An interview with Caterina Albert

about her art exhibit EIN KIND IM VERSTECK (A CHILD IN HIDING) after Thomas Bernhard’s autobiography, ‘Ein Kind’

in the ARTS  Klosterkirche, Traunstein, 14.09 – 04.10.2012

-       You were inspired to produce the paintings in the Ein Kind im Versteck exhibition after reading Thomas Bernhard’s life story, a literary and therapeutic work which he wrote as an adult, towards the end of his life. What fascinated you so much here, that you felt the urge to get closer to him through art?

 -       Without doubt, Bernhard is one of the most important writers of the German-speaking area. I read his book Ein Kind at the house of friends in Chiemsee, and by chance we drove through Traunstein the following day. I discovered the beautiful ARTS Klosterkirche in the town centre, directly behind the Taubenmarkt, where Thomas Bernhard had lived, and I knew right away that I had to put together an exhibition dedicated to him.

After having read a number of his books with great pleasure over a period of several years, books in which again and again, with musical rhythmising and masterful powers of perception, his subject was the profound observation of human nature – wicked, full of deceitful humour – my mind corresponded with him.

-     The period of adolescence – when young people are growing up – which T. Bernhard describes, has also been very present in your work for some time. Why?

-     In their behaviour, as in their body language, young people are not yet resolute – all possibilities remain open, still to be explored. They are open to temptation, both strong and fragile at the same time. Either angels or devils could be in play.

       As an adult, I like this jigsaw of imperfection and my interest has revolved around the subject for a number of years.

 -       The grandfather, an unsuccessful author who strove for achievement with his work throughout his life, constituted both a refuge and a model for Thomas Bernhard. He is, actually, the archetype of all the elitist and eccentric individuals of similar vein who are portrayed by Bernhard in his own work.

-     The grandfather was possessed of that generosity which is characteristic of seniority. His environment was pervaded by the fragrance of self-will and books. He was loved by his grandson, because he eluded the tutelage of the age he lived in. He embodied an endorsement for the child, in his hiding, in his exile. But he did something more decisive: he gave the child the freedom, in his presence, to be exactly the way he dreamt of being.

-       What characteristics do you assign, in your paintings, to the mother? Sometimes, in making her exorbitant demands, she treats the sensitive boy in a very cruel way. How do you depict her?

-     His mother is an ambivalent person. She oscillates between hate and love. She is a prisoner of her own powerlessness. And – in pictorial terms – only light can be created next to great darkness. 

-       This childhood could not have been more traumatic. Is it your view that T. Bernhard, through his firm determination to hold out and carry through to the end – manifested in its most extreme form when he suffered from lung disease – inspires courage in all those who are suffering in this world?

-       I think that to have a completely happy childhood is something rare. Helpless fears, strange encounters, are all bewildering. In the case of a very sensitive child they leave their traces, and are formative.

But the basic driving force, that definite will to live – despite illness or old age – is a part of every person. 

-       What is it that links you with this poet’s book, what is it that attracts you so much? Can you sum it up in words?

-       I, for example, loved my grandfather very much. For years he was a substitute for the father I lacked. There was that feeling of thorough trust and fundamental security. For him I was the perfect little being, with whom he shared secrets. He painted, and so did I. When I went for walks with him, shadows dissolved and we maintained a companionable silence. In his story – Ein Kind – T. Bernhard found me.

This interview with Caterina Albert was conducted by Monica Poalas

Translation: Jill Pittinger