CLEMENS TREMMEL – UR (PRIMORDIAL NATURE)

Text: Sophie A. Gerlach

Translation: Brian Poole



Roaring and raging behind impenetrable fog, one can glimpse a place that just might be the origin of the world—a boundless breadth of nature in its most unsullied form.


The forces of nature, melancholy, and longing, and yet also a fine sensitivity to the uniqueness of nature, appear united in Clemens Tremmel’s latest paintings. His journey to Iceland last year left a deep impression on the artist, the results of which can be seen during the exhibition “Ur” at the gallery Morgen Contemporary, running from the 5th of July 2014. The young artist uses the motifs and techniques of the old masters in his works, thereafter destroying parts of them in a conceptualist intervention. With impressive artistic maturity he extends his skilful hand to the forebears of the romantic period; yet he remains entirely contemporary in his intentions. At times subtly, at times empathically, the painter denounces the agitation of our modern world, while simultaneously indicating a metaphysical resolution in the path toward nature.


But in our contemporary world, such a return to a primordial origin is no longer attainable in any simplistic manner. The spectator is forced to search for what the painter has destroyed, and thus to listen to himself and to comprehend why the ideal of nature in its true form no longer, or just barely, exists. The small formats of these paintings function as a filter helping to tame the violent power of Iceland’s natural landscapes; the large formats in the series, by contrast, are monumental in every respect.


The individual is cast back upon himself. As in works by the grand old master Caspar David Friedrich, the individual appears to be yielded up to the mercy of nature’s expanse. Indeed, what began in the romantic period—the dissolution of the collective, the emergence of the individual’s own consciousness with all its concomitant responsibility and the fatality of one’s own actions—is also depicted here, and this couldn’t be more topical.


At the same time, the pictures—once again, in Romanic manner—are mediators and windows to the infinite (Novalis). The interventions on the canvas occasionally seem to resemble dancing nature-spirits or spectra (Island 3 & 4), never entirely graspable, yet palpable. But precisely where Clemens Tremmel’s conscious encroachment upon the unity of the images seems so furious and painful (Island 3 & 6), the observer is called upon to face the confrontation the artist has sought.


The fine balance between subtlety and brute force, between nature and artistry, between historicity and contemporary spirit, creates a fascinating allure that is not easy to resist.



 

NIKI ELBE - IN THE WOODS

Das Gesamtwerk der in Berlin lebenden Künstlerin Niki Elbe manifestiert sich zum einen in Rauminstallationen, die gestalterische Elemente des Films, der Fotografie, der Sprache, des Objekts sowie der Malerei und Zeichnung vereinen, zum anderen in Serien von Zeichnungen und einzelnen Bildern. Die in ihren Zeichnungen ausgedrückten Erkenntnisse und Selbsterkenntnisse spiegeln eine psychologische Stärke wider, die sich aus den Erfahrungen von Liebe und Leid, Freude und Trauer, Freiheit und Unfreiheit, Bindung und Trennung, Zufriedenheit und Unzufriedenheit speisen. Somit sind Elbes Werke zutiefst menschliche Entäußerungen von Erlebnissen, von gelebtem, gefühltem oder gewünschtem Leben.

Die lyrischen Bildwelten entfalten durch ihre feine Zeichnung, ihr intensives Kolorit und die symbolisch verdichteten Formwelten eine besonders ausdrucksstarke, erzählerische Aura. Es sind teils autobiographisch anmutende, teils poetisch formulierte, teils reflexiv auf die Figur der Frau bezogene bildnerische Formulierungen von subjektiven Weltvorstellungen, Wünschen, Ängsten, Träumen und Wirklichkeitserfahrungen.

Meist bestimmen zart und anmutig gezeichnete Frauen – nackt, leicht bekleidet oder bekleidet – die kompakt komponierten Gestaltungen. Mit nur wenig, sicher gesetzten Linien konturiert Elbe ihre Körper, akzentuiert sie Körperteile und konzentriert sich auf das Gesicht als wesentlichen Ausdrucksfaktor. So offenbart sich der weibliche Körper in einigen Werken als feingliedrige, zarte, natürlich-weibliche Hülle sinnlicher Vorstellungen oder Lebenserfahrungen, während er in anderen Arbeiten als eminent erotisch und andeutungsweise herausfordernd erscheint oder sich hinter Kleidern oder Masken versteckt. Der weibliche Körper fungiert als zentraler Bestandteil von Erzählungen, die alltägliche Handlungen oder Geschehnisse in eine symbolisch angereicherte poetische Szenerie übertragen.

