Form and Identity


Last semester, kunstraum lakeside addressed the theme of «Bodies» from the point of view of the media as well as from an ­economic standpoint, and reflected on the representation of deviant or repressed sexual orientations. The summer semester continues in the same thematic framework. This time, however, the focus is on traditional formal languages such as drawing, enamel painting, textile art and film. The two artists work with these genres; however, they look for the subtexts hidden within them and emphasize the pro­duction conditions with the aim of destabilizing them. Form is the medium around which the reinterpretation of these genres revolves, recoding and reclassifying it.

In his two video installations, «Learn ­German with Petra von Kant» (2007) and  «Eat Fear» (2008), Ming Wong – who was born in Singapore and now lives in Berlin – uses two early films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder as templates with which he, as an immigrant, can practice the language and culture of his adopted country. For the artist, these Fassbinder adaptations are early references to his own artistic practice, in which he addresses the themes of language and identity. Fassbinder dealt with the subjects of xenophobia and immigration; he openly addressed class differences – but also themes of homosexuality, drag and cross-dressing culture. With verve and humor, Wong’s restaging grapples intensely with this cinematographic role model. He plays all the roles himself, slipping – or more accurately, hiking – into and through the full range of identities that they offer. His performance fluctuates gleefully, not only trying out different genres and gender roles, but using many different stylistic devices of cinema – such as, for example, the techniques of drag film.

Artist Ulrike Müller, who currently lives in New York, presents paradigmatic works on the subject of abstraction, in which she demonstrates the principle of translation as a central theme for discussion. Müller possesses a widely varied body of discursive and visual work, whether as curator of the remarkable drawing exhibition «Herstory Inventory,» which draws on inspiring archive material from the lesbian movement; as co-editor of the queer-feminist magazine LTTR; as a lecturer or in her role as an activist. Müller’s largely abstract drawings also build on the postulates of post-minimalistic, conceptual painting that question and criticize representation. No work of art can avoid the formalization of what is crucial. In Müller’s images, this formalization is extended nearly to the point of pure form. And yet, they remain filled with the presence of those things which abstraction has replaced. These images are at once abstract and sexual, decorative and corporal, geometric and unstable. They combine harmony and violation in one image, tearing apart with a gentle touch – all within an aesthetic of sprayed materials, as if the existential contradictions could be eliminated through artistic craftsmanship. By translating these visual concepts into tapestries, Müller makes reference to the frequently alienating working conditions in one of the most extremely globalized commercial branches in existence, the textile industry. By seeking direct contact and interchange with the producers of her designs, she draws attention to pre-industrial and alternative models of production – which are still a reality today in the working environment of the studio. Textile art is often relegated toward the realm of handicrafts, disparagingly seen as a practice with «feminine» connotations. With the incorporation of this reference loop into the abstract fabric as well as that of her conceptual design, Müller holds the value of the artwork itself in a fragile balance between the «auratic» demands of autonomy and the criticism thereof within the work.

Hedwig Saxenhuber, Christian Kravagna