To quiet the mind

by Steffen Wolf, composer and musician

I would like to write about Carmen Hillers' art, to tell about her cosmos, I would like to make curious about her very special paintings and drawings.

 I don't think that art can be explained - I couldn't, because I am an amateur, an art lover, but not an art historian or any other specialist. Explaining art always seems to me to be a bit like trying to explain a joke in a complicated way - the real thing comes too short. I don't want to explain, but I can tell you that as a musician I have been listening to Carmens Hillers' works for a quarter of a century. That for 25 years I have been able to experience how a widely ramified artistic work is created, full of seriousness and courage and independence into nothingness. This is an attempt at the most important characteristics, at the clarity and mystery of her art.


If you want to write about Carmens Hillers' art, you should perhaps start with the way her oeuvre is structured. It always reminds me of something organic, very natural, living. Everything seems to be mysteriously connected - perhaps like trees or mushrooms via invisible, very far-reaching and densely interwoven connecting paths. The connections are created by different, self-developed basic forms on which the compositions of her works are based and which are repeatedly varied, filled and questioned in a painterly way. This canon of forms can certainly be called Carmen Hillers' artistic DNA. And here we come across a first important point: Carmen Hillers regards her art as research, a search that can last for many years in terms of depth, meaning and potency of certain basic forms. Basic forms, which also form the basis of the cycle "To quiet the mind", are often stimulated by music. Specifically, dozens of spontaneous drawings were created during a Heine song recital I gave over 10 years ago. The artist proceeded quite intuitively - virtually without thinking. The sketchbook filled to bursting with the drawings then becomes the object of her own research over a long period of time and is literally ploughed through. Carmen Hillers selects certain shapes according to criteria that she is not aware of, which "have something to say", these can be cutouts and sometimes very small, and later enlarged line patterns.


For me, this is one of the most exciting questions that thinking about art knows: what is this very special instance of which even the artist himself is not able to say anything really illuminating, and which tracks down such basic forms? It knows how the work should be laid out in the further course of the process, and then also knows when a work is successful or not, and when a work is ready for the world. Carmen Hillers' paintings are thus based on forms that come exclusively from her artistic cosmos, which have no reference to the visible world. Her formal language is not an abstracted reality (a very "crinkly-crackly painted apple), but a completely self-sufficiently created variety of forms. And here I see an incredible closeness to music: because parallel to the question of what does a non-representational work mean if it represents nothing from the visible world, this also applies to music. What does music mean? Does it depict something that we could also see? 


I am firmly convinced that music - I am thinking here, for example, of a fugue by Bach, a jazz improvisation or an unaccompanied clarinet melody - does not depict anything visible; I even believe that it does not tell us anything concrete á la: melancholic landscape, the hero desperately seeking his beloved or the Holy Grail. Not even a clear feeling or affect is "composed" by Bach or the respective musician. As sober as it may sound to a musician: for me, Bach's art - and music in general - consists, as someone said in the 19th century, of "tonally moving shapes". That doesn't sound very soulful - but we all know what great states of consciousness music can trigger in us! And that without it having any meaning that can be named! And there I see the great closeness between Carmen Hillers' art and music: both do not depict anything, do not illustrate reality, but reach us through an ingenious play with mental forms. How exactly, remains a mystery to me. Also, how differently and individually concretely painting - this is how one can describe Hillers' art - and music affect different people. There lies freedom: nobody is forced to feel something one way or another!

And in another point, painting and music are similar: they both bring shapes into certain proportions to each other. Proportions are relations of tension, one could also say visible, audible and in both disciplines perceptible numbers. If one looks closely at Carmen Hillers' work, one finds a surprisingly large number of harmonic proportions that correspond to the division of the sounding string, i.e. the intervals octave, fifth, fourth and third - but also sharper, more challenging sounds, such as seventh and second. These sophisticated "blueprints" are subtly assigned colours and structures. All this is extremely finely balanced and rich in nuances.


Challenge is also a central term for Carmen Hillers. She consistently follows her artistic path, searches and researches sincerely, does not use any tricks, but always sets herself new hurdles to find her special shape of truth and beauty. And she also demands a lot from the viewer through her clear and strict language of form. Her aesthetic stance is reminiscent in many aspects of the Asian Zen aesthetic. And this is, in short, an aesthetic of silence and reduction and also rigour. Simplicity in a deep sense and clarity characterize Carmen Hillers' art. This is why her painter colleague Dieter Asmus once called her "The Master of Painted Haikus". This is very fitting, since haiku, that Japanese short poem, is the best example of extreme condensation and at the same time the highest poetry. And Carmen Hillers' works also sing about this to a great extent: about the poetry and beauty of silence.


Yes: for me, the work of Carmen Hillers sounds and sings. They don't always unfold their singing, their beauty, immediately, in rushing by or when scrolling quickly, but above all, and then especially intensely, in pausing, in concentration, in silence - to quiet the mind" - to calm the mind.