sarah schoenfeld

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Sarah Schoenfeld

‘All You Can Feel’, 2013

Various drugs exposed to film negatives. The resulting chemical reactions were greatly magnified.

Cocaine

LSD

Caffeine

Ecstasy

Herion

Crystal Meth

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For four years, Berlin photographer Sarah Schoenfeld tended bar at Berghain, a famously decadent nightclub where customers indulged in cocaine, ecstasy and speed. “Every night,” Schoenfeld says, “somehow you don’t see the drugs, but you see the people on them.” Inspired by her experiences, the artist came up with a novel project: She dissolved various drugs in a bath of alcohol or water, and dripped the liquids onto separate, already exposed photo negatives. The chemical reactions formed fantastic shapes and colors, which Schoenfeld enlarged and photographed for her new book, All You Can Feel.

The project “gave a face” to the drugs, she says, creating a visual representation to match the mental states the drugs induced. When she showed the image of speed, with its sharp white spikes and hectic fringe, to people who had taken the drug, they identified with the way it looked. During an impromptu experiment at a rehab clinic, users asked to select their favorite picture always chose the drug that had landed them there. “Somehow,” she says, “people read it as truth.”

Sarah Schoenfeld
  • KALTBLUT: Hello Sarah, first of all congratulations to your solo exhibition in FELDBUSCHWIESNER Gallery. How do you feel a few days before the opening? I would be nervous and pride at the same time.
  • Sarah: Oh, thank you! I am a little nervous indeed. But as long as the mood is right, it’s most of all fun.
  • KALTBLUT: You series “All You Can Feel” explores the theme Drugs. What brought you to the decision, to lead your art to this direction and to this theme?
  • Sarah: Several things triggered me. First of all my year long working in Berghain. This is an issue very much present there and so it became an issue for me. Secondly, my father has always been, as long as I can remember, on medication because of his mental illness and then the question arises: How much does it influence the self, the personality, the psyche, and through which concepts do people build their self and experience the world? In the end, it is all about things like authenticity. (In my work I have dealt a lot with the societal influences on the development of perception, and world cognition concepts. These are all things I have thought about a lot, and once I brought some alchemy in I have asked myself: What is today our standpoint in this status quo regarding cosmology and so on. This postmodernism has made us kinda sick.. and the question is: how do we get out of this? How does everything connect back with everything?)
  • KALTBLUT: For this work, you have experimented a lot in your studio. Yes, one could almost say it became a laboratory. What substances did you experiment with and what in what way did you process the pictures?
  • Sarah: I have actually done something unbelievably simple: I have mixed the chemical components of photography and drugs. And that means: I have sprayed the developed negatives- on them there is nothing further, a monochrome surface- and I threw a liquid drug substance on it. The interaction between the photo emulsion that contains silver and the drug itself, has produced some incredible shapes and colours, they “behaved” in some ways. Basically, I have already used all substances I was interested in, due to their club context or because of their historical meaning. So to speak, concrete ketamin or speed from the club scene, lsd or heroin from history. Then I went to through the normal photo process and got prints of the negatives.
  • KALTBLUT: When you are working with drugs in the studio, perhaps the temptation comes up to try something? Have you got any experiences with different substances?
  • Sarah: The temptation wasn’t particularly big, because of the very different function they hold in my work. They become something like the colours a painter might use or the test tubes of a scientist. I do have my personal experiences, but not a-la-hoffmann alone in the lab testing on me. However, my perception of substances has changed since they have become a part of my work, because I know what they look like (she laughs).
  • KALTBLUT: The party scene in Berlin is a one of a kind thing in Europe and always lures young people on a trip. Are you part of this scene? And how do you view the drug consumption among the young?
  • Sarah: I have been around a lot and involved in it, through my Berghain work. I would say, that what I observe there, a basic human longing for unity is. The drugs offer an easily consumable access to a mystic experience. I like to call that instant mysticism. Yet, I don’t think the rituals are viable enough. So ritualised, collective, drug use is culturally speaking as ancient as human history. The postmodern, lonely and torn out form followed by depression, leaves me quite clueless though.
