Birgit Jürgenssen

Iris Strohner

Iris Strohner

Birgit Jürgenssen: Cyanotypes from 1988/89 19.01.2012.

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 Having recourse to this outdated tech­nique puts Jürgenssen's sense of experimentation in the service of the urgent concern of uncove­ring traces of female creativity in the thick of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."