Gallery: How did the subject of womanhood become a part of this new body of work?

Nike Schröder: This is a communal, female positive show that embraces nurture, sustenance and daily life.  

Being a woman and being inside a woman's body gave me enough inspiration to start working and then expanding that thought into different materials. This body of work stems from emotions, a need to explore the female forms. And then the fascination of the egg really snowballed the content of the exhibition to where it is today. It displays psychologically charged and intimate art works instilled with symbolism from the animal world and human history.

It carries methaphorical images of shelter or home, channeled through the repetition of displaying the origin of all human comfort: the female nipple. As much as it is giving it is vulnerable. As we settle into sheltering at home our ability to feed and nurture and house ourselves becomes more in focus and more necessary to celebrate than ever.

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Gallery: Tell us more about your chickens and the observation of them that contributed to this show. 

NS: I love my chickens! They are forever curious and keep busy foraging all day. For most people in our society, chickens are nothing but meat. To me they are not "just food”.

Today the natural life of the chicken, along with symbols and images of the chicken as a model of courage and domestic virtues, has been replaced by the so-called industrial chicken, a lumpen product divorced from the land and from everybody's family life, especially the bird's own, and represented in correspondingly demeaning and industrialized images. My chicken are part of my family. I have an incredible domestic bond to them as I had them since they were tiny little chicks. I started observing them and developed a huge affection for the birds. And it got me thinking and exploring their symbolism. The hen is self-sacrificing, nurturing, protective, and comforting, a symbol of the female power and motherhood  radiating ideal maternal love with sheltering wings:

The Chicken is an archetype of Mother and Child. It lays the egg and comes out of the egg. To me it symbolized the cycle of life and death and ultimately of birth. Sharing a life with these chickens in my backyard made me cherish the wonder of the egg. The relentlessness of giving.

The oversized, almost godlike chicken portraits are watching over a gathering of bronze breasts set up on wooden pedestals.  At the center is a turning shiny metal sculpture - an orbit of nipples. It’s a sacred scene, and almost feels like a circle of an offering ceremony. I wanted it to feel magical, like a worship of the woman's body. It was important to me to bring the human female anatomy in the same room as the chickens, as for me the breast represents similar qualities as the chicken: nurture, birthing, fertility and comfort. 

Simultaneously it reveals its negative parallels: In the 20th century, the chicken hen was degraded from being a mother to being a "breeder," a "layer," and an "egg-laying machine”.  These giving qualities resemble our own as women - both are so to speak being “milked”.

Gallery: Tell me more about your interest in working with a wide range of materials including paint, porcelain, bronze, plaster and thread. 

NS: I am forever curious about exploring materials. Especially new to me was the handing over of my work to the foundry. I really loved the anticipation to see a finished product as I usually make all my work from start to finish.  

All other materials I had experience with, even though some of my relationships to them have been sleeping and I am so glad to have wakened them. For this show I was able to buy a kiln to further dig into ceramic work. My attraction to clay and its earthy qualities tied together the theme of the show. Coming back to the mother, to earth and finding solid ground, the never-ending dry-wet (re-)cycle of clay and its archaic and almost brutal way of firing. I experimented with different skin hues for the nipples and really cherished the individuality of each of them. Since this show emerged from an emotional observation, it was important to me that the public can “feel” the show. So I experimented with various textures and structures to emphasize the duality of soft and hard, strength and vulnerability and to suggest that the woman can be on both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between. I created almost pillow like forms, and recreated the same shape in indestructible bronze.

Gallery: When did you first start using thread in your art and what mediums were you using prior to that? 

NS: I always had a strong curiosity for materials, so I have been bouncing around everything I could get my hands on; painting, sculpture, woodwork, drawing, printing etc.

While a student in Germany I started to incorporate threads into my paintings, then painting only with the thread. I enjoy the domestic connotation it has and taking it out of its traditional context. Textiles and thread have a haptic quality that has lured me in since the first time I sat down at a machine.

Gallery: Were you trained as a painter or do you consider yourself self taught?

NS: I am trained as a painter to a certain degree has I hold a BA in Art Therapy. But sometimes I look back at my life and would like to consider myself as self taught, because I started teaching myself at a very young age and forced my mom to put me into art school when I was six years old. Since then I basically never put the brush down.

Gallery: Your exhibition has many specific installation components. Can you talk about how you conceived the ideas behind the presentation of different series? 

NS: All installations are a celebration of female equality and the worship of the body and its diversity. They employ multiple forms of similar shapes organized together in grid structures or clusters.

The ceiling cluster asks us to think of the breast in terms of its magical abilities to provide comfort, immunities (breastmilk) and through its uncanny fantastic iteration it has us reclaiming the breast as as part of domestic productivity.  The installation condenses sexuality and innocence alike. My sculptures share repeated themes which focus on the human body and its need for nurture and protection in a frightening world – one which affects females disproportionately. 

An interactive installation called TAKE AWAY gave this exhibition its name. I wanted to create something that can be taken away by the audience. A souvenir so to speak. So I installed a grid of 810 nipples in a variety of skin tone nuances to celebrate the diversity and similarity of women at once. Removing  one of these nipples off the wall is an active part of this piece and turns usually static art into an ever-changing mural. The taking symbolizes the giving quality of a woman and leaves the audience with a reminder - or Id like to think a lucky charm - to take home. 

Nike Schröder
Interview with the artist by the gallery

May 8, 2020