Joanna Vortmann is an attentive observer of social phenomena and archaic natural events, trained in mindfulness. With a sure instinct and often enough visionary with regard to the explosive nature of a wide variety of topics.

The media artist explores their connections and effects in long-term projects and series. 

The technical means she employs are manifold: sometimes she uses photography and video, but she also creates multi-channel video-sound installations in the artistic transformation of documentary events. 

All works are based on extensive research and often extend over a long period of time.  

 

An example of this is "The Transformation" a block of works created in 2020/2021 of photographic series and videos dealing with the dying of the spruce-forests in Germany. 

At different times of the year, the artist traveled to the Westerwald and the Bergisches Land and made contact with the forest rangers, who comment in detail on the causes of the damage in videos. In this way, she underpins her artistic work with scientific facts.

In quiet, at first almost idyllic images, Joanna Vortmann makes the viewer increasingly aware of the drastic effects that drought, storm damage, bark beetle infestation and heavy rains have on the forest areas. The calm, unagitated imagery is a typical stylistic device of the artist, who deliberately avoids lurid attitudes and allows only the visual material to have an effect, representing an essence of her investigations.

 

No less approachable is the 2 channel video sound installation "We will be transformed",

for which the outbreak of the Corona pandemic gave rise.  Here she combines collected footage from the news and social media, providing harrowing images from clinics and cemeteries, with whimsical private videos from social media showing people dousing themselves with disinfectant, hoarding toilet paper, eating, drinking, dancing, singing, and performing their own kind of end times scenario.

 

A long-term project of enduring relevance is the photographic series begun in 2012.

"Heimat-Identität," for which Joanna Vortmann photographed people who do not live in their homeland for existential, family or professional reasons. Vortmann asked them 

to bring five personal objects, that embody these two concepts for them and portrayed them, too.

In 2015, she revisited the group of works and subsequently added to them. 

 

She has traveled abroad for other projects. "Essential Malta" is what she calls a series of photographs taken during the winter on the Mediterranean islands she has long been familiar with.

Without any touristy glossiness, she conveys impressions that capture the austere side

and which can only succeed on long forays. The same applies to the work "Around Mount Vesuvius". Here Joanna Vortmann shows Naples in photographs that give one a glimpse of the city at the foot of the volcano, beyond its cultural monuments, showing poverty and fragility in a touching way.

 

Strong feelings are triggered by the narrative, partly fairytale-romantic images of the series "Utopia. The No-Place" series, in which numerous references to art history can be discovered. Inner and outer reality meet in the careful arrangements,

which stimulate the viewer to self-questioning.  

The village abandoned by humans in the picture "Decay" is given back to the power of nature, which gradually reclaims its terrain. A corpse is seen on a screen in the corner. The eternal cycle of becoming and decay, of beginning, end and new beginning is condensed here in one single image. 

No less symbolic is the back view of a young woman, who is in a courtyard. Windows and doors are closed, but it seems as if she wants to enter another, otherworldly reality. "Vorhof" is the ambiguous title of the work, which implies a situation of inner and outer transition.  

The work "Vorhang" once again demonstrates Joanna Vortmann's distinct sense for

the interplay of colors and forms and her compositional sensibility.

Every natural element of this mysterious forest scene seems mysteriously animated;

here, too, a woman is obviously about to expose herself to the new and unknown - the stage is set, the curtains have opened.

Thus "Utopia" subtly plays with allusions and references, which everyone may interpret in his own way.  

The highly diverse works that have emerged over the course of a decade are characterized by curiosity and perseverance, and the motivation to get to the heart of things.

In this way, groups of works have emerged that make a lasting impression, because of their forcefulness and seriousness, and not least because of their insight, regardless of whether they are about freedom of the press ("We want the truth - The Whole Truth"), migration, the concept of homeland or ecology. It is clearly recognizable that Joanna Vortmann's projects are characterized by a humanistic approach.

 

Joanna Vortmann has prefixed the video installation "Deprive" with a quotation from G. E. Lessing,

as one can hardly imagine more fitting for her work:

 

"The more we see

the more we must be able to think about it.

The more we think about it

the more we must believe to see".

 

 

Hanna Styrie

Art historian and cultural journalist

Brühl, December 2021