Kati Heck

Two nearly naked, life-size men are looking at us. The expressions on their faces can say or mean anything. Is it arrogance, disinterest, or plain boredom? One is sitting on a chair, legs stretched out on a barstool. The other is leaning toward his friend. Or is it his friend? And what’s wrong with the hand of the seated man? It looks like blood is being tapped from his fingers into weird objects. In Kati Heck’s paintings things are suggested that must be interpreted or even projected by the viewer. The interaction between the two men in Chapeau, 2005, seems more like that of partners than, say, close friends, relatives, or lovers. Even though they wear nothing but socks and underwear, they look in a way like businessmen. They could be lawyers or stockbrokers. Partners in crime. On the painting is written the German phrase UNTER UNS, which can be translated as “between us,” but an alternative interpretation would be “beneath us.” But then again, is it a question, guidance as to how to look at this image, or a secret message?

Erdegard, 2005, is even more weird. It seems to be some kind of graphic letter. On one hand we see two young people, their hair combed in front of their faces like masks. Again, it is hard to tell what they are thinking—if they are having any thoughts whatsoever. The image has more to do with what it’s keeping hidden than what it’s saying. What look like text balloons from comics are attached to their feet, but they are empty. And why does the girl have a table growing out of her body? To make the enigma complete, a third, and slightly deformed figure—the artist herself—is leaning against the table. Just one thing is clear—the message for Erdegard written underneath the girls: WENN ICH GROSS BIN WERD’ ICH KAMIKAZE (When I grow up, I’ll be kamikaze).

Also on view was a quantity of photos and drawings with very diverse content. Heck herself plays a prominent role in a lot of them. Sometimes she is the hero but often she is just as much a victim of the burlesque scenery as the rest of the figures portrayed. In the garden of the gallery a hut was installed. Above the entrance hung a neon sign reading Grüne Hölle (Green Hell), as if one were about to enter a fairground attraction. The videos shown inside the shack were a display of absurdity—the artist dressing up as an ape, talking to another would-be ape, for instance. Or an imitation detective movie, deliberately bad and rather silly. However varied Heck’s paintings, photos, and videos may appear, the overall impression they give is of an aggressive, punkish attitude, a refusal to accept the world as it is. Though she uses a cartoony, excessive, and rather vulgar but funny style to talk about the world, Heck can’t hide the fact that she is a gifted and masterful artist. Her work is more classical than she wants it to seem; like George Grosz in the ’20s, she talks about a disturbing world by painting absurd and grotesque images, but always using a brilliant technique. Heck has the capacity to become a contemporary Grosz, a caustic chronicler of our crazy world—a rebel with a cause.

Jos Van den Bergh