Wiebke Siem : Niema tego złego coby na dobre nie wyszło
01 December – 19 January 2008
Long-nosed wardrobe ghosts, gaping egg heads, sausage shaped creatures without a face. Root-like branchfigures, headless but with big feet. A female puck, who hangs as an egg-shaped lamp over a kitchen table. The goblin-like fabric creatures, who sit on the chest of drawers, lean over tables or haunt old fashioned bedroom furniture, are slightly bigger than humans, and appear as doll-like oversized toys that combine funny-harmlessness with scariness in a grotesque exaggeration. The figures of this menagerie are part of Wiebke Siem’s new line of works, and they are so amusing because they are so disturbing. Some of them remind the viewer of a Füssli-esque incubus made of loden. Others seem like a pinstriped mixture of fantastic figures of Wilhelm Busch or Paul McCarthy. However, they are strongly connected with Siem’s previous image repertoire. “Direct relatives of the gingerbread man, snow man and dolls of the vierte Werkgruppe (fourth workgroup),” (1) she says. Those, however, were developed as strictly abstract forms that remind of Arp or Schlemmer. In comparison, the figures of her current bestiary caricature mimicked and personalised aspects. There are chubby bodies, long noses, goggle eyes, skinny little legs, enormous feet. Siem stages them with furnitures of the 1930s to 50s, which impersonate a soberly antiquated, sombre domesticity and identifies childhood fantasies as the source for this realm of imagery, e.g. the grapeman hidden in the wardrobe of her installation Sonntag (Sunday). “Children often see things in an undisguised way; they look into a wardrobe and think: ‘Is this a coat or does it suddenly have a face?’ This is also what my work is about."
Siem shows a number of ensembles. In an old fashioned kitchen, a lamp mutated into a grotesque form hangs above a table that has not been laid. “On top of a white, oval lampshade that is open at the bottom,” says the artist, “lies a red bowl which covers this body like a little dress and turns the light a shade of red. The lamp is enormous, has arms and legs that are dangling down onto the table. They remind the viewer of a woman hanging down from the ceiling.”Bluntness of the image, strictness of the form – this is exemplary for Siem’s strategy of imagination, an imagination that creates an often funny but simultaneously cruel world of human things. Sonntag is also based on such an alien but true picture of homeliness. An old looking living room, in which the figure of the grapeman is in the wardrobe like a spooky or dreamy character. It is sown out of green fishbone tweed. It sticks a long nose, thin little arms and big hands out of a plump, round body and stares at us steadfastly. Siem has sown a further version of the grapeman completely out of a pinstriped fabric. The differently sized balls of its body appear like a multitude of eyes that multiply themselves into a grotesque Argus body by making stripes of fabric collapse in circles. Siem’s works also hint at art of others. In Sonntag or Die böse Farbe (The evil colour), she quotes Reiner Ruthenbeck’s sculpture Umgekippter Stuhl (Turned Over Chair) (1971). Typical are ironic re-interpretations of artistic attitudes of her (mainly male) teacher generation. For Siem, this is “also about reference to certain artists of the modern age, who were mainly male. When I studied, we had to deal with Franz Erhard Walther and the school of Beuys, with minimal and conceptual art, that was also mainly done by men. As a woman, one felt the urge to break that. Then you just want to sew on arms, otherwise you cannot endure that,” says Siems not without irony. This can also be seen in the use fabrics as an artistic material. “A female perspective can be found throughout all my works,” she says, “for example in the clothes sculptures and now as well as I find. Where I had used happy, ‘female’ fabric in the past, I am now using ‘male’ ones like pinstripes, loden and suit fabrics.” Pharao, for instance, is such a male homunculus. The egg head with thin arms and legs that end in large hands and feet is ponderously enthroned on a chest of drawers. Siem has made this figure from suit fabric and endowed it – McCarthy sends its love – with a phallic nose and a tiny hole as a pout. The big nose is replenished on both sides with balls that could be eyes (among other things). In this caricature, Siem also aims ironically at sexualising contents. This is also in a similar way true for ohne Titel/Schlitten (untitled/Sleigh). In an atmosphere of touching comfort, this work contains phallic traits. The grotesque giant cucumber, faceless but with thin little arms and legs is lengthwise embedded on an old children’s sleigh and is a talking image that for the sake of the visual punchline doesn’t need to be explained further. But it can be interpreted as a reference to Beuys’s famous Rudel (Pack) (1969). He loaded 24 sleighs each with grease, felt roles and an inspection lamp and had them swarm out of a VW bus. This is a work that interests Siem not only because of the handling of form and fabric in it, but also because it represents a classic “man’s story”. After a plan crash, Beuys is supposed to have been found by Crimea Tartars, been taken away on a sleigh, warmed up with felt blankets and feed with grease. Whether it is true or not, the legends is kept alive and thus Beuys remains an associative context here as well. But Siem’s Sleigh-piece is too autonomous and too novel to be just a persiflage. In total, it is exemplary for her new strategy of a caricatured tapering of forms and procedures that are modern in their cores. She also understands these forms and procedures as “an act against the dominance of male artists and their world view”. But Siem goes beyond that when she gets such an inherent world of images out of the caricature.
(1) All quotes: Wiebke Siem in a conversation with the author, Berlin, November 8th, 2007.