Q&A with Katherine Mitchell >>

Artist friends transcend language in 'No Translation Required'

By Jessica Cook | Emory Report | Feb. 4, 2013

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Katherine Mitchell "Louveciennes / Mississippi" 2010. Acrylic paint, graphite, ink, and chine collé on paper.

Emory University's Visual Arts Department presents "No Translation Required/Keine Ubersetzung Benotigt: A Visual Collaboration Between Liane Birnberg & Katherine Mitchell," Feb. 7 – April 6.

Artwork by Liane Birnberg

From the book "Because Wings are Made to Fly" by Birnberg and John Berger. Photo courtesy of Liane Birnberg.

Berlin-based artist Liane Birnberg will present new work in visual conversation with her longtime friend, Atlanta-based artist Katherine Mitchell. Mitchell taught drawing and painting for 29 years in Emory's Visual Arts Department and retired from teaching in 2009.  

Birnberg's drawings will be presented at the Visual Arts Gallery on Emory's main campus, and Mitchell‘s works on paper will be presented concurrently at the Catherine Hunt Gallery of Candler Hall at Oxford College. In addition, some of Mitchell's work will be shown alongside Birnberg's in the Visual Arts Gallery.  

The opening reception is Thursday, Feb. 7 from 7-9 p.m. in the Visual Arts Gallery on the Emory campus, with a talk by Birnberg at 7:30 p.m.  

Mitchell describes her friendship with Birnberg, their collaboration and influence on each other:  

How did your friendship develop?

I have known Liane since the time she took a painting class from me at the (now defunct) Atlanta College of Art. This was some time in the very early '80s. Liane was living in Atlanta because her husband, Michael Roeder, was director of language studies at the Goethe Institute here. Liane was trained as a musician and composer in Bucharest, Romania. She had an all-girl rock band in the '60s, and her own television show there in the '70s. She had decided to give up live performance and was interested in changing disciplines from music to visual arts. In many ways, she was a mature artist. She just needed to immerse herself in the new discipline. We really connected during that class.  

We lost touch with each other after this class. She had a child; I got married. So our lives changed in some ways. We re-discovered each other a few years later, but she was just about to leave Atlanta and return to Berlin to live. She and her husband and son Kevin moved to Berlin in '87 or '88. This was before the wall came down in 1989.  

The exhibition is described as a "visual conversation" between you and Liane. Was there a collaborative process—that is, were you sending images back and forth to each other?

For years Liane and I maintained a communication through traditional mail, and then in more recent years via email. Liane returned to Atlanta at least once or twice since leaving. I have visited her in Berlin eight times, once in 2010 for an entire month. During the '90s, Liane arranged for me to have two exhibitions, one in Berlin in '93, and one in Ulm in '99. I was interested in arranging an exhibition for Liane, or for the two of us, here in Atlanta. So we had the idea of this proposal.  

There are four small works that were actual collaborations. Two began as Liane's work, and I worked into them while visiting her studio in 2012. The other two began as my works, which I sent to Liane, and she worked back into them. I think all the works, but particularly the ones I started, were greatly improved by this process. There are also works which we addressed to each other. Throughout the years we have sent each other small works, reproductions of works, etc. Just as a way of sharing.   

I think of Liane as someone who is all soul, if there is such a thing. All the veneer is worn away, and we communicate on some very different level, a much deeper level.  

What are some of the differences and similarities between your work and Liane's? On the surface, yours has more structure and Liane's looks organic.

I love geometry and structure. I love systems (my own systems) and the way one system can overlay another and then yet another thing is created. I think of Liane's work as an incredibly sensitive response to materials and their expressive possibilities. I think of her work as abstract in much the way that music is. Her love of music comes through in the work.   

Much as I love music, and I really do, I am not musical in that way. If I could be anything else, I would love to be a writer. Literature is the other art I am most drawn to. And of course, I have a love for and interest in architecture.     

The exhibit is cosponsored by Oxford Studio Arts, the Emory departments of art history, German studies and film and media studies; and is supported by a grant from the Berlin Office of Cultural Affairs. For more details, visit visualarts.emory.edu.