Ulrike Lienbacher

Galerie Krinzinger / Österreichisches Museum für Angewandte Kunst

The room where Ulrike Lienbacher presented over sixty drawings, one above the other, seemed to be peopled by plastic stools. Her sensitive, schematic lines sketch figural poses, hands, and heads—but no faces, perhaps to evince all the more perfectly the graphic renderings of hairstyles. Through sparing use of color, Lienbacher accentuates particular details: fingers, soles of feet, or strands of hair. The girlish figures evoke iconographic memories: seated, kneeling, or slightly turned body positions familiar to us from the history of art. What at first glance look like classical studies for paintings turns out, within the rigorous framework of Lienbacher’s work, to be variations on her central theme, namely, the ideal body and its discipline.

Concurrent with the exhibition at the Galerie Krinzinger was a solo show at the Österreichisches Museum für Angewandte Kunst (Austrian Museum of Applied Arts). There, Lienbacher tiled a room with an ornamental pattern in linoleum and exhibited a selection of drawings as well as short videos on two monitors. The installation was called “Aufräumen” (Cleaning up)—a theme introduced with Schmutzig (Dirty), 2002, a video of paint blots. The second video, Toilette, also 2002, continuously repeats an animated drawing of hands washing and wiping a torso and playing with its chest hair. The artist evoked not only the ideal body but also its real-life, pragmatic flip side: personal hygiene, but also cleanliness as a compulsion.

A reference to the idea of “aufgeräumt”—cleaned up, or blithe—was also present in Lienbacher’s exhibition at Krinzinger, in an image of a girlish figure somersaulting into a paint blot. Yet another aspect of the ideal body is addressed here: eroticism. Drawings of hair and hands capture intimate situations, and another drawing shows a pair of underpants pulled down around the calves. The latent eroticism of these drawings arises not from some voyeuristic perspective, but from a loss of discipline. Even the stools play with this connotation. The strange plastic forms do serve as seating, but their form, which narrows at the base, compromises their stability. Upholstered with fake fur, they cannot help but remind one of wig stands—even their fabric and color are like a head of hair. Here, though, the coiffures are not artful, as they are in the drawings, but rather undisciplined.

In conversation, Lienbacher says that “high-performance bodies,” compulsive perfection, and conventions of self-discipline are the points of reference in her work. In individual drawings, objects, and photographs these themes remain tacit, understated. Lienbacher approaches her subjects neither didactically nor strategically, but rather creates a media-rich system of references. Thus only in the play of meaning among her various works does it become apparent how she transposes her theme into a multifaceted, sensual expression.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.