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'Emma Kunz: Visionary Drawings' Review - The Serpentine Gallery

23rd March - 19th May 2019

FREE Entry


Arranged within the peaceful setting of the Serpentine Gallery is an exhibition which could easily be likened to a mandala; one which spreads its presence from room to room in an immersive muted wash of mints, raspberry pinks and soft yellows. The lines weave in and out in perfect symmetry to create a multitude of drawings which comprise mostly of geometric shapes and forms.

Created by Emma Kunz (1892–1963), a swiss healer and artist, these kaleidoscopic drawings exist on many planes. Kunz considered herself primarily as a healer rather than an artist, however her drawings are, arguably, a much needed splash of soothing pattern and colour in an ever accelerating world.

Emma Kunz, Work No. 020, Photo: © Emma Kunz Zentrum

Kunz's own background is key to understanding her pieces and their effects – as well as their purpose. Born into a family of weavers in the Swiss municipality of Brittnau, Kunz demonstrated a strong spiritual sensibility from an early age: walking barefoot near trees to ascertain their spiritual vibrations and, as she grew older, developing the firm belief that plant and minerals could transmit healing energies. A key accomplishment was finding the healing rock Aion a in a Roman Quarry near Würenlos, which is still sold (albeit in powdered form) in pharmacies today, as an aid for inflammation. Working mostly as a naturopath, Kunz came to create artworks according to a method of Radiesthesia. This technique involved using a jade as a divinatory pendulum when asking questions, then letting the stone guide the movement of her pencil. Kunz developed the notion that the answers to most questions and problems could be found within the geometric drawings that ensued, often using this artistic practice as a method of diagnosis. She explained that the drawings were examples of "shape and form expressed as a measurement, rhythm, symbol and transformation of figure and principle", which were "accordance with a specific system of law, which I feel within me, and which never allows me to rest". Moreover, she believed that her work would only be appreciated in the twenty-first century but arguably it speaks to the contemporary viewer just as it would to a baby boomer of the counter-cultural 1960s.

Emma Kunz, Work No. 307, Photo: © Emma Kunz Zentrum

When walking into the exhibition one sees, arranged like a series of jewels, a simple meditative space of white walls and abundant light, filled with Kunz’s artwork. Seeing her artistic process and method up close invites the viewer to absorb the paths the colours take in their journey across the paper, with each piece arranged on the walls like a counter-cultural altar. Cleverly, there is some variation in arrangement to prompt visitors to focus more on some pieces, with certain sections housing just one piece in (oddly) comfortably clinical rooms. In one room, a swirling burst of colour is hung on the otherwise bare wall, the light carved out above like a white sun, pulling the viewer in and in. Moving your feet across the charcoal coloured tiles, these drawings are almost hypnotic.

Emma Kunz, Work No. 003, Photo: © Emma Kunz Zentrum

Kunz is widely considered an outsider artist: she did not exhibit during her lifetime and was mostly self-taught. Her works show a certain element of spiritual evolution and exploration; mostly in that her drawings focus on a sense of equilibrium, or at least an attempt at a restoration of it – they served as a meditative practice for both Kunz and her patients. These drawings are an invitation to stop and contemplate, a comforting embrace for the modern viewer.

Edited by Evangeline Stanford, Digital Editor

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