The exhibitions FEMININE and FEMININE II at Galerie Priska Pasquer focus on two strong female points of view. Following on FEMININE – the first dual exhibition featuring an extensive selection of works by ULRIKE ROSENBACH (b. 1943) as well as works by Angela Brandys (b. 1988) – the gallery now presents FEMININE II, a curated selection of works by Ulrike Rosenbach and the most recent works of Johanna Reich (b. 1977).
As one of the earliest performance and media artists, Ulrike Rosenbach has been creating innovative works with photography, video and multimedia installations since the late 1960s. As early as 1969, as a master pupil of Joseph Beuys at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, she founded a group of female artists with connections to the women’s liberation scene in the United States. In 1970, upon the invitation of Lucy Lippard, Rosenbach participated in the first major US exhibition consisting solely of women artists, 1000 Miles from Here. In 1973, she appeared in her first live video performance in New York. This was followed by an appointment as lecturer in Feminist Media Art at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Valencia, California. John Baldessari was also teaching at CalArts at that time. During this period and in this context, she produced important groups of works on ideal feminine images and their trivialisation in the media. The themes that Ulrike Rosenbach explored are still current and highly relevant today. Her experimental works were presented at international exhibitions as well as at the documenta 6 (1977) and documenta 8 (1987). She was awarded the Gabriele Münter Prize in 2004. In 2012, she was recognised for her life’s work with the Künstlerinnenpreis NRW (Women Artists’ Prize North Rhine-Westphalia).
In FEMININE II, Priska Pasquer presents photographic works, video stills, drawings and objects by Ulrike Rosenbach with a focus on the early and significant subject of ‘Hauben für eine verheiratete Frau’ (‘Hoods for a married woman’).
At the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Ulrike Rosenbach initially studied sculpture with Norbert Kricke before transferring to the class of Joseph Beuys, for whom the term ‘plastic’ had a special relevance. His theory of plasticity, as well as pairs of terms – such as Stasis and Movement, Stagnation and Change, The Crystalline and The Organic, Order and Chaos, Intellect and Intuition – are interesting when we observe the different manifestations of sculpture in the work of Ulrike Rosenbach, which comprises object art, media sculptures and room installations, along with performances and video works in which the artist moves through space and time with her own body.
Among her earliest plastic works are the hood and collar objects created between 1969 and 1971, which, as wearable objects, are related to the human body, expanding upon it while at the same time restricting its movement. Transparent gauze fabric is stretched over wire frameworks. Feathers, muslin bandages, wax, ice and seashells may also be used to envelop or embellish them. Photographic works from this period portray Ulrike Rosenbach as the wearer of these clothing-like objects. The title of this group of works invokes the societal and cultural dimension through which the young artist expressed her political interest in women’s issues while simultaneously addressing her own identity as an artist, woman, wife and mother.
The historical models for these head coverings and neck ruffs have always been indicators of social affiliation and status. Whereas for men, hats primarily communicated authority and rank, feminine headgear or coverings signalled whether a woman was single, married or widowed, thereby pointing out her lack of independence – especially given the fact that the traditional dress was dictated by a male-dominated society. Ulrike Rosenbach’s ‘Hörnerhauben’ (‘double hennins’) are based on a French court fashion of the fifteenth century, exaggerated to a playful and ironic extent.
In her multifaceted drawings in this thematic area, Ulrike Rosenbach develops her clearly distinguishable perspectives and conceptions of the objects. When the shapes are sketched free of context, they appear as sculptural structures with their own formal qualities: volume, lightness, rigidity and transparency – an interplay between outer shell and interior space. When they are presented in relation to a body – placed, for example, on the suggestion of a bust – they reveal their characteristic effect, one that defines the wearer. Ulrike Rosenbach can be seen as the wearer of her objects only in her photographic works; she never wore them in performances. Only the early video work Zeichenhaube (Drawing Hood, 1972) indirectly shows a double portrait of the artist as a still and a moving image with her head wrapped. Facing the viewer – that is, the camera – she draws on a pane of glass, creating the illusion that her pen is touching the monitor screen from the inside. She first draws a hood shape, followed by a grid structure reminiscent of bars on a prison window. In doing so, she ‘places’ the sketched hood on her own still portrait, which appears to look over her shoulder. In this way, a simple action is woven into a complex nesting of reflected and doubled images. The multi-levelled overlapping of formal and substantive layers of images is a fascinating characteristic of Ulrike Rosenbach’s works.
