Heavy Satin, Last Tango
Lisa Biedlingmaier, Roman Gysin & Manon Wertenbroek
24.01.20 – 14.03.20
Curated by Arianna Gellini and Linda Jensen
Photo credit: Kilian Bannwart
Heavy Satin is an exhibition that aims to explore the potential of ambiguity, be it through the de-polarizing of stereotypes or by testing escapist strategies. The title seeks to conjure thoughts of an impending weight, subtly suggestive of the aggression and machismo of Heavy Metal yet also evoking the
voluptuous feminine sensuality of satin.
In Heavy Satin categorical divisions between systems such as decoration vs. fine arts, tastefulness vs. vulgarity, masculinity vs. femininity, artifice vs. reality are challenged. Perspectival shifts in hanging are to be experienced throughout. Roman Gysin‘s wall sculptures are placed at variable heights. Lisa Biedlingmaier‘s work can be seen from various angles and their see-throughness creates a layered view. Manon Wertenbroek‘s Zippers alters our interaction with the wall as the classical support structure. In 2013 the curator Uta Ruhkamp wrote in Textile Turning-Point: “While Arts-and-Crafts in the 21st century was a reaction to industrialized mass production, it now seems to be the digital age in the 21st century that motivates a shift towards working by hand and textile materials.”
Currently it seems there is an interest in hybridity, combining traditionally linked mediums of feminist defiance art such as crochet and embroidery with different materials and techniques be it carpentry or digital image manipulating. The artists delve into the complexity of archetypal figures such as the witch or clown (contrasexuality), masquerade as an empowering device or the valorizing of aesthetic canons that have been pejoratively connoted, be it romanticism or the kitsch. There is an omnipresent sense of the crafting and sometimes healing hand, with sculptures, painted photographs, and installations having tactile surfaces and textures such as satin, soil, rope, felt, zip, latex and tulle. We come to reminisce upon childhood with its magical memories of fantasy and role-play but also contrastingly to the adult world of BDSM with the fetishistic desire to touch, tie and tease.
Manon Wertenbroek (born 1991 in Lausanne, lives and works in Paris)
In Wertenbroek‘s new body of works of sculptures, painted photographs and installations she has been testing the lack of fixity and allowing for ideas to cross-pollinate within a single work, or cluster of works. Juxtaposing imagery from literary or psychoanalytical themes her costume-based works Witch (2019) and Clown (2019) are made up of latex casts of the artist’s face and skin. Like a snake changing its skin, Wertenbroek performs a dress up, a form of embellishment as critique. They are allegorical faces, masks to whom the artist has been granting the power to defy expected social traits.
In The Witch and the Clown: Two Archetypes of Human Sexuality Ann and Barry Ulanov note how “the archetypes of witch and clown are points of entry for the outlawed opposites within us, the archaic energies of sexuality and spirit.” Following the Jungian notion of “contrasexuality” the witch and clown can be understood as symbolic identities that represent a complex combination of traits and experiences of man and woman. Wertenbroek‘s Witch conveys sexual and irrepressible drive. She has a silver face with partially closed eyes make it seem as if she is rising, awakening from a lethargic trance-like hibernation.
A rainbow colored sequin tutu is placed as a collar supporting the heart-shaped mask of Wertenbroek‘s Clown. A long blond wig is set against a silver, star studded body suit. Relating to the world of emotions, the clown breaks down cultural imposed ego-boundaries. It plays with ambiguity. The clown has often been adopted as a symbol for the collapse of man as the achieving sex.
The photographic self-portraits of Claude Cahun come to mind. Born Lucy Schwob, she changed her name into Claude Cahun in 1920 becoming one of the exponents of surrealist photography. Her work explored gender identity and the subconscious mind constantly pushing the boundary between masculinity and femininity. She once said “Under this mask, another mask. I will never finish removing all these faces.” If the eeriness of emptiness behind the mask is present, it is also the risk of what is hiding behind the costume. What is it? What is real or surreal? Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921) addresses these issues concerning identity and its crisis. As the title denotes the play is about six abandoned characters in search of an author. Similar to Wertenbroek’s Clown and Witch they have no names and are defined only by their functions: Father, the Mother, the Step-Daughter, and so forth. As one of the character announces: “a character, sir, may always ask a man who he is. Because a character has really a life of his own, marked with his special characteristics; for which reason he is always ‘somebody.’ But a man—I’m not speaking of you now—may very well be ‘nobody’.”
This notion of the somebody as opposed to the nobody, brings up two different perspectives on the autobiographical. We hold various social masks but we also have a specific image of ourselves. What does it mean having as opposed to performing a particular body? Paul Thek’s The Tomb (1967) seems an interesting reference. A full-size, painstakingly crafted effigy of Thek himself positioned inside a pink ziggurat Thek conceived this work as a self referential piece, as a narcissistic joke. This work hints at the end of the hippie movement and a turning point in Thek’s practice. Similarly, Wertenbroek’s Selfportraits mark a more painterly switch in her photographic practice. Previously known for her interest in portraiture as a way to look into human interactions, she composed her works in a multi-step process. She would place various objects and light sources in front of hand engraved PVC mirror panels, which she would then photograph. Her new photographs follow a painting-printing-painting process. They are reflections of her naked body, jewelry and ropes which are diffracted making foreground and background collide. Printed on painted grainy Hahnemühle paper allows the artist to accentuate the contrast of the motifs freeing them from a purely photographic flatness and as a result highlighting the poetics of body and skin. À la Hannah Villiger the PVC abstracts her body enticing the gaze to her crevices and bulges. Wertenbroek seems to harks back to 1960s feminist performances, where the body was militant and interested in puppeteering the male gaze.
In the site-specific works Zipper H116.5 and Zipper H250 (both 2019) zippers are embedded in the walls. Visual triggers they are suggestive of an entrance, be it to an unknown world of fantasy or a portal to desire, the work also play with the idea of inaccessibility. Despite their familiarity they are also enigmatic punctuating the space in a double play of exhibitionism or chaste retreat.