View of “Natalie Häusler,” 2018. Photo: Ivo Faber.

View of “Natalie Häusler,” 2018. Photo: Ivo Faber.

Natalie Häusler

KIT - Kunst Im Tunnel

View of “Natalie Häusler,” 2018. Photo: Ivo Faber.

Natalie Häusler is a poet as well as a visual artist and typically designs environments in which objects and language organically flow into each other. In this exhibition, titled “Honey,” she created a complex scenario incorporating disparate forms of presentation, linked through open dramaturgical interconnections and peppered with literary, aesthetic, and sociopolitical references. Every attempt to come to grips with the ensemble as a whole led the viewer to further avenues of inquiry and generated ever broader chains of association. 

The dense polyphony that ensued was thematically bound up with the specific setting of KIT – Kunst im Tunnel. A leftover section from a tunnel-building project, it is a long, narrow, windowless space that slopes gently downward and has walls of exposed concrete. One enters through a sunny café on the banks of the Rhine; once inside, one is suddenly in another world. Inspired by the walled pleasure garden in the thirteenth-century Roman de la rose (Romance of the Rose), Häusler reinterpreted the space metaphorically in the medieval tradition of the hortus conclusus, or enclosed garden, as an image of paradise suffused by themes of love and eros.

At once prelude and exposition of the show was AQUASCAPE 1 (Mountain), 2018, a hexagonal aquarium (its shape recalling that of a honeycomb cell) featuring a miniature underwater landscape with a lava mountain and aquatic plants. A similarly-shaped pedestal, which raised this scene to eye level, was covered in ceramic tiles bearing images that depict the organic world in a loosely ornamental way. From there, WALL 1,2018—a translucent dyed curtain with various phrases printed on it—led into the central part of the exhibition. Hanging there were twenty-six unique silk-screened prints from a 2018 series whose title is a quotation from the Roman de la rose, “I saw a garden / large and fair / enclosed with battlemented wall / sculpted without / with many a figure / and inscription neat.” Each was a different color, but all featured fish-scale patterns on sheer fabric; they seemed like imaginary lattice windows on the bare concrete walls. Printed on each was a phrase—SEXUAL SELECTION, CONCEPTUAL CAMOUFLAGE, DISRUPTIVE COLORATION—taken from a dictionary of ecological terminology, thus literalizing the idea of these associative picture windows as a view onto the environment. 

In the center of the show was the fountain Bethsabée reste au bain, 2018, a nearly forty-foot-long sculpture incorporating sound and text. The water theme, already announced in AQUASCAPE 1 (Mountain), was here realized in the form of a hydrotherapy basin, by means of which Häusler connected the early-twentieth-century German back-to-nature Lebensreform movement with the biblical story of Bathsheba, rewritten so as to give its protagonist a new autonomy. Handmade tiles decorated with letters of the alphabet formed the cladding of the basin and spelled out the text of the story; a sound-collage version was also available on headphones. In such ways, Häusler’s work spans an enormously broad spectrum of forms and subjects, and again and again textuality proves to be something that eases connections and created new links, enabling her to draw out the poetic and utopian content of the fabric of reality. 

Translated from German by Alexander Scrimgeour.