For her 2017 exhibition at the Kunstforum Baloise, Susanne Kriemann created a series of heliogravures showing plants and herbs. In these prints, the German artist combines the artistic with the scientific. In recent years, Kriemann’s field research has taken her to Schlema (in the Erzgebirge region of Saxony), where the highly radioactive mineral pitchblende (also known as uraninite) was mined from 1946 to 1991 and contributed substantially during the East German communist era to the Soviet build-up of nuclear armaments.
A major program has been launched to renature the area around Schlema by 2045. For this purpose, scientists are undertaking research on local test plots to determine the growth rates and accumulation of radioactivity in plants and herbs there. Kriemann photographed the plants and herbs on the contaminated test plots over an extended period, painstakingly documenting the timescales of the renaturing program.
At the same time, her photographs formed the basis for her heliogravures, which involve a photomechanical printmaking process used primarily in the late 19th century. This complex intaglio printmaking process results in a very finely detailed rendering of the varying tones in the photograph, and, as such, represents a close connection between artisanal printing techniques and photographic reproduction processes.
The images that Kriemann has created in this way portray enchanted places from some distant time, even though the photographs on which the prints are based are entirely contemporary. She heightens the ambiguity of the visual composition by individually coloring each printing plate with uranium-rich pigments she has made by drying and grinding specimens of the plants and herbs they portray. “The Flowers of Evil”(1) in Kriemann’s heliogravures prompt the viewer to dwell on the ambiguous relationship between man and nature.
(1) Reference to Charles Baudelaire, Les fleurs du mal, Paris 1857.