Susanna Fels. From Wrocław to Berlin.
When she talks about herself, Susanna Fels says that only four things are meaningful: Her name, her birth in Wrocław in 1937, her emigration in 1957 and the fact that she is a multimedia artist and painter.
Fels was born in Wrocław in 1937 where she spent her childhood and youth overshadowed by the Second World War. At the age of 21, the artist eventually went abroad. She was drawn to West Germany, where she settled in Berlin in 1960 and became part of the art scene at the time. Max Hölzer, Uwe Johnson, Walter Höllerer and Ingeborg Bachmann were all part of this select circle in Berlin. She was also friends with Marcel Marceau, the famous dancer and mime artist. In France, she even took part in some of his performances.
This illustrious circle was enhanced by the arrival of Witold Gombrowicz in 1963, who came to the metropolis on the Spree at the invitation of the Ford Foundation as part of the German Academic Exchange Service’s (DAAD) scholarship programme. Fels was introduced to Gombrowicz, who had just returned from Argentina, by Bohdan Osadczuk in the Berlin café called “Zuntz” on the Kurfürstendamm. As well as sharing their experience as emigrants, the other great interest the pair shared was art. During these months, Fels was the only one allowed to photograph the author; this was down to his reluctance. About Fels he said: “Pani musi być sławna. Z krawatem.” (You must be famous. With a tie.) Gombrowicz, who touches on Fels and his time in Berlin in the third part of his “Diaries” (Polish: Dziennika), took part in Berlin’s social life. He established further friendships with Ingeborg Bachman and Günter Grass.
Today, Susanna Fels still lives in her live-in studio in Berlin-Grunewald where the Bohemians used to meet and still do. For years, she travelled through Europe and photographed numerous artistic events, such as the opening of the individual exhibition by Jan Lenica in the Georges Pompidou Centre in 1980. Her works – photographs and numerous paintings and collages – express stories and her own story, as Barbara Strohschein put it in 1986.
Free of all conventions, Fels developed her art which feeds on togetherness and conversations but also on solitude. For Fels, the aim of her work is not the final product, it is instead the symbols that emerge from it like a story. The subject of homeland runs through many of her works. Not in the haptic, concrete sense of a geographical place, but as a space “of knowing oneself and recognising oneself”. Fels exhibits her diverse works, which are more than just photography and are in multimedia form, in Germany, France and Poland.
Even today, she is still known as “Pani Gombrowicz” (Mrs Gombrowicz) in the Polish scene in Berlin – and beyond.
Andrea Sarah Lorenz, November 2018
Barbara Strohschein in April 1986