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Ketchup Drool: RENATE BERTLMANN

19 October 2016 KETCHUP DROOL

Since the early 1970s Renate Bertlmann, feminist avant-garde artist, has explored issues around the representation of sexuality and eroticism within a social context. Despite its closeness to the nascent women’s art movement in the 1970s, revolting against a male-dominated world and developing new aesthetics to represent the female body, Bertlmann’s work distinguished itself by its inclusion of the masculine point of view. Working with collages, drawings, photographs, photo-films, performances and objects, her work has always played, not without humour, on the ambivalence of the feminine and masculine relationship in terms of sexuality and desire, challenging the stereotyped, preconceived roles assigned by society.

 

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Max Henry, Renate Bertlmann, “AMO ERGO SUM – A Subversive Political Program” at Sammlung Verbund, Vienna 

Humor and feminism are rarely synonymous, yet the way Renate Bertlmann brings them together is instantly disarming. An Austrian contemporary of Kiki Kogelnik (1935–1997) and Birgit Jürgenssen (1949–2003), Bertlmann is still very much alive; her archive to date comprises 4,000 works. […]

A feminist cosmonaut, Bertlmann was a performer and poet of wicked, fluent irony. Her work is overtly sexual with a directness that leaves a lasting impression. Here, the battle of the sexes is a cooption of the male gaze utilizing all manner of appendages: prosthetic devices adapted from readymade sex toys and dolls, lots of boobs, vulvas, and phallic objects. The tools of her fetishistic trade are scalpels, knives, pacifiers, rubber condoms, lots of latex and leather, as well as a camera to record both private and public performances. She identifies with physically handicapped wheelchair-bound outcasts, having been impressed by their role in Thomas Bernhard’s 1968 play A Party for Boris. Hence, many of her photo documentations, drawings, and sculptural works from the 70s onward use wheelchairs to emphasize the tension between inertness, mobility, and bodily contact. Sculpturally speaking her body is literally and by proxy everywhere in two and three dimensions. Tender Touches (1976) is a series of photographs showing close-ups of pairs of condoms blown up just enough to appear as touching breasts. Ur Vagina (1978) is a row of 25 small white Perspex boxes with vulvar gaps in the middle.

Spilling out toward the baseboard are latex umbilical cords cast from the nibs of pacifiers. Breast Incubator (1984) is a Perspex box housing a set of latex breasts with scalpels collaged atop the nipples. Bertlmann displays a madcap vaudeville style of performance. Shades of the 1972 movie musical Cabaret come to mind in gender-bending riffs on male/ female stereotypes, as with the numerous enactments making up her Reneé or René (1977) photographic series. She pulls no punches in works most associated with the plastic arts too; The Indiscreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) is a mixed media painting in a Perspex box. In place of pubic hair fine metal wires protrude from its focal point, set between curvilinear spaces. It’s a severe brutal beauty as intense as that of the anthropomorphic sculptures of Louise Bourgeois.

 

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Renate Bertlmann: IRONY

In the introduction to the trilogy AMO ERGO SUM I indicate that for me UTOPIA is not a matter of visions of the future but rather a journey into the unknown. It is thus about progression, a state of permanent movement, change and transformation. On these travels I have learned that there are many different ways to confront so-called “travel experiences”. I can embrace them or stamp them into dust, I can swallow them, digest them and spit them out again, I can let myself be led or be dragged by them. Since I tend towards regarding a peaceful state of being to be a kind of stagnation, a standstill of growth, I have developed a way of coping with experiences in a way which I call “ironic”. Somehow I seemed to sense that IRONY – and only IRONY – would protect me from losing myself within the world: DISCORDO ERGO SUM!

 

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Peter Gorsen: REMAINING SERIOUS IS SUCCESSFUL REPRESSION (Sandor Ferenci)

Pornographic or obscene jokes and dirty language have long, as we know, been a male domain. Men.s jokes are found amusing, but the “woman.s joke” has yet to acquire an equivalent social position and indeed, under patriarchal conditions, will only be able to gain a subversive, outsider role. As Freud rightly observed of our culture, jokes of a dirty, pornographic, always tendentious nature are “levelled originally at women”. The joker appears chiefly as the attacker, whilst the woman appears more conservative, mainly as the object of the attack. She is the object and the man the subject of a sexual stripping bare and an aggression which, above all, generates lust. The desire to see what is sexual laid bare is for Freud the original motive behind jokes and dirty language. They serve the “satisfaction of a (lascivious) drive”, in the face of “its cultural repression”. Jokes and dirty language provide the individual with an outlet against the culturally dominant denial of lust and subsequent psychological pressure. In contrast to his general cultural theory of sublimation, Freud (in his work “Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious”, 1905) identified jokes and dirty language positively as a means of reversing the repression and censorship of sexuality in our culture and so win back what has been lost.

Those who do not master the art of the (dirty) joke or who spurn it, also limit themselves in their expression of lust. This is the case for the female members of our society in an unequally high proportion to the male. The cultural process of sexual repression may affect both men and women, but, as the lack or rather complete absence of women.s jokes shows, it is mainly women who are the bearers and victims of this general repression.

Renate Bertlmann belongs to those artists whose work, in the context of these reflections, earns, or rather provokes, our particular attention. Her antipornographic objects and montages cause laughter – but not at first, if at all, from men, for here without exception men become for once the objects of the sexual stripping bare and aggression. Here the leopard is given the opportunity to learn to change its spots: for men to set aside their wounded pride and let themselves be disarmed by this unfamiliar “women’s joke”.

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Artworks:
ZÄRTLICHE BERÜHRUNGEN, 1976
LEHRTAFELN 1982
TOP U 29, 16teiling, 2005
Renates trilogisches MAUSI-MUSEUM, 2012
BERÜHRUNGEN
  1974
SLING SHOT ACTION, Franklin Furnace New York, 1980
LET’S DANCE TOGETHER ,Galerie Modern Art, Wien, Stichting de appel, Amsterdam 1979
IM SCHLOSS 2014
 

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Renate Bertlmann @ Artissima
Section: Back to the Future
Gallery: Richard Saltoun, London
Biography
Artissima Digital
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