Birgit Jürgenssen: Cyanotypes from 1988/89
Every year since 2004, the Hubert Winter Gallery has shown different selections of works from the heterogeneous oeuvre of the late Birgit Jürgenssen, the Vienna-based artist who died in 2003 at the age of only 54. Her subtle, yet still underrated engagement with the female body found expression in a diverse variety of art techniques from drawing and photography to installation, object or performance art.
There are only a small number of works that have moved into the focus of wider public attention: among them were her fetish-like shoe objects with their surreal punning wit, as, for example, the "Tongue Lick Shoe" (s16) and of course the "Housewife's Kitchen Apron" (ph1578), worn tied around her waist by the artist dressed up as a housewife--with a fresh-baked bread in an open oven at the level of her sex ...
Jürgenssen often successfully uses plain and simple pictorial contents to set off real discursive fireworks. Meticulous enactment, role plays and transformations that are thought through to the last detail and implemented in photographic self-portraits and drawings, and the choosing of objects with feminine connotations not only work for female-self-empowerment by humorously debunking repressive female images.
There is always a word lingering in the background, a phrase whose conventional meaning she decodes in complex artistic representations, exposing it to free association so as to make established patterns of identity fall flat and reveal themselves as mere linguistic constructs.
Last years' major retrospective at the Bank Austria Kunstforum paid tribute to the impressive stylistic range of Jürgenssen's artistic output. Hubert Winter's small and exquisite presentations on the other hand rather aim for an in-depth appreciation of different aspects of her oeuvre.
In 2012, the selection focused on the artist's "Cyanotypes of 1988/89" (sp64). The cyanotype is one of the oldest contact printing techniques, whose blue tint, from the use of ferric salts, and blurriness create an almost dreamy alienation effect. Having recourse to this outdated technique puts Jürgenssen's sense of experimentation in the service of the urgent concern of uncovering traces of female creativity in the thick of male-dominated history. For not only was the botanist Anna Atkins the first woman to make photographs, she also was the first who used blueprints as illustrations for her book on "British Algae".
For Jürgenssen in turn, the cyanotype technique opened up a wide field for identity constructions. She does not only play with the symbolism of the "romantic" color blue ("eternity of the soul"), but intensifies the blur effect with multiple overlays which reduce figures to vague silhouettes (sp5). The portrait can no longer invoke the spirit of identity, but is losing its contours, its discernibility and recognizability. As Birgit Jürgenssen puts it, "Female identity is made to disappear except for the fetishized object, the focus of male wishful thinking."