John Bernhard: The need to create

The film explores the intricate process from which the Swiss American artist John Bernhard
reaches into his own psychic and soul for creativity and inspiration.

Article by Sabine Casparie (in Art Houston):

“Why does John Bernhard have to make a photograph every day? Why have Marian and Victoria Zidaru decided to make their lives about carving and marking the wood of the Romanian forest? ……. There is always a soul behind a work of art.”

This is Franz Galo’s premise for two new short films that were premiered to a Houston audience at the Asia Society Texas Center on 9th March. On the surface, Galo’s films appear to be artist documentaries (in fact, they won a few prestigious documentary prizes). The films enlighten us about the ideas and creative processes of different artists working in different disciplines: John Bernhard, a Swiss American artist who works mainly in the medium of photography and is currently based in Houston, and the husband- and-wife-team Marian and Victoria Zidaru, Romanian artists who work mainly in sculpture, printmaking and embroidery.
But categorizing these films as mere documentaries would be seriously shortcutting the second, more abstract layer of Galo’s work. For Galo, art is intertwined with spirituality. And to try and capture this spirituality, he goes back to the source: the process of artistic creation.

Galo has chosen three artists (Zidaru is an artist duo) whose work and way of working he feels is strongly connected to his own. Galo is interested in that moment when the world opens itself up to us, and when its richness and beauty are aligned with the potential of our individual minds, our own bodies. “Ritual is like a leap into another world”, sculptor Marian Zidaru tells us, and Galo’s films have that same devotional quality, allowing us to step into another world and become engrossed in it. There is an important emphasis on nature. In the first film, we see the vast empty desert plains of Big Bend, where John Bernard has taken a series of photographs that combine mark-making and the female body. Then the second film takes us to the lush green of the Romanian forest, where we can almost smell the freshness of the wood that Marian and Victoria Zidaru are carefully giving shape.

But besides the grand presence of nature there is an equal attention for small details, for intimacy. We see a close-up of Victoria Zidaru’s elegant hands, weaving thread through a fabric held up by a wooden pole, and the callouses on Marian’s feet from walking barefoot on the fertile earth. Galo’s films are incredibly alive. Yet at the same time they emanate a sense of calm and an eternal, almost religious subordination to nature, to the creative process, and to the inevitable movements and times of the cosmos.
Important for Galo is the proposition that we are all artists. And this is possibly what struck me most about his work. Instead of showing us the finished artworks, the art commodities, Galo shows us the humanity behind creating something in the world that we live in, the world that is ours to use for an – ultimately - insignificant period of time. Galo is fascinated by the meditative gestures of hands treating wood and the dance-like poses of the photographer trying to capture and rework a beautiful body. And we, the film’s audience, are fascinated in return.

Galo’s dreamy sequences slightly belie the other side of artistic creation: dedication, grit and hard work. There is no trial and error here, no room for mistake, and sometimes Galo’s chosen artists come across as somewhat too saintly, without a hint of self-deprecation. But then again, if we want to see a plainer reality, we can just look up artists’ interviews on Youtube. Galo instead takes us on a spiritual journey, and by allowing us to escape into his world and that of his subjects, we come out refreshed and inspired. He takes us out of the everyday and into the timeless, the eternal and the universal aspirations of art.


John Bernhard: The Need to Create and The Zidaru: Artists in Light
Screening at Asia Society Texas Center, Houston - 9th March 2017

Sabine Casparie
www.sabinecasparie.com