Birgit Jürgenssen

Peter Noever

Peter Noever

Desire for Art

In: Peter Noever (ed.): Exh. cat. Birgit Jürgenssen. Schuhwerk. Subversive Aspects of 'Feminism' (Vienna: MAK, 2004), pp. 5-6.

She resisted accust­omed categories, crossing borders between the inner and the outer world, between object and body between the real and the surreal, and yet she took the liberty of being blatantly direct. Birgit Jürgenssen (1949-2003) counted, like Valie Export, among those female Austrian Artists who started to question social dogmas and cultu­rally imposed defi­nitions of femi­ninity in the 1970s. In her art-making, she revolted against a bipolar art scene between academic torpidity and unbridled actionism and thus occupied a seminal position, notably for Vienna. Birgit Jürgenssen's approach was always dialogical, she related to things, herself, a vis-à-vis, an object.
She never drew a line between space, art and body, but made herself means of expression. Her art was never artificial. Art and life incre­asingly grew into a symbiotic unity with her.

When Birgit Jürgenssen walked the narrow streets of down-town Vienna on high heels, one felt attracted to her even before one had really discerned her. Her appe­arances at art events in this city or in metropolises abroad were informed by an atti­tude of a convincingly authentic sense for art. It was her boundless openness to the new, her unfailing, and unerring, artistic sensibility, her characteristic "Jürgens­senian sensualness" and her desire for art, which kindled the fire.

This sensual mood also is what makes the attractiv­eness of an almost forgotten part of her artistic oeuvre, her shoe sculptures. Between 1973 and `76, the painter, photographer, teacher, video, object and body artist Birgit Jürgenssen created a body of works comprised of shoe sculptures and shoe drawings. An exhibition grouped around her "Shoe Chair" (s15) - an object, that can be seen as an oversized lady's shoe or a seductive lounging chair, whatever one prefers - now pres­ents 15 of these shoe sculptures: shoe dwel­lings, shoe architectures for fairy feet (s2) which, despite their appa­rent fragility, give an impression of a sure aesthetic "foothold".

Following a first-time exhibition at the Nuremberg Kunst­halle in 1976, the shoes as part of Jürgenssen`s oeuvre were forgotten for a long time. Although the artist had a personal obsession with beautiful shoes, she did not want to be forever labelled as "the one with the shoes" - and temporarily closed the book on this part of her work. 
A more profound reason for this decision was the general artistic atmo­s­phere of the 1970s. Women still played a minor role in art production and were cons­idered as a mere appen­dage to male-domi­nated art movements. The male artists who were domineering aesthetic discussions back then implicitly imputed that these shoe objects were just fooling around. This was some­t­hing Birgit Jürgenssen would not have, and so she put these precious pieces away into shoe boxes. It was only in the mid-1990s that the shoe sculptures were rediscovered.

Birigit Jürgenssen, who died last year, bequeathed to the MAK her car (ph2212), a yellow 76 Renault R 4, a trade­mark of hers, once described as her "second skin". Taken in a broader context, this indicates a nexus beyond testamen­tary matters - in the sense of body awareness and identification. For, notwi­th­standing the inherent sublimity of her works, Birgit Jürgenssen can be characterized as a radical explorer of the female body and its cultural construction - for the MAK this is a mission and a commitment to keep on thematizing art from this female perspective.