In zwei Ausstellungen rücken Windhoek und Berlin ein Stückchen näher zusammen
Aus Bioplastik und Sand hat die Künstlerin Kirsten Wechslberger das überdimensionale Schachbrett mit dem Titel „Verschmelzende Schichten“ kreiert. Foto: Sascha J.Bachmann
Mehr als 12000 Kilometer liegen zwischen Berlin und Windhoek. Mit dem Auto rund eine sechs Tage und 22 Stunden lange Fahrt. Zwischen Deutschland und Namibia liegen Angola, der Kongo, Gabun, Kamerun, Nigeria, Niger und Algerien, Spanien und Frankreich – kein Katzensprung, aber manchmal braucht es weder Auto noch Flugzeug um diese Distanz zu überwinden.
Die beiden Länder sind nun noch ein Stückchen näher gekommen: Derzeit finden in Berlin zeitgleich zwei Kunstausstellungen in Zusammenarbeit mit der Namibischen Gesellschaft e. V. statt. In der Ausstellung „Basterland“ in der Fotogalerie Friedrichshain zeigt Fotografin Julia Runge Bilder aus der namibischen Hardap-Region, kombiniert mit historischen Aufnahmen aus der Geschichte der Baster. Teilweise gestellt, teilweise spontan entstanden, spielen die Fotos hundert Jahre nach dem Aufstand gegen die deutsche Kolonialherrschaft mit dem Zwiespalt zwischen alten Traditionen der Baster und den Einflüssen der Globalisierung. Dieser Kontrast prägt auch Julia Runges Rolle als Fotografin. Sie hat sich zwar viel mit der Kultur der Baster beschäftigt, gleichzeitig ist sie sich aber auch stets ihrer europäisch geprägten Perspektive auf deren Kultur bewusst. Bis zum 18. August lässt sie die Besucher an den Einblicken teilhaben, die sie während zahlreicher Aufenthalte in und um die namibischen Baster-Hochburg Rehoboth gewonnen hat.
In der kommunalen Galerie des Stadtbezirks Berlin-Lichtenberg im Kulturhaus Karlshorst präsentieren Xenia Ivanoff-Erb, Shia Karuseb, Imke Rust und Kirsten Wechslberger Grafiken, Zeichnungen, Mixed Media, Fotografien und dreidimensionale Objekte zum Thema „ZUSAMMEN WACHSEN – Perspektiven namibischer Kunst“. Kuratiert werden beide Ausstellungen von Jürgen Becker. Seit 20 Jahren engagiert er sich für die Deutsch-Namibische Gesellschaft und damit für den kulturellen Austausch zwischen beiden Ländern. Die Idee zum Titel der Ausstellung – „ZUSAMMEN WACHSEN“ stammt allerdings nicht von ihm, sondern von den Künstlern selbst, von denen drei mittlerweile in und um Berlin leben. „Die drei sind sozusagen Pendler und Botschafter zwischen den Kulturen“, sagt Becker. Beide Ausstellungen sind außerdem Beiträge zur Städtepartnerschaft zwischen Berlin und Windhoek, die im kommenden Jahr ihr 20. Jubiläum feiert.
Kirsten Wechslberger ist eine dieser Kultur-Botschafterinnen. Geboren in Swakopmund, lebt die Künstlerin seit 2016 in Berlin. Für die Ausstellung „ZUSAMMEN WACHSEN“ kreierte sie ein ganz besonderes Werk mit starkem Bezug zur kolonialen Vergangenheit Namibias. Unter dem Titel „Verschmelzende Schichten“ präsentiert sie ein überdimensionales Schachbrett. Viele der schwarzen Spielfelder fehlen, die weißen Felder sind zwar annähernd vollständig, aber teilweise schwer beschädigt. Auch viele der Schachfiguren stehen nicht mehr an ihrem Platz. Sie liegen zerschlagen in den Lücken zwischen den Spielfeldern. Das Strategiespiel Schach symbolisiere die Regeln und Systeme, die Europäer der namibischen Kolonialzeit aufgedrückt haben, deutet Wechselberger ihr Werk. „Die Erste Welt – die erfahrenen Schachspieler – haben einen entscheidenden Vorteil, wenn es darum geht mit den Ländern der Dritten Welt zu konkurrieren.“ Die dunklen Spielfelder und Schachfiguren sind daher stärker beschädigt als die weißen. Sie symbolisieren die traditionellen Wertesysteme und Strukturen der namibischen Bevölkerung. Weil die soziale Wirklichkeit aber nicht nur aus schwarz und weiß besteht sondern jede Gesellschaft von ihren Zwischentönen – den Graustufen – lebt, gibt es auch in Kirsten Wechslbergers Werk einige Figuren, die aus mehr als nur einfarbigem Sand bestehen. Sie sollen die Menschen repräsentieren, die „eine friedliche und gerechtere Welt erschaffen möchten“, so die Künstlerin. Dass Wandel möglich ist, bringt sie auch in der Auswahl ihres Materials zum Ausdruck. Bestehend aus Bioplastik und Sand würde sich das Objekt außerhalb der geschützten Galerieräume – bei Kontakt mit Wasser – langsam auflösen, solange bis die unterschiedlichen Farben des verarbeiteten Sandes nicht mehr voneinander zu unterscheiden sind. Und nach der Ausstellung möchte Kirsten Wechslberger genau das tun: Sie will ihr Werk dem natürlichen Verfall überlassen. Bis zum 25. August können Besucher „Verschmelzende Schichten“ und alle anderen Werke der Ausstellung „ZUSAMMEN WACHSEN“ aber noch völlig unversehrt bestaunen.
