Describing a picture cycle is akin to a journey to new milestones. Nina Stoelting’s latest group of works connects history and present-day of the metropolis Berlin. Using her individually defined technique of frottage she retraces the city’s identity, the signs and traces of which are turned into an artistic impetus. At the same time, empathising in situ is no esoteric process, but rather an act of tactile sensitivity. The artist’s chosen support medium for the frottages is an extremely delicate tissue, muslin, which enables her to convey a mimetic account of the widest variety of found and selected moments and textures. With many years of experience in the medium of drawing and traditional lithography, Nina Stoelting has attained a cognitive intuition for the graphic quality of structure.


Now, if one were to assume that homogeneous formats and choice of artistic material also gave rise to an identical or at least similar statement or aura of the rubbings, one would be on the wrong path. As utterly different as Berlin can be around the very next corner, as intensively and as divergently it embodies identity, so in precisely such a richly faceted way do Nina Stoelting’s images reflect forms, symbols and structures from the urban space of the metropolis.


Yet before she allows the tissue to float for a moment and then land on the ground, or climbs up a balustrade holding the delicate fabric, in order to fix the cloth there, comes the process of the conceptual, artistic transfer of image and portrayal.


First of all, Nina Stoelting delimits a motif purely visually from an in-situ situation, isolates it from its context and only then covers it with muslin in order, over a period of several hours, to transfer the relief onto the fabric. In the process, every texture demands accommodation to its properties. Varying strain, precision, contour, or somewhat cloudy materiality are freely nuanced by hand.

The proverbial fingertip sensitivity becomes an intensive artisanal process, and often a challenge for the artist’s physical constitution too. Essences of a context are the result. Some locations experience in frottage a reinterpretation, while other frottages of the cycle become a visual prompt to reflect on places.


In multiple cases it is facades, architectural sculptures or details of monuments that evoke Stoelting’s artistic interest. In alignment with the artist’s career path, this affinity developed back in the days of her architecture studies, before she devoted herself exclusively to Fine Art.


In the 1990s, shortly after the fall of the Wall, the streets previously closed between East and West prompted the interest of artists to trace the analogies of destruction and damage in old road surfaces by means of frottages. Andreas von Weizsäcker, too, warns in his frottages of the lingering consequences of war and destruction, visible in facades that are marked by wartime bullet-holes as well as by trees bearing desperate messages from forced labourers in the Third Reich.


Nina Stoelting does not fully delimit herself from this, but she does belong to a younger generation that finds alternative access to reflection. She associates historical sites of that kind with an optimistic attitude, with the expectation of a future that is willing to learn from the past. The work Toleranzgasse demonstrates this in a sensitive and simultaneously impressive way. The street, which actually does bear that name, is located in Mitte and is situated between a Catholic church, an evangelical hospital and a synagogue.


Numerous Stolpersteine (literally: stumbling stones) by the artist Günther Demnig refer to the extinguished existences of Jewish fellow citizens at this location. At one point the stones form a spatial arrangement in which a metaphor for the coexistence of different cultures and religions can be seen. The stones are laid out freely, in a dynamic rather than a strictly geometric formation, flanked and protected by massive stone slabs on one side and by a loose arrangement of small cobblestones opposite. Only in Stoelting’s mimetic transfer onto muslin does the autonomy of this visual statement develop, do the stones’ different properties become prominent: they reveal a structure that is otherwise not visible. This applies particularly to the Stolpersteine in bronze. Their surface is very smooth, the victims’ names are visible, not necessarily fully legible, but nevertheless ineffaceable in the tender aura of their rendering in graphite. As different as these structures and stones are, in the formal association the artist’s tactile sensitivity gives rise to a legibility that may be compared with running one’s fingers across Braille script.


In a rubbing that she has taken from the relief surface of a memorial, Nina Stoelting challenges our perception and a retained awareness that is inherent in us. The memorial displays soldiers marching in step on its plinth. The aesthetic that emerges in Stoelting’s frottage is almost icon-like and triggers in the beholder a sensation of disgust towards any form of marching in step and gleichschaltung. Superficially, the stereotype of the form has a formal attractiveness, in which an alarming statement is simultaneously inherent.


In the cultural history of frottage it was Max Ernst who brought this technique to new life with his own, artistic staging of structures. In the art of the Nouveaux Réalistes it is Henri Michaux who, under the influence of mescaline, lived out his affinity with the medium, more of a private act of ecstasy for the identification and invention of his abstractions. Heinz Mack, for his part, used frottages in order to come closer to the phenomena of light and structure. The medium itself is accessible even to children, but only in a clearly defined artistic concept do extraordinary pictorial findings and the unique potentials of frottage as expressive form develop.


Hitherto, frottages have always signified the creation of photographs for documentation of the artist’s work in situ. The self-conception of younger, contemporary artists is formed by selfie culture and social media. As documentation of the performance in situ, photographs of the live act become almost a component of artistic work, being a phenomenon of ephemeral adventure culture in the making of.


In the group of works described here, it is chance and the artist that appoint an Anonymous to the status of photographer; he takes on the role of the chronicler and is thereby also raised out of an overall context, chosen, as the location is by the artist. A piece of the aeternum of art is made his own, only without naming of the author of the documentary photos. The time and space correlation in the creation of works has also changed with the advent of this generation of artists. One could interpret that as a ‘fast forward’ attitude of the modern nomad society, which has also changed current art in its approach. Perseverance and engrossment on site, standing on the spot until nothing more remains concealed, is rather passé.


These are concise motifs, once Nina Stoelting has captured them on muslin. After their metamorphosis into an image, some motifs take on almost sacred look and awaken associations with Christian relics, the sudarium of Veronica, for example.


An entirely different theme is covered by the objet trouvé Kanaldeckel (Manwhole Cover). Timm Ulrichs thematised such an object in the conceptual art of the 1970s, discovering it, kneeling on it, tracing it and immortalising it in serigraphs. Nina Stoelting’s entrance to the Underworld is to be regarded as the completion of this prosaic work cycle, the circle as a formal citation of completeness, in which many of the experienced locations of the metropolis are depicted as icons. We thereby come full circle to the origin of frottage, which we find in the reproduction intention of the writings of Confucius. Palpate and depict the legible, in order to ensure the dissemination of words and contents. An elementary statement concerning Nina Stoelting’s concept can be found in Confucius’s words:


To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge.

Confucius 551–479 B.C.


Angela Cerny