European TrailsEuropean women photo artists of the present
09.03.-20.11.2022, H2 - Zentrum für Gegenwartskunst im Glaspalast
EUROPEAN TRAILS presents European woman photographers as well as woman artists working with photography.
Essentially, the exhibition is concerned with questions of origin, memory and identity. The own personal history and its transfer and artistic transcending into current social and political situations become a mirror of a general discussion about conditions of living and the balance of power between individuals as well as in society as a whole.
With strong photographic images and installations, the exhibition presents works of outstanding contemporary women artists, whose conceptions are significant contributions to a contemporary debate in and about Europe.
The conception of the exhibition, as well as the selection of the works, took place long before the outbreak of the Russian war against Ukraine on 24th February 2022, which caused new, dramatic developments and movements of escape in Europe. It was not predictable that we are now forced to experience the exhibition’s context against such a background.
Letizia Battaglia ∙ Johanna Diehl ∙ Kathrin Ganser ∙ Andrea Geyer ∙ Candida Höfer ∙ Magdalena Jetelová Anastasia Khoroshilova ∙ Herlinde Koelbl ∙ Youqine Lefèvre ∙ Tina Modotti ∙ Loredana Nemes ∙ Beate Passow ∙ Leta Peer ∙ Joanna Piotrowska ∙ Katharina Sieverding
curated by Thomas Elsen
Biographies of the artists
Letizia Battaglia (1935 Palermo – 2022 Palermo) grew up in Trieste until the age of eight and only then returned to Palermo with her parents. The return was a culture shock, her father locked her up at home in the afternoons after convent school; she was not allowed to play outside alone. Partly in order to break out of home, she married at the age of 16, became the mother of three daughters, filled the traditional role of housewife and finally suffered a heart attack. A radical turn in her life followed: Battaglia left her husband and family and went to Milan, where she worked as a cultural correspondent for the left-wing newspaper 'l'Ora'. There she starts taking pictures and returns to Palermo as chief photographer of l'Ora. For many years, she photographs the internal wars and street murders of the Mafia and the lives of the inhabitants of the city and its surroundings, which are essentially determined by them. The two photographs on display here date from 1986 and are typical of Battaglia's narrative style, which is always committed to the moment, direct and at the same time apparently timeless.
In her photographic project Ukraine Series, Johanna Diehl (*1977 Hamburg) documents the many forms of violence, destruction and expulsion of the Jewish communities that formerly lived there. In 2013, she travelled to Ukraine and photographed dilapidated synagogues in all parts of the country. Many had already been destroyed during the German occupation, others were misused under Soviet rule: for sales shops, hairdressing salons, gyms, factories, clubs. Buildings that could not be used simply fell into disrepair, and today, unless further destroyed by the current Russian war against Ukraine, are only visible as monumental ruins. In highly impressive photographs, Johanna Diehl shows objectively and atmospherically close at the same time the traces of the extinction of Jewish life and an entire culture, whose spiritual centres disappeared or were functionally banalised without regard to their original meaning.
Kathrin Ganser (*1977 Kempten) is an artist and author in the intermedial field of artistic photography, installation and media art. Spatial images and image spaces are a fundamental field of work, both in terms of form and content, in which Ganser develops her visual language, which is always based on theoretical concepts. The internet and its complex information and misinformation structures (e.g. through defective files in services such as Google Maps or Google Earth) play an important role here. For EUROPEAN TRAILS, Kathrin Ganser has designed a new, multi-part installation in which a video recording of the "Seawatch" sea rescue project is juxtaposed with her own images based on found objects from the internet and the photograph "passing". The dimensions of the photograph correspond to those of the monitor positioned opposite. The installation as a whole refers to the theme of migration to Europe. Here, localisation such as the dissolution of space, fragility, proximity and distance are transformed into an aesthetic form of their own and put up for discussion as a metaphor for a Europe in motion, struggling for cohesion and drifting apart again and again.
In her installation Feeding the Ghosts, created in 2019, Andrea Geyer (*1971 Freiburg) deals with personal experiences of loss, which she artistically overlaps with those of the Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman. Akerman, daughter of Polish Holocaust survivors and early protagonist of feminist cinema, gave her one-hour reading A Family in Brussels at the Dia Art Foundation in October 2001, which Geyer attended. In Feeding the Ghosts she makes direct reference to it. In a 60-minute loop, Geyer's off-screen voice is heard reciting a text based on Akerman's reading. By juxtaposing and interweaving Akerman's reflection on the long-term effects of the Holocaust on her family with her own experiences of loss, past and present coexist. Not only visually, but through the physical presence of the viewers, they enrich Geyer's installation in a very real way: As our outlines move through the white, overlapping surfaces of the emptied images in the spotlight of the projectors, they dynamise them and continue them into a new, moving overall image that does not capture history one-dimensionally and merely retrospectively. "We can't disinvite the ghosts," says Geyer. The past shows itself in her artistic design as an ever-present component of the present and vice versa.
