In contrast to most group shows where many of the works seem foreign to the subject or even forced into the theme of the show, “Suture: Phantasmen Der Volkommenheit” (Suture: phantasms of perfection) made it seem as if everything was in its place even though the meaning of the title remained uncertain. To be sure, the works had been precisely selected and displayed, yet it was extremely difficult to ascertain the commonalties among them. If everything seemed to be seamless without being rationally comprehensible, there was, on the other hand, a fissure in this perfection that was unsettling. A special quality of this exhibition was that it did justice to its subtitle, “phantasms of perfection,” in a way that went beyond the individual works.

From Matthew Barney to Herwig Turk, the works here focused on the body as a place where ideas of perfection constantly overlap. Of concern is a culturally produced body, esthetic norms, prescriptions of sexual identity, or the body’s imagined potential as a site of social transgression. The concept of suture was first adopted from psychoanalysis by film theory, and now it is used as a metaphor for the fragility of ideas about perfection in art. It marks every visible and invisible place where perfection proves to be a construct. That the bodies in this exhibition—inasmuch as they can be identified by gender—were primarily female corresponds to the concept of suture in the successors to Lacan who replace a real lack with the image of woman.

The videotape Omnipresence, 1993, Orlan’s seventh cosmetic surgery broadcast via satellite, was the most drastic example of the violent means that are the foundation of perfection. The cuts and sutures in Orlan’s face make apparent what remains invisible in Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills, 1977–80. Changing identities appear, but not the moments of change themselves. The technical apparatus of the film hides the material conditions of the construction of fantasies. In Dara Birnbaum’s Wonder Woman, 1978, a similar idea is demonstrated through the transformation of a simple housewife into an omnipotent super woman. The moment of transformation, that suture of reality and the imaginary, is marked simply by fiery rays.

Herwig Turk’s “Superorgane” (Super organs, 1994), fetishizes the senses as sexually occupied objects. In Turk’s computer-generated photographs, the mirror images of halved body parts make them threatening tools. The eye mutates through its isolation, doubling, and close-up into an unidentifiable organ that resembles a vagina. It becomes both the subject and object of a pornographic gaze. Similarly in Suture, 1994, Elke Krystufek photographs her own sexual organs by way of a mirror and presents them to the viewer whose desirous gaze she has incorporated into the camera.

Rosemarie Trockel’s Schizo-Pullover, 1988, is concerned with another type of psychic split; there is one sweater with two turtlenecks. This identity split is echoed in John Miller’s Echo and Narcissus, 1990, and in Laura Ruggeri’s Io rifletto (I reflect, 1993), the most abstract work in this exhibition. These works as well as those by Inez van Lamsweerde and Maria Hahnenkamp all deal with possible conceptions of perfection in terms of gender identity and the “suture” needed to reveal that identity.

Christian Kravagna

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.