Elbes zeichnerische Bildwelten verbinden Vorstellungen aus Märchen und Mythologien, Träumen und Wirklichkeitsmomenten. Die Größenmaßstäbe von Figuren, Alltagsgegenständen und natürlichem oder architektonischem Ambiente werden nach dem Prinzip des mittelalterlichen Bedeutungsmaßstabs und nach den Vorstellungen der Künstlerin unterschiedlich gestaltet. Die weibliche Figur offenbart sich als ein im Einklang mit der Natur, den Pflanzen und Tieren agierendes Wesen, das sich seiner natürlichen Bedeutung und Weiblichkeit bewusst ist und sich als Individuum mit Fantasie, Intuition, Sensibilität und Erotik demonstriert. Der weibliche Körper wird zum einen als ein Organismus voll von Lust zur Sexualität begriffen, zum anderen als ein verletzbarer Organismus, der dem zarten Körper eines Rehs oder dem eines Vogels sehr nahe steht. Und so deutet Elbe mit symbolischen Gleichsetzungen oder Korrespondenzen zwischen Frau und Tier die innere Verbundenheit beider, ja sogar eine wechselwirksame Seelenverwandtschaft zwischen ihnen an.

Die oft wiederkehrende Figur des Hasen, meist überdimensioniert, wird als Partner und Freund dargestellt, als ein Symbol für die ständige Präsenz von Traum und Sexualität. Texte greifen dieses Moment des scheinbar entgegen gesetzten, aber bei näherer Betrachtung doch stimmigen Zusammenspiels von Wirklichkeit und Traum, Gegenwart und Erinnerung, sichtbaren und unsichtbaren Ereignissen ebenfalls grenzgängerisch auf.

Elbes Zeichnungen verdeutlichen die Rolle der Frau in der heutigen Zeit und Gesellschaft überaus sensibel. Sie ist Lustobjekt für den Mann, ein Wesen voll Sehnsüchten nach erfüllter Liebe, ein Element der Natur, des natürlichen Zyklus von Tag und Nacht, eine Wandlerin, die zwischen den Welten der Männer, der Arbeit, des Zuhause und des Berufs, der Kindererziehung und der Selbstfindung agiert und sich als autonome Frau verstanden wissen will. Sie ist aber ein Wesen der vielen Gesichter, des Verstellens und des Offenlegens, des Familiären und des Repräsentativen.

Elbes poetische Zeichnungen konfrontieren uns mit der Wirklichkeit des Lebens, der Wirklichkeit eines individuellen Daseins und der Wirklichkeit eines menschlichen Typus, der sich zwischen den Welten der Natur, der Kultur, Familie und Arbeit, der Lust, der Liebe und des Lebens bewegt. Es sind Werke von einer hohen Ehrlichkeit und Offenheit, die uns gleichzeitig erschrecken und faszinieren.

 

CHAOS UNDER CONTROL

Text: Lisbeth Bonde

Read more: Trine Boesen: News

 

Simon Menner – Pictures from the Secret STASI Archives

Simon Menner has always been fascinated by pictures that can be decoded in a variety of ways, yielding entirely different results. One picture seems to show us a simple tangible object, and yet the object is changed fundamentally and continuously by what the viewer knows about it and what the viewer expects to see. On a personal level this might not have such a decisive influence. But perception is not limited to the personal level; it also plays a decisive role in surveillance.

The Berlin-based photographer Simon Menner has dealt extensively with the subject of surveillance, and his research here has led him to conclude that there isn’t much available pictorial material showing the activity of surveillance from the perspective of those doing the surveillance rather than those under surveillance. Of course we are all familiar with the blurry images of surveillance cameras; but Menner suspected that there must be more. He was intrigued by the question of what the Orwellian ‘Big Brother’ sees when he has us under observation.

