A Mutual Fertilization | Interview: Anna Skrabal

G.C. Stiehl | Citizen LA

It’s safe to assume that most of us raised within the boundaries of Western medicine usually do not have Art in mind when a doctor is probing us. During this clinical observation, physical contact between the doctor & patient is limited and the emotional connection is generally absent. This is a precautionary measure employed to remain logical, objective and composed in the face of complex circumstances. As a medical practitioner, the objective is to be empathic without internalizing the patient’s problematic state. But what happens when the separation is eschewed? When Art and Medicine are willfully and intrinsically connected in a creative mind?

According to Anna Skrabal, there’s a generation of children that are developing serious emotional disorders due, in part, to an insatiable desire for instant gratification. To remedy this, Anna employs art and psychology to connect with both patrons and patients alike. The result is a collection of bronze sculptures that are haunting, distressing and very telling. Though the problems associated with these new disorders are widespread, and the consequences to their ignorance severe, there is hope. Anna’s message is clear: there is a solution in art.

Citizen LA: You refer to Art and Medicine as a mutual fertilization. Can you expand on how these two disciplines work together, organically, for you?

Anna Skrabal: When I began my studies with Art and Medicine, the artists said that I could not be a REAL artist if I did something else. But these were two paths that I had to fulfill in life. It was imperative. And after doing them for twenty years now, I feel like I made the right choice. There are themes of medicine in my artwork, and the art gives me emotional strength for the medicine part. They connect together to make my life meaningful.

Citizen LA: As a doctor you’re taught to keep some distance from your subject; to set boundaries. As an artist you’re expected to immerse yourself in the situation; to feel. How do you remain emotionally vulnerable while making a clinical observation?

Anna: I was always curious about people. The surface is fine, but I always wanted to look for a motivation. I realized that I can help people by listening to them. In doing this, I learn from them and give it back somehow. It’s not important if it’s Medicine or Art, I want to give something back.

Citizen LA: You focused on the word “observation” in your Artist Statement, which implies a distancing. However, you’ve chosen internalize it.

Anna: When I started psychiatry and psychotherapy I got involved, very deep. As a psychotherapist you learn to really dig into the emotion of the other person, but still be able to get out of it. It was hard at the beginning… but after all the self-therapy you have to do as a therapist, it became easier. Sometimes I cry, but I enjoy the connection. To be cold, to not get emotionally involved, that would be sad for me.

Citizen LA: You consider yourself a Child Psychologist and Spiritual Healer. So you didn’t take a traditional university class to be a Shaman but rather went to learn something more concrete. Then you gave that up, took peyote, walked through the desert for about 40 days… and then found yourself. Right?

Anna: You really ask difficult questions.

Citizen LA: Ok then, what’s your favorite color?

Anna: Hahaha. I always knew that I wasn’t a typical psychiatrist, or a typical doctor. That was something I experienced early in my career. When you’re stepping into something very slowly, you are often not conscious that it’s happening. Then all of a sudden you recognize that you’re going a way that’s different than others. I knew this when I did my studies in the University at Ohm in Germany. It’s very strict, very organized, very… um…

Citizen LA: German.

Anna: Yes! Very German. But I was very different. Now, my patients love me for this; being very emotional and very loving. In my life, I always look to develop myself. I have been doing a lot of meditation and Yoga and these types of things since I was sixteen years old. Then I had visions. I was daydreaming and night dreaming. I was dreaming my sculptures. I was told I have a totem animal. I was gaining knowledge, more and more information about Shamanism. What “they” did and what I am doing. And now it’s getting deeper and deeper, and more tangible.

Citizen LA: So you’re doing a lot more daydreaming and night dreaming? What a wonderful life we must have.

Anna: Yes!

Citizen LA: In your Artist Statement you expressed that you sculptures draw out painful feelings. Is your sculpture “art” or is it a “therapeutic tool?”

Anna: Both. My target with my art is to reach people, to affect them. No matter if it’s things inside of them or of other people. In this sense it is therapy because they are changing. But it is not my therapy, I already finished my therapy.

Citizen LA: Are you sure about that?

Anna: Well, it never stops. Ya know? There is a direction in psychotherapy called “Art Therapy”, but I’m using art in therapy differently from this.

Citizen LA: The Artist Statement for your bronze series “Generation Nintendo” emphasizes the words: prosperity, neglect, isolation and social incompetence. Are you saying that these concepts define our current society? What you refer to as the “Nintendo Lifestyle?”

Anna: Um, hmm.

Citizen LA: Care to say anything about that? Or are you just agreeing with me?

Anna: Yeah. Hahaha. You got it right.

Citizen LA: Ok then… one point for me!

Anna: Many kids in Europe and the States have everything, concerning material things. People think it’s so important to have every toy, every Nintendo game, every Wii. The kids say ‘I want this’ and the parents say ‘Oh yeah… I also wanted to have it too.’ And they buy it without understanding the consequences. The parents have to work very hard to afford these things and may not have the time to really concentrate on the kids who often suffer from lack of attention and love. That’s also a part of this isolation thing that is happening. This type of “isolation” is new and dangerous.

Citizen LA: And your sculptures are used to heal?

Anna: Yes.

Citizen LA: You talk about properly placed objects creating positive energy. So it’s very important where these objects fit in terms of your home, like Feng Shui?

Anna: Placing them is an important aspect, but Bronze as a metal is very powerful. I poured the same sculpture in plastic, but the energy felt different. One day, during an exhibition a man came in and looked at the bronze sculptures. He said ‘place your hand OVER the sculpture and just feel.’ I don’t normally do that, I normally touch my sculptures. When you touch the bronze, it’s really cold. So, I placed my hand over the sculpture and I really felt a “warmth” that came up, and I was surprised. That man said ‘we feel the positive energy through the material.’ If I would have done it with a different material, a negative energy, it would have felt different.

Citizen LA: You chose to have this show in Tequisquiapan, Mexico. But you have been traveling around Mexico for months. Are you doing art right now? Or just gathering information?

Anna: I traveled five months. In the sixth month I had to rent a house for one month because I was so full of creative energy that it had to come out, otherwise I would explode. I knew that I couldn’t work with wax and bronze. I was limited, but in a good way by the material that I found at the beach. And I loved it because I found the right pieces. I had to do it because I can’t live without doing art. I can’t live without connecting with people, and getting the information from them and helping them. And if I couldn’t do it… I would die.

Anna Skrabal is still alive and still working in bronze.
For more information on her artwork, visit http://skrabal.at