The bookcase in front of me is carefully organized by color – blue goes into green goes into yellow. It's a dazzling effect and fuses seamlessly with the rest of the bold decor in the sunny room. I'm settled into a vintage sofa, thinking that this is a perfect way for an artist, who is also a writer, to organize their book collection. Karen Schoellkopf's recent collection of poetry, Love Letters To Berlin, sits in front of me, lending it's bright yellow letter pressed cover to the sunny surroundings. When we get to talking, I discover that her seemingly simple works are steeped with a world's worth of inspiration.
Show & Tell
Pouring through her flat files, a particular image of a streaking light catches my eye. At first they seem to be abstract paintings, but are actually photographs. She explains that they are the space between places, the act of traveling itself, taken from moving trains, planes or cars. The series takes on the spirit of movement in light, coupled with a dark, slightly foreboding sense of uncertainty. She tells me it's called Visible Cities, named after her favorite book by Italo Calvino.
As we look through more, it seems that the multi faceted projects – many of which span years of development and work – deal with places she's been to and the people she's met. Love Letters to Berlin takes a look at four different cities: Brooklyn, Berlin, Buffalo and Malmow. She tells me that, "They're very different cities, but also interesting, lively, full of energy and sex – laughter and pain. You know, discovery."
Schoellkopf isn't the kind of artist who appreciates being pigeon-holed: "This book-work has been kind of a thread through my work. People always want you to define what you do as like oh, I am a photographer, I'm a painter of landscapes. For me, I very much go towards the things that are interesting to me—the materials are interesting to me, but also the best thing for the project."
While some artists may be concerned that working in different mediums may come off as convoluted, the common threads in Schoellkopf's work are crystal clear. Even with her recent online mapping project, Seven Deadly Sins of Times Square, themes of direction and community are on the surface with publicly available, open sourced information, while conveying the vibe of a place with personal humor and a critical eye. For instance, visitors of her Seven Deadly Sins website can find hotel reviews written by a sex worker (lust) and restaurants with the highest caloric counts per meal (gluttony). When the project was picked up by a gallery, she created an installation that included information cards that people could walk away with, mimicking the experience of gathering information online.
So What's Next?
Schoellkopf has a few projects in the works for the near future. She recently moved to a new space where she set up a screen printing station and started The Heart is More Than a Muscle, a series of delicate images which include body parts and accompanying text that all have specific associations, including the spine, teeth and appendix.
Following the successful model of Love Letters to Berlin, the next collection of poetry will be letters to Casa, inspired by a trip to Morocco. "I fell in love with Casa Blanca. All the guide books tell you to miss it," she explained. "They say to see the Hassan II Mosque, do it in 4 hours and then leave, but I had an amazing time in that city. I went to the main public library and took out (an out of date) guide book. I met another traveler (with an up to date version) and we compared. Mine said: if you are a solo female traveler, this will be less of a vacation and more of a gauntlet to get through. Her version said you're gonna have an amazing time, it's very open for women. So I think things are changing and it's a very dynamic thing. Casablanca, it's this hidden gem."
Schoellkopf spends her days working in the tech industry, but it doesn't hamper her creativity – far from it. Even with the enormous and eclectic sources informing her projects, she creates thoughtful and intimate experiences for her viewers. It's refreshing for an artist to allow the public to connect with them so personally, and rare for it to come from the kinds of open platforms which employ a general use of communication through design. Thankfully, even with its wide accessibility, there is nothing general about Karen Schoellkopf's work.