It is indeed astonishing that this field has not attracted more research, particularly here in Germany. After all, the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) was home to the State Security Service (STASI)—one of the largest surveillance apparatuses in history. Relative to the size of the population, the East German STASI had far more agents than the KGB or the CIA. After the wall dividing Germany was torn down most of the archive materials were opened to the public, and although access to these documents is subject to certain limitations, the sheer scope of this access is unparalleled among all the countries of the former Eastern Bloc. Even in the West, nothing like this exists. So it was only natural that Simon Menner approached the authorities responsible for storing the STASI archives with his request to see more. The authorities proved to be both kind and helpful. Menner received permission to sift through the photos at the archive and to make several reproductions.

Among the first things to catch his eye were the photos the STASI agents took while they were clandestinely searching people’s homes. The residents were not aware that their apartments or houses were being searched; indeed, many found out about it only after the fall of the wall. Whenever STASI agents searched someone’s flat, they first took pictures of the entire apartment to make sure they would be able to put everything back where it belonged before they left. Thus the photo of an unmade bed is actually a photo of an unmade bed before it was searched.

Many of these snapshots seem absurd; they may even be amusing. And yet we ought not to loose sight of the intention that led the STASI agents to take them. These photographs document the repressive measures taken by a totalitarian state in order to create terror and fear among the population. For Simon Menner, the banality of some of these images makes the horror he feels all the more poignant. They seem to be open to just about any interpretation, and thus they can be easily exploited as repressive instruments by agents who choose to make use of them. To take one example: a photo of a Siemens coffee machine. This product of a West German manufacturer could serve as evidence of contacts to West German agents, although it might simply have been a gift from relatives in the West. The interpretation could thus result in several years in prison. Here the fundamental restrictions implicit in any form of surveillance are apparent.

Perhaps the most disconcerting photos Menner found—when he began his research, he had no idea such  things existed—were the photographs made by STASI spies photographing other spies. Among the allied powers there were small units who were allowed to move freely between East and West Germany: the Military Liaison Missions (MLM). Both sides to the East and West considered these ‘Missions’ an ideal opportunity to spy on each other. Whenever a unit of MLM soldiers travelled through East Germany, the STASI did their best to observe them. Each side was well aware of the fact that the other side knew what they were up to. And that’s exactly what we see in these photos: an endless circle of reciprocal awareness. In Simon Menner’s opinion, this is a prototypical image of the Cold War. And that is why the artist is currently investigating whether comparable photographs are extant in the archives of the Western allies. Exhibited together, they would reveal the closed circularity of these activities.

The portraits of obviously disguised men document STASI agents participating in a course on the ‘art of disguising’. They represent what these agents considered to be an inconspicuous appearance. And although the contemporary viewer may find these images rather ludicrous, they, too, record the measures the state used to repress its own population.

Many of these images testify to an outrageous invasion of privacy perpetrated against those under surveillance. They raise the question whether this invasion of privacy ought to be repeated at a public presentation of the photos. Simon Menner is aware of this problem, but he firmly believes that it is important to exhibit these photos in order to stimulate public discussion. The discussion should not—in his opinion—merely deal with the activities of the STASI; rather, it should attempt to answer the broader questions raised by surveillance.

The photos Simon Menner was allowed to see in the STASI archive actually represent only a tiny fraction of the photos remaining there. Many of the snapshots he saw have not been looked at again since 1989. But each new decade’s anniversary of the fall of the wall and of German reunification brings with it, as one might well expect, yet another explosion of studies dedicated to the former East German state. And of course the State Security—as the “State within the State” spearheading the totalitarian repression—was at the centre of most people’s interest. However, to date no one has attempted anything like a visual study of the activities of the State Security. In Simon Menner’s opinion, this is more a task for artists and philosophers than for historians, since in this case the relevance for contemporary society ought to be accentuated. The State Security archives should be seen as an opportunity to gain insight into a secretly operating world. A similar study within the archives of the CIA or the NSA would be utterly impossible.
 

