Die zu sein scheint, die bin ich

Early photographic works by Birgit Jürgenssen, Cindy Sherman, Katharina Sieverding, and Francesca Woodman
September 17 – November 26, 2016

Galerie Thomas Schulte presents with the exhibition Die zu sein scheint, die bin ich photographs from the 1970s by Birgit Jürgenssen, Cindy Sherman, Katharina Sieverding, and Francesca Woodman. The artists demonstrate, how – using self-timer and masquerade – each has found her own very individual way to express her ideas. Common ground for their representations are the artists’ own faces and bodies, which, both as tools and medium unrestrictedly at their disposal. Although the artists did and do not necessarily see their work in an explicitly feminist context, it helped to extend the field of photographic self-representation and female iconographies. While the work is less about a want of representation, instead the artists are both subject and object of the photographs; they are both present and simultaneously absent. They masquerade in such a way that the subject is not their own identity, but the context in which they pose.

Chronologically the exhibition begins with three digital projections by Katharina Sieverding, who with a seductive immediacy has distinguished herself as one of the pioneers in female introspection during the 1970s. In the installation we see a sequence of 405 self-portraits – en face and projected larger than life – from the years 1969 to 1973, which can be said to be a kind of résumé of the artist’s engagement with the theme. Sieverding’s portraits range from self-portraits, which through the process of solarisation have been alienated into various characters and which originated around the same time as Stauffenbergblock, to the works titled Transformer,which with their content-related radicalism and farsightedness supersede the binary roles of female and male, and which therefore by far transcend the descriptive and necessarily critical search of many of her contemporaries.

The most well known representative of photographic self-staging today is probably Cindy Sherman, whose rationale until now has been to dress up and act in front of the camera. In her 1976 series Untitled (Bus Riders) the artist assumes the roles of different passengers. Her poignantly developed prototypes, which are representative for a whole set of characters, can be found in daily life, and therefore can be described as a kind of social study. Later, Sherman began to develop the series Untitled Film Stills (1977-1980). In order to produce the blackand-white photographs, the artist transformed herself into a range of female figures complying with stereotypical male ideals. Although Sherman never understood her work as being a political statement, „everything in it was drawn from [her] observations as a woman in this culture. And part of that is a love/hate thing – being influated with makeup and glamour and detesting it at the same time.“

Around the same time the Viennese artist Birgit Jürgenssen in her multi-faceted work reflects not only her own identity, but begins deconstructing culturally defined concepts of femininity. In her poetic and experimental polaroids, most of which are on show in this exhibition for the first time, the artist explores her own body using objects like masks or pieces of furniture. Often Jürgenssen focuses on details showing only fragmented parts of her body, or edits the capture of her face during the image processing in such a way that it becomes distorted.

Both aesthetically as well as in terms of their subject related to Jürgenssen’s work are the smallscale black-and-white photographs by Francesca Woodman. Over a period of only nine years, the artist, who died while she was still very young, has produced a remarkable photographic oeuvre staging her often naked body in relation to the spatial surroundings. Capturing herself in front of shedding wallpaper and crumbling plaster, alongside mirrors and frames, the artist not only evokes the fragility of her own body, but similar to Birgit Jürgenssen also references surrealist pictorial strategies. While Jürgenssen for her series on the theme of the Death and the Maiden poses together with a mask cast from her own face, Woodman captures herself alongside a dark imprint of her silhouette left next to her on the floor dusted with flour. The performative act which preceded the photograph, has been frozen within the actual self-portrait of the artist as its sole witness.

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