Katharina Karrenberg

Galerie Barbara Weiss; NGBK

Although Katharina Karrenberg’s artistic practice is undoubtedly based upon her highly politicized consciousness, she disagrees with the division between political and nonpolitical art. For her, art is always conditioned by the politics of seeing and the politics of representation. In most of her earlier pieces, Karrenberg directly addressed societal tensions. By producing images—installations and “picture-objects”—she makes visible the invisible conflicts and tensions that constitute everyday experience. But she proffers neither their reconciliation nor their sublation in her work. In the wall installation Völker ohne Räume (Peoples without rooms/space, 1991)—part of the group show “Heimat” (Homeland) in 1991—Karrenberg dealt with the German past and the East German everyday present. The installation Feeding the Art System I, 1992, focused on the world-wide problem of starvation and the German multicultural present. In the work Feeding the Art System II, 1992, installed in Eastern Berlin, she addressed the art system, the acute tensions of the East and West-German dialogue, and the Western “soft colonization” of the East with art, hers included.

If in the two most recent installations her approach seemed more oblique, it is because she bypassed both pictorial and iconic representation. None of the two works contained images; they were made up of texts. She refused here to offer materialized images as she did in her “picture-objects.” In Standbein rechts Spielarm links (Standing leg right playing arm left, 1992), Karrenberg used a text to speak about art, culture, and politics. This installation was, in fact, about another unrealized installation that initially dealt with the image of femininity as it is constructed by art history, literature, philosophy, and the mass media. Now, Karrenberg intends to examine the ideology of representing the female body and femininity as it appeared in the sculptural work, The Judgement of Paris, 1941, by a Nazi sculptor, Josef Thorak. In one part of her not-yet realized installation, she plans to replace three female statues from Thorak’s work with a living sculpture of three black men while the other part deals with issues of contemporary racism.

The fragmented text presented in this show was divided into about 200 “pages” and placed on gray empty slipcases installed in a rigid horizontal row. The exhibition space was poorly lit, stressing the intentionally austere, even dry, visual character of the piece. The “broken” text wandered from écriture feminine to science fiction, economics to nature, private memory to philosophy, world politics to the view from the window. It touched on the market and the function of the art system, artistic production, media, and color theory. The backbone of this writing was, however, Karrenberg’s reflection on Germany’s political past and present, National Socialism and its esthetics, contemporary right radicalism, skinheads, xenophobia, patriarchy, sexism, and violence.

The visual impact of the installation Salzlecken (Salt block, 1992), was completely different. Karrenberg used material associated with “female domesticity.” The text—an apocalyptic narrative—was written in salted white dough and mounted where the wainscoting had been previously fitted. The white writing on the white wall contrasted with a dark vision of deconstruction that was emphasized by the comic-strip like endings of each sentence (“splash,” “crash,” “boom”).

Karrenberg suggests that political art today is not and cannot be made by an optimist. An optimist, as the aphorism states, is nothing but a badly informed pessimist. It goes without saying that a political artist has to be properly informed about the world we live in.

Bojana Pejic