PHOTOGRAPHIC STRATEGIES AND SABINE DEHNEL

Text: Luminita Sabau

“A photo is not what’s photographed. It’s something else.”

Gary Winogrand

A fruitful generator of contemporary art in recent decades has been the friction zone between painting and photography. Well-known products to spring from it include Gerhard Richter’s “photo painting,” Jeff Wall’s staged “reportage,” and Thomas Demand’s use of models. Anyone who saw and remembers the film In the Mood for Love by Wong Kar-Wei will discover amazing parallels with the works of Sabine Dehnel. They reside in the principle of repetition. What is the film element in the oeuvre of this artist that is less prominent in the work of the other artists mentioned?

It is the way Dehnel ultimately really provides not individual pictures so much as slight variations of her principal subject, the human body and its coverings. The strongly sectional nature of her paintings and photographs draws attention to this key characteristic of the photographic picture but Dehnel also forms virtual “typologies” (Rock, Camping Chair) that could be formally derived from Bernd and Hilla Becher, in that she is interested both in the ornamental design of the overall space, and in the end her pictures are portraits (for example, Frieda) that, so it seems, are made in the knowledge that portraits also always de-individualize. Not infrequently for example the faces are cut off or the figures are seen from the rear and shown without feet on terra firma.

We are sent to look for clues. Colors and patterns tell of unfinished stories. You discover every change in the details, and yet the outcome remains uncertain. We have long realized that figuration and abstract are only apparently opposites. Dehnel also works with frictional energies from this area of conflict. Her pictures are both figurative and abstract at the same time, as they are both paintings and photos. In Dehnel’s artistic strategy a superficial formalism is simulated, which unmasks social interaction itself as conventionality or ornamentation.

The colors and decors, masks and modes are the codes that it all depends on. In this sense, her pictures are akin to the portraits by the commercial photographer Seydou Keïta in Bamako, the capital of Mali, from the fifties and sixties. Keïta set his women clients in their African robes against a backdrop of traditional materials, with comparable delightful aesthetic effects, so that the picture becomes decorative and flat and the materiality and graphic quality of the surfaces acquire an eloquence of their own. That makes Keïta’s historic, supposedly non-artistic photos so interesting. The codes of the fabrics and things in these traditional portraits are unknown to us Europeans, whereas the retro-aesthetics of young people’s clothing in Dehnel are familiar. They tell of stories and moods. In contrast with film, however, they are not spelt out.

Dehnel’s paintings and photographs arise in parallel. This brings out clearly the differing materiality of the surface of the photographic and painted picture. They age quite differently. The difference is not incidental, because it draws attention to the different temporalities of the two media. In a figurative sense as well, since the ambivalent relationship of the two pictorial registers shows up not least on the differing time horizons of an individual artistic gaze (subjectivity) on one hand and a description of reality (objectivity) on the other. Questions of clothing—which are prima facie superficial things—are today perhaps more than questions of identity. As Velvet Underground plaintively asked some years before Sabine Dehnel was born: “And what costume shall the poor girl wear/To all tomorrow’s parties?”

 

SERENE BEAUTY AND TOXIC DESIRE
(THE PAINTINGS OF ANDY HARPER)

Read more: Andy Harper: News

 

PHOTOGRAPHISCHE AGGREGATZUSTÄNDE

Text: Matthias Harder

Read more: Stefanie Seufert: News

 

ALASTAIR THAIN – MONOTHEISM

Text: Dr. Thomas Köhler, stellvertretender Direktor, Berlinische Galerie

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DANIELLA SHEINMAN – 9/11 SERIES

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PETER BUECHLER

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BACCARA SMART – KICKING SAWDUST

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Niki Elbe —Safari

Artist Niki Elbe lives in Berlin. Her work features not only room installations uniting design elements from film, photography, language, the objet, painting and drawing but also series of drawings and individual pictures. The findings and self-knowledge expressed in her drawings evidence a psychological strength drawn from the experiences of love and suffering, joy and sorrow, freedom and a lack of the latter, engaging in commitment and splitting up, satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Elbe’s works are thus deeply human ways of divesting herself of experiences, of a life that she has lived, experienced or desired.

Read more: Niki Elbe —Safari