Nicola Ginzel: Memory, Form and Talismans

Over the years, Nicola Ginzel’s work has often appeared at an intimate scale. Made with what appear to be highly personal, collected items that are transformed through concise yet mysterious embellishments, her pieces reflect a heightened sensibility towards material manufacture and intuitive action. Through her work, the viewer might for example encounter small fragments of commercial packaging that have been threaded by hand with needle, only to see them turned “inside out”, showing their converse, hidden processes.

Composite Fragment: Cardboard Sole
2018-2019
stitched box with thread, acrylic, insole, coffee on wall
photo by Dario Lasagni

In other works, referred to as frottages, rubbings of the artist’s own stitched ephemera are used as a printing plate, further being paired with the artists’ treatments of color, staining, bleeding, and smudging. While the tactility of her work is unquestionable, under the surface there are hints of deeper currents pointing to esoteric and shamanistic strains which divulge the mystery behind her thoughts and processes. As a mixed media and installation artist, there is even more to the picture, as the arrangement and composition Ginzel employs on individual works can be seen to extend into the spaces her work inhabits.

Composite Flattened, Four-Sided Frottage in Blue, 2016-17
carbon paper frottage on canvas, pastel, ink, wood backing, mounted with BEVA archival adhesive
20″ x 24″ x 1.75″

Recently, Nicola brought this sensibility to the Q21 Artist-in-Residence Program at the MuseumQuartier in Vienna. What started as a collaboration with the art collective, Lumine, eventually turned into a solo exploration, due to complications brought about by COVID-19.

The plan was to transform the facade of the Stock im Eisen Platz 3 (aka. Palais Equitable Building) through the light projection of a spruce forest. The purpose was to put the protected Nail-Tree Talisman, located on one of the building’s exterior corner’s (under glass), back into its original environment.  It is a midsection of a tree trunk from the Middle Ages with thousands of nails hammered into it for good luck and other various reasons.

Because of covid-19, the collaboration took the back seat and I began focusing on what I could control independently.  Keeping in mind that the same building and Nail-Tree were my points of departure and the intention exactly the same—to change the energy of the building (shamanically speaking).

‘Psyche and Commerce: The Realignment of the Nail-Tree Talisman’
(proposed mock-up – graphics + photography by Lumine)

At this point, Ginzel’s process of frottage moved beyond printing from her own handiwork and towards physical space—involving architectural features of the building’s floorplan and perimeter. For this, she used huge pieces of red carbon paper that were sometimes layered up to 7 times with rubbings. At the beginning of the project, these were taken back to the studio where she covered the printed red lines with paint in order to ‘erase’ them chromatically. In other examples, further texture and color were added.

The use of color, for Ginzel, often holds specific symbolic meaning, where the color red, for example, was chosen for its correspondence with physical matter and the root chakra, as seen in some Buddhist and Tantric thought. In Hindu Tantra, for example, the Muladhara Chakra is related to this color, as well as being considered as the foundation of physical existence. This quandary over the emergence of physical form sheds some light on where the project’s title How Do You Restructure Form? gets its name from.

Regarding materials, the choice of paper is specific for Ginzel also, which is selected for their responsive properties. While in Austria, she scrambled to make sure she had enough paper before everything was to be shut down in mid-March. Two types became her favorite to work with. One was a handmade paper, chosen for its near-sculptural tactility in the process of rubbing, while the other was a special rice paper chosen for its quality of absorbing treatments from other materials such as espresso. This later process lent an aged quality to the paper, making it appear akin to ancient illuminated manuscripts or Tantric drawings.

As the frottages became layered, new forms emerged that became further resolved. Her methodology throughout however remained the same—placing the paper horizontally onsite, where half would be propped against the buildings’ exterior wall and the other half rested on its corresponding ground. A large, pale, yellow-green shape would also be painted in advance of the rubbing. The reason for this, according to Ginzel, served three purposes. First, was to blur the boundaries between the horizontal and vertical lines collected onsite. Second, was the meaning of color yet again related to the chakras. Third, was to give the composition an anchoring point, an idea which is again reminiscent of Indian tantric drawings, where forms often have a central focal point.

The entire work How Do You Restructure Form? traversed three sides of the building and consisted of more than 60 works on paper comprised of 188 frottages. It took four months total to complete the actual process of printing from the building.

Nicola’s process of collecting rubbings from the building

The history of the location, paired with the actions of Ginzel’s rubbings, highlights the subtle, yet magical direction of her work. With the subject of the talisman, as well as her near ritual contact with the building, both would seem to imply mystical concepts. In classical thought, such as seen in the Neoplatonic works of Proclus and those later influenced by his work, an analogy can be found with the concepts of conjunction or sympathy; where “conjunction” was understood as the union between lower and higher components (the physical and spiritual) within a greater cosmology of nature, while “sympathy” was the direct “attunement” of these in relation to the other. These are ideas that seem apparent and ripe in Ginzel’s work, while also acting as the impetus beckoning her to Vienna, where the subject of the Nail Tree Talisman has a history as a mystical object itself.

Entryway relief of the Palais Equitable Building in Vienna—telling the story of how the last spruce tree standing came to be known as Vienna’s Oldest Landmark -the Stock im Eisen (Staff of Iron)

This Nail-Tree Talisman is the oldest landmark in Vienna, dating back to the mid 1500’s and is said to be the last tree standing from the ancient forest, which could represent the Mythical Center of Vienna as proposed by the Austrian Folklorist, Leopold Schmidt. In any case, the Nail-Tree is surrounded by several legends, including one that the devil guards it. Another version from the 18th century says it was custom for traveling blacksmiths and apprentices to hammer a nail into it. My preferred version is far more esoteric and follows in the footsteps of my grandfather, who I used to visit as a child on the third floor of this very building. It is my understanding that there were nail-trees throughout the Middle Ages in Europe and it was believed that if one had a wound and touched the nail to it, the wood would heal the wound once the nail was hammered into it.  This is a transference of energy.

The Palais Equitable Building at Stock im Eisen Platz 3 with an historic view of the ‘Nail Tree Talisman’ (l)
and at present (r)

The result of Nicola’s time in Vienna appears as both an artistic discovery, one that calls up collaboration with a mystic environment, as well as one that seeks transformation through art as a talismanic process. While the shamanic tendency in her work appears aimed at traveling to the world of our past to uncover ideas, memories, and objects, these are then put into action and brought back to the present to suggest a sense of healing through revealing the power of nature.

How Do you Restructure Form? Nos. 38+39, 2020 – 24” x 36
How Do You Restructure Form? (work in progress)
Q21 Studio View, Vienna 2020
How Do You Restructure Form? (finished works)
Q21 Studio View, Vienna 2020

Nicola Ginzel is a Mixed media and installation artist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. She is the recipient of a 2019-20 Fulbright US Scholar grant and has also held residencies at SIM—The Icelandic Visual Arts Association and Reykjavik Art Museum Residency; The Skaftfell Cultural Center Residency in Seydisfjördur, Iceland; and BoxoPROJECTS in Joshua Tree, CA. Her work has been reviewed by Artcritical, Art in America, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Blouin Modern Painters, Time Out New York, New Art TV, The Chicago Tribune, and Hyperallergic among others.

She has exhibited internationally and has recently had her first ten–year retrospective and traveling museum exhibition,“ Language, Symbol, Artifact,” at the Tennessee Valley Museum of Art. 

—Ian Pedigo

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