Art Dictionary

Kerstin Drechsel

Kerstin Drechsel

Biography

Kerstin Drechsel (*1966 in Reinbek, near Hamburg) has lived and worked in Berlin for more than twenty years. Her multifaceted work has been seen in numerous shows in Germany, Great Britain, Spain, France, and Mexico. Since 2006 she has been a drawing instructor at the University of Kassel. Drechsel studied under Achim Freyer.

Book related to this subject

Kerstin Drechsel

Kerstin Drechsel
Wärmespeichersysteme

out of print
ISBN 978-3-7757-3251-2
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On the Existence of Different Orders

I find it exciting to discover the boundaries between the things that are generally considered totally inacceptable and a certain kind of disorder, which I think is normal.” (Kerstin Drechsel, in conversation with Oliver Koerner von Gustorf)

Kerstin Drechsel’s works can fascinate and disturb viewers, because anyone looking at her paintings, dioramas, and sculptures is confronted with the very private, intimate spaces of human life and therefore must be continually aware of his voyeuristic gaze. How should we observe these things? What do these kinds of pictures do to their viewers? A series of questions arise that were of central importance to early feminist theory.

In her series of works, the Berlin artist features spaces and scenes of great intimacy, in which is embedded a fundamental exploration of, and inquiry into, norms and boundaries. With her three-part complex of works, Reserve, Unser Haus (Our house), and Mittelerde (Middle Earth) (2001-2007), she questions forms and conventions of order and disorder; in other series, such as In Wärmeland (1996-1998) or If You Close the Door (2008-2010), her themes are female individuality and forms of lesbian intimacy, sex, and pornography.

Drechsel has studied the theme of pornography for a long time; for her, it is “first of all, a male domain per se,” and she wanted to attempt to occupy it somehow without, however, producing pornography herself. Yet, her work is always also about the confrontation with art itself, “the colorful friction between low and high art.” She has made series of silk screens and watercolors in the form of pulp magazines, posters showing lesbian couples making love, home accessories, and thirteen unusual dioramas, In Wärmeland #2. Here, Barbie-doll-like, female plasticine figures are placed in pornographic scenes in dollhouse-like settings: seductive sex scenes with wanton bodies in candy-colored settings show that sex is omnipresent: in the hair salon, on the hood of a car, at the doctor’s office, the gym, during horseback riding, etc., etc., etc. Her decision to use Barbie-like dolls seems self-evident, due to the sexual connotation of the figures, but at the same time, Drechsel questions the clichés that arise in this context.

In her new, more comprehensive cycle of paintings, If You Close the Door, she once again examines the theme of lesbian relationships, with a focus on lesbian club culture. The paintings of the female couples are now two things at once: they openly lay out the pornographic tendency, while at the same time there is an erotic bent that leans more toward concealing the basics. They are paintings full of intimacy, with an almost fleeting, melancholy effect, and despite the manifest sexual figuration of the lesbian couples, the act of observing remains distanced. Traditional representational patterns and the asymmetries of female- and male-oriented visual constructs are crossed and shifted. The club space as a semi-public space for anonymous sexual contact is redefined as a protected refuge for lesbian propinquity and intimacy.

For her paintings, Drechsel uses thinned oil paints that fray and blur the contours of her subjects, so that her style seems like the formal expression of the iconography itself: in subtle ways she formulates a statement about beauty and the female body, while at the same time refusing to accept boundaries and attributes as absolute and obvious. When a female painter depicts the female body, she cannot avoid thinking about the fact that women have served as objects of visual lust throughout the history of art. Drechsel, who studied under Achim Freyer, opens up an ambiguous field of associations that is reinforced formally and conceptually by the way the paintings are present in a given exhibition space. Here, some of the paintings take up an entire wall, while others are life-size; some, even, are not much bigger than a postcard. Some are leaned up against the wall, others are set up one behind another; some are in piles, some hang closely together. Then there are the nails and screws sticking out of the walls . . . Empty spaces for more paintings—free for supposition and imagination, the avoidance of obviousness. Drechsel’s works display her compositional, conceptual ideas. This principle is found over and over again in her oeuvre, and it is brought to a consequential, grand apex in her works Reserve, Unser Haus, and Mittelerde. Analogous to the layers of chaos and confusion in a disordered (messy) home containing heaps and piles of consumer articles and rubbish, she produces not only an inflationary number of living interiors in all possible formats, but also ties the exhibition space and the show itself into the obsessive compulsion. In the final analysis this allows her to question the production, collection, and exhibition of art.

Drechsel paints some of her littered homes on very large canvases, so that the rubbish seems to practically break over the heads of viewers. These places have lost their original purpose and have been given over to a collecting mania that has gotten out of control, where there is no room for other people any more. Another category of living space is attributed to people who make culture: stuffed with stacks of books, mountains of newspapers and magazines, piles of manuscripts, and such things, these are places where life and work have mixed together in an impenetrable way and work permeates everything. All of the homes are real places she has found, not invented. The artist has been photographing private rooms since 1998. For Drechsel, the places she shows are also always portraits of their inhabitants, which could not be any more intimate, unless she showed the people themselves. We do not know who lives here, but we see the world that a person has built around himself; “the things that someone has in his apartment say a lot about that person,” says Drechsel in an interview. Her work does not judge or expose; rather, it is a curious, friendly way of feeling out another living sphere that involves different kinds of order.

January 17, 2012 Caroline Schilling

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