Critics’ Picks

View of “Andrea Bowers: Cultivating the Courage to Sin,” 2013.

Berlin

Andrea Bowers

Capitain Petzel
Karl-Marx-Allee 45
September 19–November 9

Art and activism don’t always blend well, and at times the combination results in work that features what might at most kindly be described as activist readymades: hours of video footage, piles of pamphlets, or unedited documentation as a nostalgic trip back to the good old days. Yet Andrea Bowers’s debut exhibition at Capitain Petzel, a thrilling ride devoted to ecofeminism, makes a difference in that it has both an outspokenly social and a decidedly aesthetic agenda. It is even—dare I use the F-word?—fun.

Take, for instance, Radical Feminist Pirate Ship Tree Sitting Platform (all works cited, 2013), which is, indeed, an appropriation of a fully equipped tree-sitting platform in the guise of a pirate ship (visitors are invited to climb). Here, Bowers—herself a tree-sitting activist—raises a literal feminist sail, one that features a quote from Mary Daly on it. The work is also a response to a (failed) rescue mission, which Bowers recently participated in, to save an native oak woodland habitat in California. It is not the only piece here that is informed by this particular act of civil disobedience: The hanging sculpture Memorial to Arcadia Woodlands Clear-Cut, resembling a giant string chandelier, is made out of ropes that could be used by tree-sitters, while its pendants are the wood chips that Bowers collected when the forest was cut down.

Mug Shot, a painstakingly accurate rendering of Bowers’s mug shot—taken after she was arrested for tree sitting—is one of the more discreet works in this show and is perhaps its pièce de resistance. It bespeaks a political engagement as well as an engagement with art, namely contemporary portraiture (Think of Warhol’s Thirteen Most Wanted Men, 1964). Mug Shot could surely also be seen in the light of irony, as an activist’s badge of honor. However, it mainly declares Bowers’s effort to reclaim her self-image, imbuing the drawing process with an ancient, almost magical belief in the power of creation.