Navigating the Maze – a discourse by Melanie Sarantou PhD (Visual Arts), University of South Australia
Award winning artist Kirsten Wechslberger’s fifth solo exhibition, titled ‘Navigating the Maze’, enticed Namibian audiences during March and April this year at the Franco Namibian Cultural Centre in Windhoek. The installation and performance artist was recently the winner of the South Australian Arid Land Sculptural Festival’s art prize. Her work titled ‘$Edge’ earned her prize money to the value of N$22,000, including a follow-up artist residency at Nexus Arts in Adelaide, South Australia, during April and May this year.
In Namibia this leading video installation artist also received the runner-up award at the Bank Windhoek Triennial in the category ‘New Media’. After completing her single major in two dimensional studies at the University of Namibia, Kirsten was a highly regarded arts administrator at the Namibian Craft Centre and The John Muafangejo Arts centre before she devoted her energies full time towards artistic endeavours. Since 2012 she has produced numerous solo and group exhibitions, performance art installations and artist workshops in public spaces and renowned galleries both in Namibia and internationally.
‘Navigating the Maze’ included installation, visual and performance art, showing Kirsten’s six major works ‘The Tunnel’, a participatory art installation; ‘Hope’, participatory mixed media art; ‘Navigating Fifty shades of Black’ and ‘Mania’, both assemblage; ‘Navigating the Energy Points’, mixed media installation; and ‘Shaping Identity’, mixed media performance art that included a video installation. Several works are participatory as the artist aims to connect, communicate and share emotions with her audience, while giving them opportunities to experience her art at several levels.
In her work ‘Hope’, for example, Kirsten includes her audience in her work by inviting them to communicate with her through written messages that include their reflections on memorable experiences. These written messages are rolled and pinned into key holes, allowing participants to transform their thoughts into words and expressing their personal stories visually. The artist hopes that positive thoughts and energies will be exchanged, making it an ‘experiment and experience of a collective subconscious’ that allows the sharing of optimistic stories or messages.
‘Navigating the Maze’ is also a collection of work that explores the artist’s mental states and emotional growth. The essential role of art in delving into and coping with conscious and unconscious states is widely acknowledged in mental health practices worldwide, as underpinned in the early twentieth century by Carl Jung’s studies on symbolic types and mandala analysis. While Kirsten explores and expresses her journeys and experiences with depression, separation, optimism and personal growth in this work her previous exhibitions, such as ‘The Road Lesser Travelled’, often served as platforms for navigating her personal maze. In this exhibition ‘Navigating the Energy Points’ is and installation of several primary coloured discs with maze symbolism that are aligned on a vertical string, symbolising the artist’s awareness of internal becoming, her focus on stability amidst many emotional disruptions, or ‘becoming undone’ as theorised by American gender philosopher Judith Butler.
The assemblage ‘Navigating Fifty shades of Black’ is a visual expression of the artist’s experiences with depression. The various shades of black, contrasting surfaces and dimensions guide the viewers eyes on a journey through a maze of paths that often lead to dead ends, while it also allow the discovery of new elements. ‘This is what depression is … it feels like you are trapped in this void of blackness and absence of emotion and it feels never ending … unfinished … I had to stop myself from not working on it more as it would have lost that quality’, explains Kirsten. In comparison, ‘Mania’ is inspired by the contrasting balances of bipolar disorder and the ecstatic highs that often end in frustration. The artist experienced this disorder as ‘having too much energy, too many thoughts in need of expression’, resulting in tensions that is depicted in the use of reds and delicate, breakable strings.