  • KALTBLUT: Would you say that Berlin can rip someone apart if not strong enough? I have seen many people around me fall victims to the party craze.
  • Sarah: That’s what I mean. I see this as a game. All games have rules, otherwise nothings works and it just collapses on you, and is surely not fun anymore. If you don’t shoot the firework up to the sky, but into your neighbours’ balcony, well… Losing control, boycotting yourself are something desirable in our controlling society sometimes, somehow. What can I say: it’s all a bit dodgy…
  • “the moral aspect interests me only to the side.”
  • KALTBLUT: You were born in 1979… I am also a 90s club kid, have experienced the party culture in a frenzy. Drugs were accessible any time any place. I get the feeling that the party kids of today do not have a sense of what they consume. Do you want to shake them through your exhibition or isn’t it about values and so on?
  • Sarah: No, the moral aspect interests me only to the side. In the sense of crossing over from one to the other, which drugs are gross and off limits and which ones are harmless, and yet in my work they look so much alike. But it’s not about shaking people, more about multiple dimensions.
  • KALTBLUT: Lets talk about your work again. How long have you been involved with photography? Is it a medium that has been with you all your youth?
  • Sarah: I have always loved photographing. It was during my studies that it seriously became my game. I am a little obsessed with the medium. Also, actually, it is not really photography what I’m doing, I more like using the frames as a stage and so.
  • KALTBLUT: What was you first camera?
  • Sarah: What’s interesting is that I no longer remember either. Probably a pink plastic one from the East.
  • KALTBLUT: Well, I am not a big fan of digital photography. On the other hand, analog photography is something I really love. What do you think of Photoshop and co? For me it is something that has ruined analog photography.
  • Sarah: I believe the moral aspect there doesn’t make much sense. I work almost exclusively analog, because something captivates me. But as an artist, I do take profit of what the aura has to offer, as it embraces analog photography more and more. It is a fact, that nothing functions today if not through the web. And this is why analog photography was kicked off the game, because it couldn’t keep up with the speed of the internet, it was just not compatible. Who sits down and scans photos to post them on facebook? That’s what all the retro-apps are for.
  • KALTBLUT: Could you name 3 artists that you are looking up to and why?
  • Sarah: My heroes… well limiting them to 3 is hard. Tarrantino, because he is solving the problem of history and cinema in an incredibly smart way. Johann Sebastian Bach, because he is simply the best. And then in the visual arts there are many that fascinate me, like Tacita Dean, Joao Maria Gusmao & Pedro Paiva, Wolfgang Tilmans, David Claerbout, Dora Maurer, Lee Miller to name a few. I love all of them for the same reason: their perspective and way of thinking.
  • KALTBLUT: 2013 has just began. What are your plans for this year? And are you already working on a new project?
  • Sarah: A few plans and exhibitions are already in the making, a performance evening in NGBK in April for example or a solo exhibition in the Augsburger Kunstverein in May, but to be honest I am against planning. The flow is better, if you let it take you.
  • KALTBLUT: What would you advise young people sitting at home, being involved with photography. I always say: do and don’t talk!
  • Sarah: Yeah, my favourite image right now is a child’s bedroom. Has anyone ever seen a child sitting for hours and thinking about how to build this tower? No! All building blocks out, making some proper chaos and then playing!
  • KALTBLUT: What makes Berlin to your hometown, the place to be for you? Can an artist survive here at all?
  • Sarah: The reasons for me are diverse. First of all, this is my home, and then, because it is so exciting, having the opportunity to see so much, exchange things. And comparatively is Berlin not as expensive as other metropolis. And so yeah you can not only live here but also experience the city.
  • KALTBLUT: Thank you for the interview and I wish you a big success with the exhibition
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Heroin, Speed, MDMA, Ketamine, LSD

‘Sarah Schoenfeld squeezed drops of various legal and illegal liquid drug mixtures onto exposed film, blowing them up to large scale prints that reveal incredible shapes and colours, and the unique inner universes hiding within these substances.’