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Vienna-based artist Kerstin von Gabain opens exhibition at the Secession in Vienna
Kerstin von Gabain, installation view secession 2014, Photo: Jorit Aust.

VIENNA.- In her exhibition Raver geht ins archäologische Museum (A Raver at the Archaeological Museum), the Vienna-based artist Kerstin von Gabain presents her most recent photographic works together with plaster sculptures. Creating a performative interplay with sculpture, translating this interplay into the medium of photography, as well as bridging classical antiquity and contemporary culture in an unorthodox manner are all key aspects of the series of works which von Gabain has produced for her show in the Secession’s Grafisches Kabinett. The dialogue between sculptures and photographs engenders a spatial situation whose ambiguous nature is further heightened by almost casual interventions including a sound installation in the staircase (in collaboration with Johann Neumeister) and objects discreetly placed here and there as though at random.

The blending of “high” and “low,” of black-tie and popular culture, is an integral part of von Gabain’s art; it is not so much a critique of classificatory models as rather a self-evident result of daily practice and the reality of individual experiences. Many of her works combine visual art and music, which appears in this instance as a reference to a musical subculture. Meanwhile, her own production bears resemblance to musical practices such as sampling.

For her most recent work and the exhibition catalogue, von Gabain took inspiration from a publication accompanying a symposium on archaic Greek art from the 1960s that awakened her interest in the forms in which archaeological objects are displayed. Greek sculptures and modes of presentation typically found in archaeological museums provided the initial model for von Gabain’s casts and photographs, but as the work progressed, she increasingly liberated herself from this approach in favor of grotesque and macabre productions. Her playful engagement with the materials gradually gave rise to a humorous “culture clash” between antiquity and the music cultures of raves and techno music.

The photographs of plaster casts of limbs—some embedded in narrative theatrical productions—and assemblages made of plaster fragments are based on Gabain’s extended experimentation with the sculptures. Rather than being the final product at the end of an artistic process, her sculptures represent a starting point for playful enactments which she then captures in analogue, black-and-white photographs. The artist photographed the individual sculptures isolated against a black background with a seemingly objective eye—an eye that imitates the sober and systematic recording of objects in a style reminiscent of the photographs used to document and inventory collections in museums or for scientific research.

The formal rigor of the photographs is undermined by absurd exaggeration: consider poses such as “dancing” feet and the staging of the objects.

Moreover, the grounding in reality becomes unclear when, for example, she puts shoes on casts of legs, decorates an arm with a wristwatch, or has a person wearing a hoodie holding a fragment of a shod leg behind their back. If the (Greek) Urfuß (primordial foot) represents one end of a spectrum, fleeting, temporary arrangements such as the assemblages 6 Raver (6 Ravers), “faces” composed of fragmentary casts of beer cans, bottle bottoms, and cigarettes mark the other extreme. Von Gabain’s predominantly small-scale sculptures are casts of the artist’s body parts and everyday objects made using a simple technique with plaster bandages.

Kerstin von Gabain works with various modes of appropriation, adapting subcultural practices or refashioning furniture and entire rooms resulting in analogies and unexpected moments. Her photographs, which play a growing role in her creative output, tell stories of such absurd situations. In her exhibition City of broken furniture, which was on display in the galleries of the MAK (Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna) in 2013, she presented pieces of furniture in the role of “patients,” “dressing” their “wounds,” and contrasted them with a photographic series about furniture in the MAK’s collections. In a nod to twentieth-century medical documentaries, the photographs bear titles that quote the names of illnesses or suggest classificatory schemes such as Syphilis or 6 Verbrecher (6 Criminals). In a series of photographs created in Tokyo in 2011, she staged used futons and mattresses in the style of Nobuyoshi Araki’s bondage pictures. The artist also uses her own body in laconic or provocative statements about stereotypes as well as flashes of visual humor.

In recent years, there is an increasing interest in “historical” artistic visual media such as analogue photography and film, headed by a younger generation of artists. Growing up in the digital age, they display a carefree approach in their use of analogue media, combining them with new conventions of the image. For von Gabain—she, too, once worked with computer-generated 3D graphics—the relationship between 3D objects in a virtual space is not fundamentally different from that between real objects and the visual space of the photograph. In her exhibition in the Secession’s Grafisches Kabinett, von Gabain experiments with the relationships between images and objects, and ultimately with realities: it is not just a single reality that she expresses in her productions, but merely one of reality’s possible forms.

Kerstin von Gabain was born in Palo Alto (USA) in 1979 and lives and works in Vienna.

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