The biting irony of Birgit Jürgenssen for a female redemption
From social fragility to ecological fragility, from culture to nature it is only a small step and B. Jürgenssen takes it with lightness/agility. She contaminates forms and languages, overlaps biological and psychic mechanisms, tailors visual, unpredictable and sophisticated symbiosis, that, dedicated to her “wild thinking”, nicely prove themselves in GAMeC.
The word “feminism” – that, it is still important to remind, is not the female equivalent for “male chauvinism” – in the collective (un)consciousness has completely lost the charge of its meaning and its emphasis on struggle, but still keeps on annoying and maybe on being scary. Better to pronounce it quietly, even across the museum´s rooms. Nonetheless there is no doubt that an entire generation of female artists, born during the second world war and in the immediate post-war period, have mirrored themselves in the feminist avant-garde´s instances. mehr
It is the case of Birgit Jürgenssen, who was born in Vienna in 1949 and died in 2003, whose 150 works between drawings, collages, sculptures, ready-mades, photos, rayograms, gouache and cyanotypes are exhibited in Gamec until 19th May. The beautiful retrospective, that comes from Kunsthalle Tübingen in Germany, represents the first big Italian exhibition that is dedicated to the artist and that will travel in June to Denmark to Louisiana Museum. “Io sono” is the title of the event, which starting point is a note “Ich bin” written with chalk on a little blackboard by Birgit Jürgenssen in 1995: a very simple self-representation, but extraordinarily effective that synthetize in two words both nonconformism and passion.
The freedom that Jürgenssen uses to interpret herself and her time is, in fact, disarming. Able to represent herself with brilliant irony, as vestal of the stove that wears an entire electrical kitchen as it were an apron, or as housewife that literally irons on the ironing board a man with double-breasted coat, or as tennis player reduced to a racket that plays with herself, the Austrian artist always refused to take part in feminist groups because she found their possibilities to be “too mono-dimensional”.
Her art, on the other hand, is subversive because of her irony, neither the shout of condemnation nor the vehemence of indignation. But her commitment for a female redemption is undeniable and constant: in 1974, she had just finished her studies at the Academy of Applied Arts in Vienna, sends a letter to the publishing house DuMont challenging it to publish a book on women artists: “Women are very often the objects of the art, but only in rare occasions they are allowed, with reluctance, to express themselves with words and images. I would like to have the opportunity to dialogue with female artists and not only with men”; in spring 1975 she takes part in the exhibition MAGNA – Feminism: Art and Creativity at Galerie nächst St. Stephan in Vienna and the same year she endorses the protest against a men-only-jury for the International Women´s Year exhibition; in 1988 founds with other three Austrian artists the group “DIE DAMEN“ (“women”), that proposes to the Viennese public for several years projects and performances rich in irony and wit; for more than twenty years she teaches in Arnulf Rainer´s masterclass at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and, from that privileged position from where to observe art, she states “The problems and questions of the feminist movement in the Seventies are now the ones of the Eighties”.
Nevertheless Birgit Jürgenssen´s artistic temperament is too heterodox to stick to a trend or an ideology. Thus, apart from the social critique towards her generation, she is interested in psychoanalysis, structuralism, ethnology (she loves masks and primitive art), and in 40 years of research develops a personal expressive alphabet that draws from surrealism, crosses expressionism and lands in a very subjective chromatic and formal hybridization. Winking straightforwardly at the most important trends of the XX century, not least at pop art. Her touch, in the paint-graphy as in the photographic experimentation, is fine and biting, whilst the topics, always heart-felt, reaches from gender emancipation to the dialectics between instincts and female identity, to the investigation of man-animal relationships and in a broader sense amongst living beings. To conclude with the overstepping of the anthropocentric vision and the passionate development of a personal and ecological sensibility.
The lively fan of her interests is mirrored in the exhibition in six diverse sections across all the rooms of the gallery: starting with the small drawings for kids and finishing with the more mature works, including the big format ones, passing through ideas of identity and femininity understood both as experiences of daily intimacy and as social construction. From kids play to adults´ role-play are to be confronted all sort of displacements of sense and value between objects (functional or fetish), natural processes and artificial hybridizations, sexuality’s ambiguous vitalism and the forcing of what is today called “genderization”. The 1976 “Pregnant Shoe”, the 1983 “St. Sebastine”, the 1982 wooden cage “Caught Happiness”, the series of macabre tableaux with maiden, the famous shots – now iconic – that allude to an arm wrestling between female and male power, the prison-house where the woman transforms herself into a giant tiger… they are endless and refined forms of her art, that insists on the centrality of the body and on her transformations, on the relationships between private and collective memory, on gender disparities in daily, familiar, political life.
From social fragility to ecological fragility, from culture to nature it is only a small step and B. Jürgenssen takes it with lightness/agility. She contaminates forms and languages, overlaps biological and psychic mechanisms, tailors visual, unpredictable and sophisticated symbiosis, that, dedicated to her “wild thinking”, nicely prove themselves in GAMeC. “An artist never interested in creating a trademark, up until she would abandon a path as soon as its characteristics would become recognizable”, underlines Natascha Burger, curator of the exhibition together with Nicole Fritz, and curator since 10 years of Jürgenssen´s archive. “This did not help her to become famous. But let her be herself, a timid person, not provoking, someone who did not promote herself, but extremely passionate of art in all her forms and brave in her experimentations. A woman that has still to be discovered by the wide public, an artist that is able to amaze”.
It is a perfect exhibition for women´s day, also to question with no hypocrisy the art world and to fill some gaps and cultural lacks too long cultivated in the inattentive system of institutions, collecting and critique. During the exhibition there will be events open to the public focusing on gender topics, that will involve philosophers, historians and scholars of feminist movement, artists and academics. Simultaneously, there will be workshops for kids and adults aimed at thinking the roles in society through.