Works by the media artist JOHANNA REICH (b. 1977) have been displayed in museum exhibitions, biennials and festivals and recognised with, among other honours, the Nam June Paik Award (2006), the Konrad von Soest Award (2011) and the Cultural Prize of the Rhineland Regional Council (2017).
For over ten years, Johanna Reich has been creating a widely varied body of work that defies conventional categorisation. Her subjects and methods extend beyond the use of photography, video and computers to also incorporate painting, sculpture, performance and historical images. Working with historic artistic and cinematic models, she plumbs the relationship between static and moving images and explores the possibility of constructing reality through artificially recorded and transported images. She expands her spectrum of content – which encompasses questions about post-digital production, the reception of images and differentiated reflections in the media – to include broader cultural, historical and philosophical themes. The exhibition FEMININE II presents her most recent works.
For the project Resurface, Johanna researched women’s positions in art in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in a variety of archives. The result was a collection of 300 female artists who were successful in their own lifetimes but sank into obscurity over the course of history. Thanks to digitalisation, their works and biographies are gradually reappearing on the internet – or have been placed online by Johanna Reich – and are thereby infiltrating the male-dominated image of art history. Johanna Reich photographed the historic photographic portraits – which were digitalised for Wikipedia – from a computer monitor using a Polaroid camera; she then filmed the photo development process with a video camera.
In Resurface I, Johanna Reich allowed the portraits of forgotten women artists to reappear. Viewers can experience the gradual process through which the images become visible in the development of the Polaroid photographs in real time – either as a video projection on a large screen or, in another version, on a small screen within a photo frame.
Resurface II is dedicated to the more ‘successful’ of the underappreciated female artists – that is, those whose works have been recognised and displayed in museums but who nevertheless remain underrepresented. Johanna Reich took their portraits using the same Polaroid technique; here, however, she scanned them at an early stage of their development, at the precise moment in which the outlines become perceptible. These images – captured at a special moment in the cycle between digital and analogue – are displayed in the exhibition in large formats, almost like paintings.
A hybrid work made up of sculpture and video projection bears the title The World’s on Fire. A non-representational clay structure appears simultaneously amorphous and yet shaped. Its silhouette remains unclear and rugged, but it is nevertheless clear that its form and surface have been moulded by hands. The hand of an artist, the human hand, the creative human being. Onto the archaic sculpture, a video image is projected which connects the subject of hands with images of fire. Numerous pairs of hands interact with one another, forming gestures and signs; at the same time, flickering flames seem to dance over their skin. Ever since human beings learned to use fire, an ambivalence has existed between potential and danger, between creative and destructive energy – just as it has existed in nearly every technological development since.
The video work Virgins Land depicts the artist herself on a deserted beach. On her outstretched arms she holds a gold-coloured emergency blanket that flutters like a flag in the strong wind. The reduction of the pictorial components leaves room for a wide variety of associations – in an undescribed landscape with an undescribed flag: a perspective that encompasses dynamism and standstill. For refugees, the emergency blanket can mean the difference between life and death; as a golden surface within the image, it can traditionally refer as much to material treasure as to supernatural reality. Whereas in some of her earlier videos, Johanna Reich appears intentionally androgynous or neutral – in neutral clothing with hooded tops – here she is consciously recognisable as a female actor: a female view into the past, the present and the future. The prospect of a new beginning?