press release

“Body Politics” features artists using their own or other bodies to make a political statement and/or take a critical position towards world politics. The exhibition includes emerging and established artists : Oladele Bamgboye, Karen Finley, Zhang Huan, Yayoi Kusama, Ingrid Mwangi, Shirin Neshat, Orlan, Carolee Schneemann, Lorna Simpson, Patti Smith, Jemima Stehli, David Webster and Hannah Wilke.

Yayoi Kusama’s work from the 1960s laid the foundation for “Body Politics.” By extending her minimal paintings onto the bodies of her friends and initiating public demonstrations, the artist conceived a means to denounce and publicly challenge the status quo—capitalist materialism, political imperialism, patriarchy and the uptight sexual culture of that time. The film Kusama’s Self-Obliteration (1976) and accompanying film stills were a collaboration between Kusama and photographer Jud Yalkut.

Carolee Schneemann in “Video Burn”(1992-2000)—a predictive series of computer-generated prints—employs contemporary print media, images from the TV news, and archaic forms of marking. Schneemann rephotographs and projects these images, digitally inserting her own body into the frame. The artist’s work examines distortions of the news and the shifting in popular culture towards cataclysm.

Ingrid Mwangi, an African artist residing in Germany, explores similar issues in her video work See in the Light (2002). Several individuals are filmed while watching TV reports about violence. The light that plays on the subjects’ faces reveals their reactions to and feelings about what they are seeing. Mwangi remarks: “Ultimately I challenge: is it enough to sit in a dark room across from flickering light and despair?”

Karen Finley’s work relates to controlled objectification of the female body and its image—this time not by male authorities, as was the case throughout art history, but by the artist herself, thus giving the action a different twist. In Nude in Museum (1992), Finley visits MOMA to pose nude in front of sculptures by famous male artists, and in Nursing Tape (1995) reworks Pollock’s famous paint drips by squirting milk from her lactating breasts onto the canvas.

Jemima Stehli's furniture series is ambiguous—part homage to and part critique of Allen Jones's historical works from the late '60s. In “Table 1” and “Table 2” (1998), Stehli, posing as the infamous pieces of furniture, pushes the edge to where the social content and surrounding context spill into an image and its making. The enactment of self is explicitly social and political. Despite feminism's analysis of objectification, it seems that women, and men too, are more than ever posed as models for us to look at, desire and identify with. Zhang Huan symbolically refers to imprisonment of body and mind. The “East Village”(Dong Lun) outside Beijing, a garbage-filled district with cheap housing, has been home to budding performance and action artists since 1993. In “12 Square Meters” (photographic print, 1994), Zhang, covered in a liquid made of fish entrails and honey that attracts a cloud of insects, “experiences his essential existence” reduced to the level of waste. The artist in his performances combines his personal experience with a social critique of contemporary China.

David Webster’s self-shot images “Incarceration Series” I, II, III, IV (1980-2003) shows the artist’s hand wrapped in wire to suggest incarceration and the lack of personal freedom in many of today’s cultures. Webster works exclusively with body imagery, which often serves as a metaphor for human and political conditions.

Oladele Bamgboye’s “Celebration” (1999), a series of four photographs, provides an alternative to most types of socially engaged work. The joyful man, waving colourful fabric around him as he dances in a celebratory African ritual, defies the expectation that so-called "political art" will be uniformly depressing or critical.

In "So Help Me Hannah: Snatch-Shots with Ray Guns"(1978, photographed by Donald Goddard), Hannah Wilke poses nude in the exhibition spaces of P.S. 1. The artist holds a ray gun, thereby claiming credit for Claes Oldenburg's ray gun collection, and attaches to a blackboard some 100 index cards bearing statements by mostly male philosophers, poets, artists, and critics. P.S. 1 at the time was an abandoned school building and Wilke took advantage of the rough quality of the site to create a series of images suggesting a chase scene. Later she compared the photographs to war pictures and media representations of crime.

Orlan, best known for photographs documenting surgical transformations of her own face and body during performative operations, adds to this exhibition a tongue-in-cheek appropriation of the famous Courbet painting L’Origine du Monde (The Origin of the World). This painting, which after a century of uncertainty regarding its whereabouts has finally found its way to the Musée d’Orsay, depicts the genitalia of a recumbent female figure. Orlan’s photograph shows the male counterpart, now called L’Origine de la Guerre (The Origin of War).

The social and political position of today's woman in Iran has always been the center of Shirin Neshat's work in film and photography. Her series "The Women of Allah" features veiled, gun-toting women whose hands are covered by tattooed Arabic verses. The images imply that, although they have little or no political power, women in that part of the world still must endure the disasters of war. Neshat's women are constantly negotiating between East and West, between tradition and present-day pressures.

Lorna Simpson’s triptych “Landscape/Body Parts I-III” (1992) shows a headless dark-skinned woman dressed in black, anonymous and androgynous, “wearing” various pairs of sensual shoes on her hands. Written across her ankles are texts suggesting violence and repression of sexuality, suffused by racism. The brilliant red background underscores the sexually fetishistic use of shoes, while the relatively hard-to-read gold text acts almost subliminally to remind us of the images’ underlying aggression.

When Patti Smith moved to New York in the late 1960’s, her drawings evolved into poems, the poems into songs, and the songs into performance that always found their way back to drawing. Smith confronts the physicality of handwriting, using the image of language to reflect recent and historical political events. In “Skin Puncture” (1969) and “Untitled” (1973), the artist translates her physical performance style related to her politics into staccato movements on paper.

only in german

Body Politics
kuratiert von Elga Wimmer

mit Oladele Bamgboye, Karen Finley, Zhang Huan, Yayoi Kusama, Ingrid Mwangi, Shirin Neshat, Orlan , Carolee Schneemann, Lorna Simpson, Patti Smith, Jemima Stehli, David Webster, Hannah Wilke