During the opening and critical feedback events of this exhibition audiences were able to view ‘Shaping Identity’, performed by the artist. In this work Kirsten’s nude body is partly enfolded in packaging materials and a wooden coffin while a video installation is projected onto her. The projections, visible on her skin, consist of paper cut-outs that symbolise her past relationships, connections and disconnections with people. She appears exposed and vulnerable. The strong symbolisms connected to the coffin contrasts with the delicate colours and shapes of the projections, her subtle and calm voice as she recites some of her stable and fluxing identities. This performance suggests how some identities, perhaps those that are more stable, are often unconsciously projected onto people, continuing until a person’s demise, while the more fluxing identities that shape people’s individuality come about by choice, in the same way Kirsten chose to share her identities with her audience. This moving performance that evokes emotions, feelings and thoughts, in combination with the rest of the artist’s work, gives her audience much to think and feel about in their own lives and experiences, including how their identity ‘labels’ came about.
In ‘The Tunnel’ Kirsten’s audience participated in a journey through a dark tunnel in which they were confronted with textures, smells, sounds and other stimuli that provoked subjective experiences, thoughts and actions. ‘The walk through the tunnel is what is important – being in a dark space, surrounded by nothing but sound, smell and different textures is not easy – it is not easy to let things in and reflect on the effect at a deep level, having to navigate your own maze within mine’, explains the artist. For this reason she focused her attention to detail on the interior of the space as she feels that the exterior of people are not as important as their interior. The exterior of ‘The Tunnel’ conveys this particular focus of the artist as at first glance the viewer is confronted with the ‘ugliness’ of cardboard boxes, wooden and recycled bits and pieces that outwardly seem to lack detail and finesse, giving the installation a feeling of a make-shift dwelling or a shack.
Recycled and biodegradable materials featured repeatedly in Kirsten’s installation and performance art, allowing the intensity and power of her affective themes, such as loss, displacement and connectedness, as well as her critical views on capitalism, poverty and the hardship experienced in peripheral societies, to materialise in her visual expressions. ‘Some participants had beautiful reactions in “The Tunnel” – they became aware of all the elements and inputs within the space, triggering their own feelings and thoughts -they were ready to look inside, while the ugliness of the installation deterred others’, says Kirsten.
The artist is very aware that some individuals from her audience are not able to relate to all of her work. In ‘Navigating the Maze’ she provokes subjective reaction and she invites people, perhaps on an unconscious level, to look internally and become aware of their personal feelings when participating through viewing her art. Kirsten concludes: ‘the experience of my art is subjective, any art for that matter, and since it is about people’s paths and choices the interpretation can never be wrong or right – it just is.’
Video Documentation (last few minutes – no editing)
Discourse written by Iani de Kock
(BA Hons Counselling Psychology and BA Hons Human Resource Management)
Visitors to the National Art Gallery of Namibia can currently experience the works of art from 27 local and international artists showcasing the results of a 2 week workshop in the vastly inspirational area of Gobabeb as part of the 2015 Tulipamwe International Artist Exhibition that includes the mediums of painting, photography and a fascinating array of sculpture. Tulipamwe means “we are together” and no other exhibition represents this idea more than the interactive exhibition by Kirsten Wechslberger. In her exhibition Kirsten has managed to achieve something truly remarkable: a piece that is intensely personal and depictive of the artist herself, while also speaking to each member of the audience on one aspect or another, showing that while we all experience our lives as uniquely our own, we can still relate in our humanness and so “we are together”.
The spectator will encounter Kirsten’s exhibition as containing 3 main elements: a rusted skeleton of an old mattress made up with a comforting blanket and teddy bear; 169 little numbered tiles; and a typed up document with 169 entries corresponding to the tiles.
The very concept behind the exhibition was clearly extrapolated from the provocative image of a discarded old mattress with its covers disintegrated by the passage of time and its rusted innards open and exposed to the elements. Based on this rustic scrapyard find, Kirsten applied the imagery to her own life compiling 169 memories she experienced on mattresses and in beds since her childhood to maturity, basically answering the hypothetical question of “what if our mattresses could talk.” Each memory includes her age, the location of the mattress, the memory associated with the mattress and her current emotions attached to the feeling or how she feels about the memories now.
