It is a great pleasure and honour to be able to introduce Susanne Kessler here in the Council of Europe and to be the patron of her exhibition “Roots and Borders”. When she contacted me in between a whole host of daily bureaucratic inquiries and announcements, preparations for a meeting of our intergovernmental committee, a book project by the department about creativity and artificial intelligence, attempts to revive the Council of Europe art exhibitions at a time when artistic freedom and fresh air are becoming increasingly invaluable, and innovative projects in the cultural heritage sector designed to make the Council of Europe’s unique conventions relevant for 830 million Europeans, the reaction to her e-mail from a somewhat worn-out European was: what, the Arts Club now, too?
My tiredness soon vanished when I opened the attached photos and recognised all the topics which we address at the Council of Europe presented in a surprising, inspiring and yet palpably convincing way, which was genuinely beautiful to boot:
Borders, delimitation, exclusion, connections, dialogue, interaction, distance, space, overcoming space with things that unite – up and down, delicate and yet stable constructs, everything is linked with everything else and is deeply rooted but nevertheless leads somewhere – but where? Into the light? These are exciting concepts, and not only in times of COVID-19. They are the key issues of our Europe and also of our institution, the Council of Europe. Susanne Kessler really does hit the mark!
Much later on, I read up a bit about her and realised that she is an artist who is European through and through, with an active life in France, England and Italy and experience of exhibitions in many countries in Europe. Born at a time when Europe’s borders were all still standing and having received scholarships in England and France, she claimed Europe as her own with methods worthy of an adventure writer: for instance, with her eyes closed, she pointed at six places on a map of France and then went on to live in each of them for six weeks, paint the scenery and learn the language in the process.
As a German, she faces up to her country’s past – and tries to understand. That is why she has travelled not as a tourist but as a painter and illustrator to the places of horror, too, using art to get a sense of their low points and also their high points.
Appropriately, Susanne Kessler staged her first solo exhibition in a school in a French town during the summer holidays in 1981, in a big bright classroom with a heartbreakingly nice arrangement employing newspaper articles and flowers.
She then continued her studies in Berlin in the shadow of the Wall and felt almost indescribable delight when it came tumbling down, paving the way for Europe’s eastward enlargement.
No doubt, her many installations and works on the subject of “borders” or “common ground” – like this one – also stem from that period and those experiences.
Susanne Kessler then wanted to understand eastern Europe. She is still busy with that – she has worked a lot and staged many exhibitions in Poland and the Baltic region and held workshops in art colleges there. Now, however, she mainly lives between Italy and Berlin, thereby exploring the border between North and South first-hand.
I hope we all have an exhibition that crosses borders in many ways, with these very special, aesthetic and also political exhibits and a wonderful artist who definitely still has a lot to tell us.
Foreword of Catalogue „About Roots and Borders”, Conseil de l’Europe, Strasbourg, editor Art in Flow Berlin, 2020