Sigmar Polke/Birgit Jürgenssen

Fergus McCaffrey, New York
06.11.14 bis 20.12.14

Birgit Jürgenssen’s studio practice encompassed drawing, performance, photography, and sculpture, through which she compellingly combined classically refined draftsmanship, mixed media, and experimental photo techniques. While she is perhaps best known for her connection to the Austrian feminist movement of the 1970s, discourse around Jürgenssen’s work are perhaps disproportionately focused on her relationship to Feminism. Equally important is her engagement with Surrealism and her concern for materials and processes. Jürgenssen’s work as a sculptor and photographer underscores not only her intense interest in materiality, but also highlights the complexity of her oeuvre, which was surprisingly overlooked during her lifetime.

This exhibition features a large group of Jürgenssen’s photographic works, presented in combination with a selection of her sculptures. This juxtaposition underscores Jürgenssen’s refusal of a single approach or influence, and created work that is abundant in sources and techniques. mehr

Much of Jürgenssen’s photographic work is highly experimental. Her series Stoff­arbeiten (FabricWorks), created from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, consists of photographic prints mounted on canvases, which are screwed to iron frames that she herself constructed. Thin, translucent fabrics such as gauze, are stretched over the surface, veiling and slightly obscuring the images. The photographs them­selves are created through a range of processes, including photograms, solarization, and multiple-exposures. The sculptural presence of many of these works is striking. The juxtapo­sition of hard welded iron frames and delicate textile emphasizes their materiality and draws a direct relationship to Jürgenssen’s sculptural works.

Jürgenssen also created scratched photos that she referred to as “painted” photography. These visceral, large format photograms were created by manipulating sheets of photo paper in developer and fixing baths and by pouring photo chemicals directly over the paper. The resulting marbled and dripped images were then exposed to light and fixed, after which the surfaces were scratched into, creating gestural drawings over the “painted” photograpic surfaces. Such manipulation and violation of the image was generally considered taboo and raises numerous challenges to traditional conceptions of photography. In another series, Jürgenssen employs cyanotype, one of the oldest contact printing tech­niques, through which a blue tint creates an almost dreamy effect.

The blurring effect reduces figures to silhouettes, thus rendering portraits unrecognizable. Jürgenssen’s multiple overlays increase the sense of dreamscape and indecipherability. The cyanotype process recalls architectural blueprints, and Jürgenssen’s adaptation of the form also points to the figure of the botanist Anna Atkins, the first woman to make photographs and the first to use blueprints as illus­trations. While references to Feminism, abstraction, and Surrealism are plentiful in Jürgenssen’s work, her practice is at the same time marked by a modernist concern with and intense awareness around issues of representation and originality.

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