on the left), it was clear that the man, Beuys, and his practice as well as his concept of "social sculpture" (soziale Plastik) was bound to fascinate her. Beuys, in turn wrote that he cherished her lack of aesthetic rigidity and the way in which she escaped what he called "Politismus" ("politicism") in her practice as an artist.

During the days as a Düsseldorf Art Academy student, she organized a rent strike in the big modern tenement house (the 'Girondelle') where she lived with her husband. She also formed a group of kids from the 'Girondelle' and motivated them to draw and paint when this little group of perhaps twenty children of different ages met. Even at that stage, revolt and le désir coincided. When bringing paper and crayons or water colors to these (mostly working class) kids, she encouraged the children to express their wishes and longings visually. Her active involvement was admired by the Dortmund-based urbanist Peter Zlonicky and her friend, Andreas, then a young poet  who edited a small multilingual poetry and film mag in Bochum together with Steven Diamant, a student of archaeology living at the time in Philadelphia. The 'art works' by children that originated would feature in the first art exhibition she would organize and curate. With support by Joseph Beuys, the works were exhibited in the art academy. 

It was after having just graduated in Düsseldorf that she embarked on her life-long endeavour as a scot-free, thus independent artist, scarcely protected economically by the meagre incomes of her young husband whom she soon joined in Paris. Here, she met with and became friends with all the people Peter was in professional contact with, Michel Pécheux, Pierre Macherey, Etienne Balibar, Jacques Derrida, even Althusser. Her charm, vivacity, her intellectual curiosity, her inventive quests as an artists drew people close to her. It happened again, when, accompanying her poet friend, she encountered Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub. Intuitively, both recognized the affinity of a soul in her, the rebel, the artists, the authentic person. What made life in Paris an ambiguous experience for her, was her lack of talent (or was it time) that hindered her to learn the language. All the people she would have wanted to engage in discussions with, night after night, had to resort to their knowledge of German to carry on a conversation. And if that did not suffice, Peter had to translate. It was the language barrier that turned her stays in Paris into short, but repeated visits. Her husband remembers that during that time, he was quite often alone.

In 1978, Peter Schöttler went to Bremen because of a job he was offered by the university. And thus, the flat in the 'Girondelle' was given up and  the young artist moved to Bremen. as well, where she taught at the university, organizing  courses focused on "women and art" and on civil rights issues. The late 1970s were clearly a period marked by a roll-back strategy in West Germany; it was a reply of the "old elites" to the euphoric upswing of progressive trends in the arts, literature, and politics that had set in more or less in the year 1968, or shortly prior to the events of May in Paris. Those who knew the activities of the artist in Bremen will remember exhibitions she curated and organized. These exhibitions were the 'result' of art projects she had realized with her female students but included also her own work. One of them was titled ''Hair – Or  Looking for Traces of the Female'' (Haare, oder Spurensuche des Weiblichen). Feminist research or should I say, gender issues, were in the foreground. Another exhibition - related to the aforementioned project because it also posed questions with regard to 'identity' and put in doubt the established concepts of identity so dear to the 'authorities' - was titled ''Photo Albums, Portraits, Mug Shots'' (Photoalbum, Porträtphotographie, Polizeiphotographie; 1980). The accompanying catalogue was published in 1980 by the university, as part of a series of publications of the Social Science Department and the Bremen University Library). A similar exhibition, also dedicated to the analysis of "mug shots" taken by police photographers and considered "very avant-garde" because of its radical subject, was later on organized by the Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe (known in Germany as the ZKM Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie), but by then approximately two decades had passed. The exhibition focused on "hair" is documented, by the way, in the catalogue Frauen und Kunst: Dekonstruktion von Frauen/Bildern durch Collage + Montage (Women and Art: Deconstructing Images of Women by way of Collage and Montage), published by the Weserburg Museum Bremen in 1982.

Doris Schöttler-Boll worked as a free-lance artist and simultaneously held her small job as a teacher of art courses at the university (a job that she got in 1979) until 1986. It was already in 1984 that she and her husband separated; a divorce followed, and then she was off to Essen, as an artist in residence housed in a small "chamber" of Borbeck Castle, with a space to work, and  - also very inspiring -  an opportunity to realize a series of beautiful exhibitions.
During this time, artists like Nan Hoover, Timm Ulrich and Tony Morgan (whom she met thanks to her friend, Andreas) formed warm friendships with her. They loved her warmth, the cordial and selfless engagement, her intellectual awareness, and the inspiration revealed in her art works. She exhibited them all, Nan, Timm, Tony and others whose work she cared for, like Toto Frima, Eu Nim Ro, Harald Falkenhagen and  Norbert Schwontkowski during the fall and winter of 1987 and in spring, 1988.