If our mattresses could talk, the tales they might tell would be some of our most intensely personal experiences of joy, hurt, intimacy, playfulness, peace and also of loneliness, restlessness and exhaustion. This is perhaps even more true for Kirsten who has seen her share of mattresses as she relocated and changed her address from Brakwater to her hostel bed in the Deutsche Schule in Windhoek, a multitude of 061 neighbourhoods, faraway places like Finland and Australia, surreal and dreamlike places of rest like when she created a cosy nest on top of her hostel window, a mattress in the middle of a dance floor and, of course, places of restlessness and discomfort huddled and hiding in a cupboard, waking up scared in a hospital bed and the wretchedness of trying to inebriatedly sleep in an uncomfortable car.
Picking up tile after tile, and reading their affiliated memories, Kirsten’s mattress bares all. It shares memories of friendship and belonging, of building fantasy worlds, jumping and playing on the bed, pillow fights and giggling with abandon. Of Edith Piaf and the smell of bacon. But it also recounts tales of abandonment, loneliness, cruelty and fear. It reveals the complexity of family relationships from her feelings of guilt and fear, but also of belonging and acknowledgement. It tells of cats and dogs and animal excrement. And of course, as mattresses do, it talks about sex. From her earliest memories as a child, her bare mattress narrates to us lurid tales of molestation and abuse. It recounts how her virginity was lost awkwardly and. It talks about rape. It talks about bad sex and being unfulfilled. It talks about the inevitable loss of desire as love runs out. It talks about sex with girls, sex with men, threesomes, fumbling sex, rough sex, break-up sex. It talks about good sex and love and how it can make you feel beautiful and free. It talks about lust and sensuality and of love won and love lost. It tells us tales of dejection, anguish and blades cutting skin just to feel again. It recalls wanting to die and attempts at suicide. But then there are moments of understanding, complete clarity and gratefulness. Tile by tile and memory by Kirsten’s exposed mattress recounts to us her life and her soul’s journey and continuous attempt pursuit of self-discovery, awareness and love. It does not falter or withhold, but bares all for scrutiny. It opens up for dialogue that which so often happens and is kept behind closed doors and so remains censored by our silence. In an act of bravery, Kirsten strips off all her layers and completely exposes herself to us, and so in essence she herself becomes the artwork. She lays herself on the bed and asks the audience to reach out and expose ourselves to her deepest secrets, all of it, even that of which we usually remain silent and blind.
Having been at the opening of the exhibition, we were privy to having Kirsten herself read out her memories one by one as members of the audience randomly selected tile after tile. This added a whole other dimension to the exhibition as we were able to observe Kirsten truly as the artwork herself, as well as the reactions of the public as “their” memory was read, which blurred the line between artist and spectator as only truly great interactive performance art can do. Being able to observe this interplay where the sum (the reactions and interactions) becomes greater than the parts (artist and spectator) was perhaps the most awe-inspiring element of the performance. Many participants would select a tile that was almost written for their lives and that could have been their own memory. Others selected tiles that made them visibly uncomfortable, blush crimson red and break out in sweats, making you wonder what they were thinking. Many shared their thoughts and insights on some of the experiences to which Kirsten and the audience listened curiously and made the ultimate performance a rich tapestry of contributions from both the artist and onlookers.
One spectator mentioned how she found the performance to be too exhibitionist, which I agree it is to the highest degree, but purposefully so. Sitting on the rusted, exposed mattress we watched Kirsten as she wrestled through some of the tiles and laughed and giggled her way through others. Listening to people’s comments, her face was a canvas on its own. At times she was visibly uncomfortable, she often blushed and turned a bright crimson red, she sweated, she fidgeted, she crossed and uncrossed her arms and legs and at times took a swig of red wine. Watching her bare her soul so publicly was watching a profound process of catharsis that, like a confession, lifted a heavy weight. Realising then that this exposition of self-disclosure is a personal purge of which the audience is an eyewitness as well as a mirror I, like many others, felt compelled to stay until the very last memory had been confessed and the mattress had no more tales to tell.
From its conception from mere rusted relic to its ultimate execution, Kirsten’s project is truly awe-inspiring and spell-bounding. Her vulnerability and honesty to open herself up for display and to talk about that which is not spoken of is an act of bravery and her ability to draw the audience in and let them facilitate the process and so become part of the artwork itself is a feat of superior artistry that leaves one in awe and admiration.
