Elke Krystufek and Franz Graf

Galerie Metropol

In three rooms on two floors Elke Krystufek and Franz Graf dramatize the possibilities of energy flow, exploring the different intensities and conditions of potential energy. In a moving stream produced by expansion and decentralization (Krystufek), as well as by concentration and the definition of boundaries (Graf), the two artists display a rich spectrum, turning the gallery space into a stage on which events unfold. It is up to the viewer, however, to play a part on this stage and to project his/her own history onto it. The artists provide the raw material, but the viewer must choose the role.

At the entrance one finds oneself in a paper forest composed of countless signs, all bearing the unmistakable mark of autobiographical description. Letters, newspaper clippings, Polaroids, and drawings are mixed with pieces of clothing, balloons, cigarettes, and plastic bags: the individual elements slowly coalesce into a fragmentized, female self-portrait. In this shy experiment of producing a minimal order along stretches of string, yarn, tape, and wire, the fragments let one begin to sense a totality only by their very density. In a luxuriance of private mythology, the fragments capture a 21-year-old life story, just before the onset of the present—most vulnerable by its immediate proximity—could be too mercilessly exposed. Such a consequence of total self-exposure is offset in the next room by the graphic precision of the work.

From his earlier, nearly spiritual installations that demonstrated the transparency and transcendence of drawing, Graf has retained only a monochrome black ink drawing, over six feet tall, which surrounds the viewer and the interior space of the gallery. Krystufek has suspended a delicate, withdrawn arrangement consisting of a photo, a goat’s skull, and a plastic rose above a worn studio chair. On the one hand this sculptural construction frees that private mythology from its egocentric frame of reference and, on the other, it playfully diverts its insinuated development toward real, physical exposure. A fugitive nude self-portrait is partly concealed by a trifling poem by Goethe’s anacreontic predecessor J. W. L. Gleim that evokes lust for life—and not least of all eroticism—in a memento mori mood: “Pick roses, roses bloom. . . . ” The viewer is drawn by voyeurism into the text.

On the lower floor, the means of expression are shifted. The entire floor space is strewn with graffitilike drawings and texts by Krystufek: the present-time act of writing and drawing as an energy-event counterpoints the documentary memories on the upper floor. The themes do not camouflage personal involvement, but they do expand the subjective myth into the realm of social, urban reality. The spiraling train composed of many little scribbled cars follows the rotations of an opthalmologist’s revolving chair, skinned down to its structural skeleton. The broken switch is capable only of making the chair circle monotonously, nonstop on its own axis. One’s eyes can only momentarily catch the two photos attached to the end of the footrest: a snapshot of the artist in garters beside a portrait of Marilyn Monroe.

In releasing their energies on each other and on the viewer, Krystufek and Graf are not searching for union; they stop short of actually touching, remaining in that tense and friction-laden state of approach. They set free an eroticism in art that is situated in a kind of no-man’s-land, between the borders, an arena that only seldom allows for tangents and defines itself precisely by being nobody’s property. One’s own territory is carefully maintained, and one’s autonomy remains inviolate. And yet there is an awareness of one another and a willingness to move boundaries, to come closer. Each artist demonstrates a mechanism for responding to the other. As different as their methods may be, they open a channel of communication.

Johanna Hofleitner

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.