Flyer announcing the long (Oct. 1987 - Feb. 1988) exhibition 'Unter einem Himmel' in the Galerie von Schloss Borbeck / Gallery of Borbeck Castle, Essen / Germany that was curated by Doris Schoettler-Boll. (This image opens very slowly)

In the summer of 1988, when her time as artist in residence in Borbeck drew to a close, the Atelier-Vergabegremium (a jury ) of  the Museum Folkwang in Essen decided to give Doris Schoettler-Boll a specific form of support that had been awarded already to HA Schult and Herbert Lungwitz: a rent-free, timewise unlimited stay in a municipal ‘art house.’ Schult had been given a space at the former Kaiser Otto School.  Doris Schoettler-Boll was offered a space at the former Pestalozzi School. This ‘Atelier House' had been a home for the sculptor Lungwitz since the early 1980s.

The staircase in the 'Atelier house' in Essen-Steele leading up
to the studio and flat of the artist. It was she who smoothed and
painted the walls, window frames, the steps and railing of the stairs.

With an incredible effort, she renovated the completely run-down rooms on the top floor of the old school, a former apartment of the school's janitor that had been out of use for years. It became her studio, and the space where she would live. She turned it into a hospitable, open space for the public: people with very heterogenous backgrounds - as she would note joyfully - who would come to attend lectures, see films, view art exhibitions in her space or in other spaces the large school building offered for that purpose. Those who were coming to the 'Atelier House' - and most of those who came, would invariable return - will remember the night-long debates that followed presentations by artists, poetry readings, film screenings, and inspiring lectures. It was the atmosphere not of a hippy commune nor of an elegant 'salon' but something that had very much its own quality, but that incorporated traces of what you might call an alternative scene with the seriosity of a university. For her, it was the 'salon of the 20th - or 21st? - century' that she had brought about, also in memory of and reverence for the feminist writers of the 19th century who invited intellectual 'giants' to their 'salons.'  Running this 'salon' and the events that took place here since Sept. 1999 consumed much of her time and energy in the last decade of her life. She was thankful for the support of members of the association that had formed in support of her and the 'Atelier house' - most notably the Essen-based filmmaker Erwin Wiemer, and her technical assistent::::: (who was also a lively debater).

It was characteristic of her approach that she did not only attract artists, academics, students, and others who were already interested in art. People from the 'hood' came - kids, working people, the old ones she talked to in the street on her way to the bakery. Often, these people genuinely liked her, and she was happy when people like the old woman from across the street - certainly no one with at least a high school education - came quite regularly to attend lectures and other events. She attracted a group of retired women from the neighborhood who came once a week in the afternoon for quite some time, curious about what she did as an artist and eager to see and hear what was new to them. Likewise, kids as young as 7 or 8 and as old as 14 or 15 came, and together with another woman (wasn't it a librarian?) she got the kids involved in a book illustration project that had them drawing and painting regularly in the school garden once a week...

The 'Atelier house' in the Steele quarter of Essen, Germany

The spacious rooms of the school building also provided an opportunity for such projects of hers as 'Project Green Card' and 'Potentiale' that aimed to give budding young artists a chance to exhibit their work. Folks from the neighborhood became committed to save the school when a department of the city administration signalled a readiness to tear down the building. It was Doris who was the first who was up on the barricades - doing meticulous research that showed how the old school was worthy of protection as a historical monument, a significant part of the local cultural 'patrimony'... 

A surrealist atmosphere - sometimes merging with 'scientific'
or with Classical Greek iconography - can be deciphered
in some of Doris Schöttler-Boll's work

The 'Atelier house' became meaningful to her in many ways. It was here where Harun Farocki, who formed a dear friendship with her, presented his new projects. Another filmmaker who came was Rainer Komers. Rainer Vowe introduced new films by Godard, but also Rohmer and others that were screened and debated. Paul Hofmann presented his long-standing project of a regionally focused film archive. The editor and poet Dietrich E. Sattler illuminated the public with respect to his life-long key project, a radically different yet very solid edition of the works of Hölderlin that challenged traditional academe. Many artists came, and of course would not only exhibit their works but debate it with an enlightened audience. Writers came: Urs Jaeggi, Florian Neuner, Andreas Weiland and many others, in order to read from and discuss their work. Jürgen Frese talked about art from a philosophical point of view. Gerhard Plumpe gave talks, Jürgen Link debated concepts peculiar to his approach with regard to "discourse theory."  Vibrant young experts, often professors, from art institutes and museums presented finding of their research on relevant contemporary art and artists.