Candida Höfer (*1944 Eberswalde) created her early photo series Türken in Deutschland (Turks in Germany) between 1972/73 and 1979 in Cologne, Düsseldorf, Ratingen and Hamburg. While in Höfer's later photographs the absence of humans in favour of the depiction of interiors becomes increasingly important (since the 1980s, formally austere compositions of libraries, museums or opera houses were produced), in the series Türken in Deutschland Höfer portrays observed changes in the cityscape due to increasing migration. Although here, too, an interest in the interiors of sales shops, butcher's shops, private living spaces or cafés is already discernible, many of the photographs are of a portrait-like nature and place the focus on people. The life and everyday culture of the photographed persons, couples, groups or families is reflected while shopping, in a café or during conversations on the street corner. Although hairstyles, fashion, billboards and the street scene in general betray the time when the photographs were taken, the atmospheric qualities of the pictures prove an almost self-evident transferability to today.
The Iceland Project by Magdalena Jetelová (*1946 Semily), created in 1992, conveys a theme that has long been central to the artist's work: the examination of the idea and the realities of borders. Jetelová, who experienced the Prague Spring at first hand as a student and young artist, uses a laser beam to mark and visualise the geological interface between Europe and America. Her large-format black-and-white photographs are not only aesthetic documentations of a direct interaction with nature. Above all, they are aesthetic metaphors. By using lasers to place the lines projecting deep into the landscape as imaginary paths and markings, Jetelová creates pictures of imaginary borders that have not grown naturally. The emergence of borders as a result of political developments always implies, along with the simultaneous reflection on their meaning and function, the reflection on the possibilities of overcoming them: Where exactly Europe begins and where it ends seems as little unalterable in Jetelová's Iceland photographs as the stillness of nature.
Since many years, Anastasia Khoroshilova (*1978 Moscow) has been portraying people and their stories with great sensitivity, precise observation and careful persistence. In her series of pictures, an existential reflection on one's own origins is reflected again and again on different levels in the interweaving of personal history, emotional closeness and an objectifying view 'from the outside'. For her project Die Übrigen (The Remainder, 2014), together with the author Annabel von Gemmingen, she has traced memories and remembering people in Latvia, where testimonies of Latvian, German, Russian and Jewish inhabitants from a turbulent history project into the present. Khoroshilova returned to places visited in her childhood, captured landscapes, places, commemorations and encounters with veterans to document all this in an impressive series of images embedded in a photographic-literary book project together with her co-author. Classic portraits of people are not at the fore of these photographs. Instead, rooms, interiors, deserted scenes appear all the more intensely as eloquent voids of memory. Or the scarred bullet wound of a man, probably a soldier, in close-up. We have our vulnerable, wounded freedom right before our eyes.
Herlinde Koelbl (*1939 Lindau) is one of the most important portrait photographers of our time. A profound interest in people, whom she never regards merely as a 'model' but always as an equal counterpart, is reflected throughout her work. With artistic curiosity, great empathy and her own mixture of persistence and extreme restraint, Herlinde Koelbl has created impressive images of people whose authentic, natural characters she portrays with seemingly playful ease, regardless of age, gender or level of recognition. In long-term projects such as 'Spuren der Macht' (Traces of Power), Koelbl has photographically accompanied people and their imperceptible changes over decades. She recently attracted international attention again with her project 'Faszination Wissenschaft' (Fascination of Science), in which she portrayed natural scientists and Nobel Prize winners worldwide. Her photographic monograph 'Angela Merkel. Portraits 1991-2021' was published only recently. In Koelbl's work, the images of individual stories have nothing voyeuristic, ostensibly conveying curiosity. They are characterised by a relaxed and at the same time concentrated closeness that always resonates between photographer and model. And they are carried by an often cheerful sense of humour that always pays tribute to the people photographed as personalities.
In Far From Home, the Belgian Youqine Lefèvre (*1993) examines intimacy, childhood, memory in the emotional tension of family ties. Weaknesses and vulnerability play a central role. The hesitant, insecure, fearful as the hallmarks of nakedness that no one wants to give themselves are observed phenomena that her photographs of children and sections of nature, taken with great sensitivity, show. Their own history of adoption, being abandoned and at the mercy of others, as well as the need for protection are seen as human feelings that are usually only glossed over in our lifelong socialisation as an acquired display of strength, superficially forgotten, but never really resolved existentially.
Tina Modotti (1896 Udine - 1942 Mexico City), one of the style-defining photographers of the early 20th century, was an enduring seeker whose lifelong migration moved in a great arc of tension between a self-chosen life plan, socio-political commitment and the harsh economic conditions of her time. She is an early example of a European woman who, like many of her compatriots - especially from Friuli in Italy at that time - left her homeland out of existential need. This is probably one of the reasons why her photographs reflect her great interest above all in the social context of Mexico, the country where the artist lived in the 1920s and where she spent her last years from 1939 to 1942 after returning to Europe in the meantime. Modotti's life was much more torn than the spotlights projected exclusively on the glamorous phases of her biography often and still pretend. Her story is that of a driven woman, an immigrant and emigrant with seemingly almost inexhaustible creative energy. Modotti's photographs, which have become famous, can only be fully grasped in the context of her eventful biography.
