With the solo exhibition Meanwhile by Dunja Herzog, the Kölnischer Kunstverein is realizing a comprehensive exhibition of the artist’s work, accompanied by a program of film screenings, artist talks, performance, children’s workshop and a guided tour of the Cologne-based Women’s History Society. Various elements and themes of different temporalities and backgrounds are brought together in a site-specific installation in which they coexist and relate to one another.
The exhibition is a continuation of the examination of the history of the copper trade, as it is dealt with by the artist in particular in the project Red Gold and its focus on the omnipresent systematic exploitation of the global capitalist project, furthering the investigation with new work produced for the exhibition. In doing so, she looks back to the more distant past: to the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Age, to the history of witch-hunting and copper production in Europe (e.g. by reproducing a 16th century woodcut by Georg Agricola depicting mines for copper mining, as well as a witches’ dance on the Blocksberg in the Harz Mountains). Alongside these are references to mechanisms of commercial profit in order to visualize today’s globally operating economic systems, and considerations of the role of women and reproduction in the transition to capitalism. Her personal background as a Swiss woman is essential in this context. Women’s voting rights in Switzerland, one of the last European countries to institute such rights, only became effective in 1971 (in the canton of Appenzell even only from 1990); another aspect is Switzerland’s role in the system of imperial exploitation.
Not least of all, the material copper is one of the most important global economic indicators with its main trading center in Switzerland since 2011; the five largest Swiss companies are active in raw materials trading. In a new video work by the artist, a geographic and temporal arc is drawn from the Copperbelt in Zambia (a region with the most important copper mining area in Africa, where the Swiss company Glencore also operates mines) to a copper mine in the Harz Mountains, where the largest copper deposit in Germany once existed. At a depth of 165 meters, a film has been produced in Harz, showing the ceiling of a tunnel illuminated by light whilst driving out of the mine—a retreat from the mine and the overexploitation of both nature and labor that was once practiced there. For the artist, questions of resources, mining, exploitation and trade are central: How did it come about that cultural history in Europe transitioned from a reverence for nature, to its exploitation, and then, in the “logic of exploitation”, was exported from Europe to the whole world?
A world where violence, foreign domination and profit prevail and our relationship to the earth, or how it is used and abused, is seen by the artist as synonymous with how bodies and their emotional “landscapes” are dealt with. The more resources, including copper—without which our contemporary digital world is inconceivable—are mined, the more the search for or connection to inner resources seems relevant.
These various themes and their associated stories, which almost always speak of violence, are not necessarily addressed directly in the exhibition or reproduced. Rather, they are kept present through the materials enlisted, by relating to their origin, their use, their historical relevance, their development and the trade routes that have shaped our society very physically over time. Thus, for the exhibition, baskets made of copper wire from electronic scrap have been created in collaboration with basket makers from the Republic of Benin in Lagos, a city that belongs to one of the largest electronic dumping sites in West Africa; not only to detach the material from one value chain and transpose it into another, but to simultaneously pay homage to the women of Nigeria and Zambia, who made significant contributions to the independence of both countries. These colonial legacies seem particularly relevant to the building of the Kölnischer Kunstverein itself, since it was the seat of the British Council – the so called “Die Brücke” (The Bridge)—in the enduring colonial period of the British, and its proposition of a “bridge” to the world after the Second World War.
The artist creates a space, in a certain sense a “third space”, in which a larger spectrum of stories and their complex interrelations with matter, material and their transformation and relationship to people can be experienced, and other perspectives made possible. From the materials and plants that are addressed, she extracts, in a way, the essence of their inherent energies and logics, makes them physically perceptible and thus ultimately also calls upon their nourishing properties.
Dunja Herzog (*1976 in Basel, Switzerland) lived last year in Lagos, Nigeria, where she created some of the work presented at the Kölnischer Kunstverein. Her works were shown at the Kunstverein Göttingen; Swiss Art Awards, Basel (both 2018); Lagos Biennale, Lagos, Nigeria (2017); BLOK art space, Istanbul; 1646, Den Haag (all 2016); New Bretagne / Belle Air, Essen and at MAXXI Museum, Rome (both 2015), among others.
In her first institutional solo exhibition, Emma LaMorte takes on the architecture of the Kölnischer Kunstverein: With her textile works, performances, texts and installations, she reacts to given spaces and architectural structures in order to supplement, alienate or conceal them. In the Studio, a project room with an atrium on the second floor of the building, the artist produces an expansive quilted and sewn textile work. In reference to the location, she recreates elements of the real exterior space, integrates them into a fictional landscape backdrop and creates an inversion of inside and outside.
The four-part work series consisting of a total of eleven panels shows a rocky sea coast and a pastoral scene at four different times of day, varying in lighting mood and colour. Her motifs are based on a fascination for gothic, fantasy, kitsch, fetish, and nature romanticism. The series of works Aussicht (2020) dispenses with the figurative in favour of an allegorical landscape depiction in which the position of the viewer is that of a 360 degree perspective on an observation tower. The preoccupation with the view—the yearning look outside into the distance or the future—is a recurring subject in fine art and literature, especially at the time of German Romanticism, and immediately evokes the visual world of Caspar David Friedrichs.
The collages on stretcher frames borrowed from patchwork elude a simple classification as “textile art”: due to the rough and improvised processing, the variety of form language, haptics, and motifs as well as the nostalgic aesthetics appear exceptionally space- and timeless and are located in a dichotomy between absolute present and historicity. At the same time, the textile material is part of a craft traditionally associated with women. In her examination of economic issues, Emma LaMorte examines historically shaped gender-specific divisions of labor (emotional labor, caretaking, domesticity, household, motherhood on the one hand, monetary labor, career, profiling and prestige on the other) as well as the discrepancy between their respective values and recognition in society. Both in her medial and content-related work on traditional, reactionary gender roles, the artist looks at the mechanisms of public and private space that consolidate and maintain them: patriarchal infrastructures, discriminating labor economies, structural sexism and violence.
An artist book will be published in the context of the exhibition at the Kölnischer Kunstverein with texts by the artist Rosa Aiello and images of the exhibited works (graphic: Thomas Spallek). The text medium is an integral part of Emma LaMorte’s practice and expands the scenographic backdrop of improvised quilting techniques with narratives. The repetition of the wall panels can be found as a stylistic device in the texts of Aiello. The daily rhythm and sequence describe a domestic routine in which temporality is variably extended or shortened. Emma LaMorte questions how civilization and social structures are formed and shaped—and how they are destroyed again—and creates a vision of the future that can be promising or hopeless.
The exhibition is accompanied by a public program consisting of a reading, a lecture performance, a children‘s workshop, a tarot workshop, and a radio show by various guests, among them the artists Rosa Aiello, Bitsy Knox, Benjamin Marvin, the author Jessa Crispin and the musician Laura Sparrow.
Emma LaMorte (*1984 in Victoria B.C., Canada) lives and works in Berlin. She received a Master of Fine Arts at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm, Sweden. Recent solo presentations of her work have been shown at Galleri Thomassen in Gothenburg (2020, together with Anders Johansson), Gärtnergasse in Vienna (2019, together with Benjamin Marvin), Stadium (2018) and Ashley (2017), both in Berlin, as well as in group exhibitions at Polansky in Prague (2019), Braunsfelder in Cologne (2018), Sm in Marseille (2018), Hotdock in Bratislava (2018), INDUSTRA in Brno (2018) and Decad in Berlin (2018).
Curator: Miriam Bettin
The exhibition is part of Canada’s cultural programme as Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2020. It is supported by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Government of Canada.
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