Doris Schöttler-Boll, 'Haut', photo-collage/montage (date: 20...?): The French word 'haut' (upside)
stamped on a suitcase evokes memories of the time when human beings were detained in France and
shipped to death camps in Germany, Poland and other countries. The fiery red sky reminds me of the
apocalypse, the ovens. The girl in the lower right corner wears something like the red cap of French 
Jacobins. She seems lonely, sad, pensive - cowering behind bars of a small window that keeps out 
the blue sky.

Though she continued to create inspiring works, thus for the foyer of the Grillo theater in Essen that was renovated by the well-known architect Werner Ruhnau, the last years of Doris Schöttler-Boll in Essen were dedicated increasingly to activities that took the "expanded concept of art" formulated by Joseph Beuys seriously. To grow, to search and learn, and to enlighten others mattered to her more than adding continually new works to her oeuvre. To resists tendencies like the increasing infantilization and functional illiteracy of growing parts of the population mattered. The tendencies of de-solidarization and fragmentation of German society worried her. It made her put in more energy into her activities subsumed under the title "Persons - Projects - Perspectives."

A male figure, almost like a Greek god, seemed to shield himself
with a number of x-ray photos. The right part of the work serially
arranges images of an enigmatic fire.

It is true that her decreasing apparent (that is to say, 'published') production of visual works in her later years also reflected the steep prices charged by laboratories that produced small editions, often just one copy, of her usually pretty large-sized works. Often, she simply did not have the money to pay new editions. Sales were minimal, despite and perhaps also because of the quality of her collages/montages.  Her art works, though appreciated by art critics, art historians, museum people, poets, and philosophers, did not find a "market."  Even at the time when she had major solo exhibitions, art galleries and the affluent shunned her works. It was, as far as I know. writers who loved and bought what she created, and often the intake was hardly sufficient to finance projects dear to her. The city of Essen supported her projects that addressed the public, such as 'Persons - Projects - Perspectives,'  regularly - but with a very modest sum. In return she gave works to the city and, I think, the museum - as she had done already in Bremen. She got commissions from public authorities like the one for the Grillo Theater.

Those who knew her intimately were aware that the conflicts with parts of the bureaucracy of the city of Essen that had made her spend so much energy, hard manual work, and much of her intake as an artists on the renovation of her premises in the 'Atelier House',  stressed her immensely. It was the cultural bureaucracy, above all the head of the art section, Oliver Scheidt, who supported her, something also true of his successor and of museum people like Sepp Hiekisch-Picard and Peter Spielmann of the Museum in the neighboring city of Bochum. Still, the damocles sword of being evicted without compensation for her effort was what she took for a dark and ominous reality. Her poet friend mentioned recently that he sees a connection between the long years of living with the stress of being evicted and the fact that she had to undergo an operation, due to breast cancer, some time ago. And that finally, lung cancer led to a premature death. It may be a naive suggestion, he said. But then adds, American Indians claim that cancer was unknown among them, as long as they lived fairly stress-free lives. It may be an idea that is insupportable, in the eyes of modern medical scientists. And yet, the fact that she was living in extreme poverty, and with the continuous thought that the city could make her homeless any minute, affected her psyche and perhaps even her artistic creativity in her last few years. Sometimes she would explode in anger, in private - or talk of being ready to take her life. But when guest artists and writers came to present their work to the public, she was as lively, good-spirited, intellectually awake, and polite as ever. No, she would not succumb to those who threatened the existence of the 'Atelier house.'  A rebel always, she resisted, to the last minute. Christa Weltermann und Margarete Lavier saw her regularly during her last few weeks and days and were faithfully with her when she died.



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''Doris Schöttler-Boll gewidmet / Dedicated to Doris Schoettler-Boll'' - A Video by the filmmaker Erwin Wiemer.  Uploaded by ErwinWiemer on June 8, 2009. “Das Video besteht aus freigestellten Teilen diverser Bilder von Doris Schöttler-Boll. Die Original-Musik des Beitrags (Rhythm & Sound) ist hier wegen der Urheberrechte leider nicht zu hören, statt dessen "Outsiders" von Raging Family aus dem YouTube-Fundus. Die Audiokurve am unteren Bildrand zeigt den Rhythmus der Originalmusik.“

Most if not all photos included are by Erwin Wiemer.
© by the photographer. 

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