Opening 7th of May 2015
7th of May — 29th May
Tuesday — Friday 9am — 5pm
Artists: Meg Wilson (AUS) and Kirsten Wechslberger (Namibia)
This exhibition is a collaboration between Nexus Arts and Art South-South Trust
Back and Forth
Written by Eleanor Scicchitano
Back and Forth is a collaborative exhibition bringing together two artists from opposite sides of the world who have taken a chance and a big, shared step into the unknown.
Meg Wilson, an installation artist based in Adelaide, has spent two weeks collaborating with and working alongside Namibian-based artist Kirsten Wechslberger to create the works currently installed in the Nexus Gallery. If this sounds like a vague introduction to this space then I apologise. The works you see before you are a product of the time that these two women have spent together, a tangible documentation of their growing knowledge of each other, and the process of their collaboration. As such, at the time of writing, neither I, nor the artists, are sure of the exact outcome of their time together.
This is the first time the two artists have spent a significant amount of time together, having previously only met briefly as part of a group a year ago. Despite the differences in their home towns, there are some similarities. They are of a similar age, and were both born away from contemporary art centres; Wilson in the small South Australian town of Coomandook and Wechslberger in Swakopmund, Namibia. Each of them works across mediums, selecting the most appropriate for their subject. Through their practices they create ‘spaces’ in which their viewers ‘experience something’, rather than creating an exhibition of individual works. Their environments are all encompassing and often have a physical effect on their viewers.
For her most recent solo exhibition, Navigating the maze, Wechslberger created a tunnel, inviting audiences to remove their shoes and walk through this new, physical space. At the beginning of their journey she included textures, sounds and smells that would invoke a feeling of fear, and later in the tunnel, the same techniques were used to create a feeling of love. As she states ‘the inputs to the senses are based mostly on my own cultural background and things that I would interpret to be scary or loving. I have had some very interesting reactions from people that have gone through the tunnel’. Wechslberger’s work in Back and Forth will pick up these themes; the relation of her own experiences with her current journey into an unknown city, the way in which her travels and her new environment will change her and the vague feelings of threat and unstableness that accompany anyone on a journey into a new space, and the forging of a new relationship.
Rather than turning the audiences attention back on themselves, Wilson challenges them to confront the physical world, and their place in it. In Flounce, her 2013 solo show at Constance ARI, she hand wove a rug that fitted the exact dimensions of the floor of the gallery. It was tightly stretched across a frame that raised it to skirting board height, where it hovered over the floor for the duration of the show. Visitors were confronted with a number of questions about the way in which they were expected to interact with the new space; do I step into it or not? Am I able and willing to enter this space? This work issued a strong challenge to viewers, and they were forced to reconsider their place in their physical world. I question how the introduction of a new person, with ideas, thoughts and feelings, into the space in which Wilson works will affect her new project. She is used to working alone to transform her environment
Central to the work of both these artists are the slow, repetitive processes by which they create their work. Knotted and woven pieces that take hours to create, performances that are feats of endurance both physically and mentally and the artists frequently challenge themselves by working in mediums and practices with which they are not always familiar, and timeframes that are not generous or lenient. These working methods are particularly suited to this collaboration, and it is this process that has given them the time to share and create the works in Back and Forth.
This project focuses on the unknown. And as someone who will never see this show in person (I am out of the country for the duration of the collaboration and the exhibition), I find that I am already thinking along these themes in conversations and emails I have exchanged with the artists. Though not entirely sure of the outcome of the project, already in conversation these two women have found a common thread; an uncomfortable feeling about oranges. And it is in this conversation, and the feeling of newness and uncertainty that the key to these works lie. There are delicate threads being woven by these artists, through shared time and conversation. This exhibition is the physical manifestation of these threads; a shared aversion to oranges, the passing of climbing and abseiling knowledge from one woman to another, the familiarity and strangeness of one person’s home and another’s unknown. This essay is equally a product of shared conversation over breakfast and, later, by email. Through the work of these two women, audiences are invited to reflect on their own relationships, with each other, the spaces they occupy and the way in which past experiences continue to shape them. This is not the conclusion of this project or this relationship as Wilson plans to travel to Namibia in 2016 and again create work with Wechlsberger, effectively trading places and taking her own step into the unknown.
It is a brave artist who deliberately waits until two weeks prior to start making work for an exhibition. It is a braver one still who does this while also collaborating with a person she barely knows. What you, the audience are now experiencing, is a physical manifestation of this shared time, and the back and forth of conversation, feelings and meeting a new person.