The Life Library of Susanne Kessler


In the first books of the Life Library ideas are sketched that go beyond the two-dimensionality of an image. In the “Book of Love”, pages are already cut out, openings are created in more than one passages. They are the precursors of the cut-out forms typical of the later work and the multi layered collages. In addition, Kessler is experimenting how to move and transform images by turning the partially transparent book pages.


The sketchbook “Floating shapes” contains a collection of ideas on the topic “flying objects” – this theme will be taken up again later in the “Book of Ideas for Airship Constructions” (Book 19).


The book “And again I watched something under the sun” is based on the color yellow and its title is borrowed from the Bible Koh 4: 7.

The blue and the yellow book “belong together like day and night, sun and moon, joy and fear,”

said Michael Marshall von Bieberstein, Director of the Goethe-Institut Rome, on the occasion of Kessler’s exhibition in the Institute in 1990.

Both books, the yellow and the blue, led in the same year to the two floating blue and yellow-painted canvases, the pair of wings, first paintings which detached from the wall.

In the fourteen books 5 to 18 (altogether 712 pages) Susanne Kessler eliminates the colors and paints only in black and white. The different formats of the books determine the compositions. The entire series is exclusively painted on old account books of the 1930-40s, in which its formatted files where orderly filled out by hand. The over the years yellowed paper contrast with the colder gray tones of the repaint of the artist. The developing motifs and series are some of the artist’s most finest early paintings.

The book consists of a relief carved deep into an old book. You open the book and look into a spatial situation with criss cross strutting.

This book was made by Kessler for a specific room, the octagonal pavilion of Gallery Brusten in Wuppertal, where she also built in her first turning carousel in 1988.

Four octagons are carved step by step into the pages of the book and one can reconstruct by turning the pages the different steps until the octagon is complete. The photos used are fragments of the London black and white photo series – it was a time when she developed her own photos. The kaleidoscopic mix of cut shapes, photos and drawings pulls through the whole book. This book was originally an empty book block of a publisher.

Also drastic life experiences and thereby characterizing visual and perceptual experiences are documented by the painted books. For example, in Tommaso’s books, 1993, the artist painted and drew into the books during her pregnancy, birth and the first days of her son’s life.

The second book of the trilogy contains reminiscences of the places where she spent many months of pregnancy on numerous trips. With increased sensitivity and receptivity, she took notes in Rome, Sicily, Venice, New York and Wuppertal.

All three books have the character of a diary.

In books 26-32, the asphalt color is covered by overlaid cotton canvas, gauze, plastic foils and transparent papers, making the pages a translucent or even hiding them. The hanging registers hung in 1994 in the “Labyrinth (maze)”, a site-specific installation for the Von-der-Heydt Museum in Wuppertal. In these books, Susanne Kessler develops a technique with which drawings can also survive outdoors.

At the same time, the drawings “inner ear” were installed on a bunker in Denmark and the outdoor installations with drawings fixed on netting “The Universe Moves” in New Delhi and Chennai, India.

This book picks up old graphic and pictorial traces, leading them back into the intimacy of the book. Almost all painting and drawing techniques are again applied.

The two books 34 and 35 in which its pages are folded, form a small Italian series. In Book 34, the original Italian title “discorsi parlamentari” was preserved, and only parts of the political texts are painted over. “Roma” illustrates the abundance of impressions of this historically and artistically multifaceted city. As you turn the pages you will be able to experience how new perspectives evolve, the passing impulses give birth to new creations, but traces remain always in the new compositions.

The pages are sculpted by folds, glued, sometimes ripped, painted with ink, wax crayons and watercolors.

The book was created during a working visit to Teheran and also served as a template for the printed book Persian Diary. It focuses on clarity and order and integrates calligraphic Muslim elements into the artistic language of Susanne Kessler. Zoroastrian writings are also collaged into the images that point to a cosmic dualism of good and evil.

What started in “Persian Diary” continues as a purely calligraphic form of expression in the book “Occident Orient”. Characters from Arabic calligraphy mix and dance together with the lines of the artist.

“During her third artist-in-residence stay on the island of Föhr, Kessler hand-writes in ink and pen selected text passages from Homer’s Odyssey in an old, blank account book. The quotations correspond with the drawings and collages, in which the modern odyssey of Captain Jürgens von Föhr is taken up again and, in a more abstract way, condensed and composed like a musical fugue.”

From the catalog text of the exhibition ‘Odissea’ by Ulrike Wolff Thomsen, director of the Museum Kunst der Westküste 2018

This artist book “Water Shed” is a mixture of artistic diary and an archive for research, freely combining drawing, collage and painting on double pages, again on the given basic grid of an old office book. In August 2019, the artist wrote to the curator of the exhibition Off Shore (Veronika Mertens, Kunstmuseum Albstadt). “While dealing geographically with the Alb and the topic of the watershed, I came across very interesting possibilities in drawing, also in connection with my entire work Theme, meander, odyssey and the cascades of “Ritmo e Linea”. I’m going to start a new artist book with the theme of water.” The sculpture “3 Landscape Tears” developed from this book.

The texts and photos in this catalog are taken from the catalog “Kontinuum” and the online archive “Susanne Kessler – Artist Rome / Berlin”. Edited by Aline Poensgen, Jan Henselder, Tommaso Cornelis Rosati. Photos Susanne Kessler, photos of the portfolio Odissea: Lukas Spoerl Berlin