The paintings and textiles in Joerg Soechting’s series We Refugees began when he was working on a piece about labor that grew into a piece on refugees, two urgent and interconnected ideas that form the basis of this work.
Born in Germany, Soechting has traveled widely. After studying industrial design with Herbert Ohl in Ulm, he traveled to Africa, through the Sahara to Camaroon. He lived in New York City for a time, then moved to Berlin, where he currently lives and works, and has traveled frequently to Burgundy. Soechting, who works in a variety of media, had made a video of himself performing a simple act of manual labor - raking. A still image that showed him walking toward the camera eventually became a silhouette -- a symbol, a prototype, as he puts it, that put him in mind of Joseph Beuys’s 1972 print La rivoluzione siamo noi (We are the revolution).
The great numbers of refugees from Syria moving through Europe influenced Soechting’s work as well. He had been reading Hannah Arendt’s short essay “We Refugees,” which lends his work its name. His silhouette, his prototype, became, in his work, the figure of a refugee. Though based on his silhouette, that figure, which is repeated in his works, is intentionally featureless: it could be a man or a woman; it could be any ethnicity.
After sorting donations of clothing into large and colorful piles at a refugee center, and after coming across a motorcycle on a beach in Spain that was covered towels, blankets, and shirts that were faded from the sun and salt air, he was inspired to use textiles in his work. His use of colorful, patterned fabrics recalls traditions of quilting and sewing, using every piece of what you have at hand to create something functional, and beautiful.
In one large wall hanging, two figures in a patchwork of mismatched materials seem to be fleeing, sprinting towards a red finish line, crossing into a space of safety and security. The figures are deliberately course – the edges rough, the hand-stitching obviously visible, the lines intentionally imperfect – suggesting clothing assembled on the run and in a hurry. Some of the paintings echo the colorful patterns in the large textile works, but in one, the anonymous figure is replicated more than 20 times and rendered in a patchwork pattern of blacks and greys against an empty white field, without cultural or geographical markers. Soechting suggests that we are all of us interconnected, and that empathy extends beyond borders, or should.