In the selection of works from Beyond by Loredana Nemes (*1972 Sibiu) presented here, the artist has traced the strange world of Muslim men. The central shot of her seven-part arrangement shows the window front of Café Esto in Berlin Neukölln, a men's café whose gatherings inside are hardly apparent to outsiders. Carefully and precisely, Nemes recorded "veiled men" from a distance through the milky glass of the panes here and at other cafés for 9 months. Only then did she begin to approach them and ask them to step up to the windows. For the photographer, the men embody, as she herself aptly put it, "perhaps strangeness itself". They all have names, but one still does not recognise them; one senses more a protected atmosphere that awakens mysterious sympathy in us more than mere curiosity. The relationship between the foreign and the familiar as a permanently moving 'in-between' is transmitted to the viewer with a tense calm. We feel far away, and perhaps that is why we are so magically attracted.
Beate Passow (*1945 Stadtoldendorf) is one of the important German political artists. In numerous photographic projects, the Gabriele Münter Prize winner has repeatedly taken a stance on current contemporary issues, especially on German history and the past in the 20th century. The European context enters into this debate in an impressive way in the tapestries of her Monkey Business project presented here. Passow has incorporated photo collages as motifs into her Jaquard weavings, and questioned the refugee situation and the political handling of it in Budapest just as bitingly as the Yellow Vest demonstrations and violent protests in Paris. In a third work, a destroyed post office in Chernobyl is targeted after the reactor disaster there - all these as symbols of human, social, political violence. In their entirety, Beate Passow's three works can be seen as a monumental spatial installation, which is being shown in this constellation, freely suspended in space, for the first time in an exhibition. Front and back, positive and negative, clear text and the need for decipherment can be directly experienced by the moving viewers.
Throughout her entire artistic life, the Swiss painter and photographic artist Leta Peer (1964 Winterthur - 2012 Binningen) confronted painted images of mountain landscapes of her homeland with foreign contexts and environments. The academically trained painter incorporated her landscape paintings, created in a deliberately classical manner, into photographic compositions that show non-museum contexts. For example, she pasted small, beer-cup-sized tondi into Central Station in New York to see if and how they would be perceived by passers-by. She lent other series of images to friends or strangers for use in their personal environments, offices or homes, and photographed them without herself influencing the respective locations and positioning. In her 2005 To inhabit a Place series, painted compositions of the Swiss Engadine, the artist's home, can be seen in the renovation-related building site of the Schaezlerpalais in Augsburg - as alien as they are fascinating. Detachment from and rootedness with one's own origins as a permanently changing process of memory, development and awareness of the permanently provisional are symbolically visualised in her photographic compositions.
Joanna Piotrowska (*1985 Poland) captures human relationships and with them gestures of care, self-protection and control. In her black-and-white photographs and performance films, the artist stages her actors in terms of form and content. In her shelters series, too, she has them assume postures that make their relationship to each other and to the space appear uncertain, sometimes triggering unease, sometimes accompanied by oppressive humour. In Piotrowska's photographic compositions and pictorial arrangements, ideas of loneliness and violence are evoked, which grow into sometimes claustrophobic-seeming pictorial constellations. Her pictorial arrangements, built and photographed from figure and objects, are quirkily reminiscent of childhood caves or tree huts, but also give rise to images of refuge, provisional camp situations and makeshift dwellings.
The monumental Stauffenberg Block by Katharina Sieverding (*1944 Prague) from 1969 is a central work of experimental photographic art in the 20th century. At a time when both abstract and conventionally narrative forms of photography barely managed to lay claim to art, the then 25-year-old Beuys student confronts the art world with conceptual radicalism and pure irritation. What she displays is an incomparable mixture of artistic self-confidence that was already brimming at the time and the deepest thoughtfulness - a combination that characterises her artistic work to this day. Fiery red, larger than life, and almost magically fixing the viewer's gaze as well as drawing it to her, the artist's serial self-portrait, alienated by solarisation, red filter and extreme enlargement, appears as a questioning echo of her own history as well as that of German post-war society and its development. Sieverding's other works, Die Sonne um Mitternacht schauen III/196 07 A (Viewing the Sun at Midnight, 1973) and Transformer (1973/74) - both represented here in versions produced by the artist especially for the exhibition - thematise power relations and, early on, the confrontation with gender identities. In this concentration of key works, the politically and aesthetically highly relevant position of an artist whose work has lost nothing of its visual power and social topicality throughout the decades is evident to this day.