E. Krystufek – English

Oktober 24, 2017 by admin Uncategorized 0 comments


This artist shows herself, represents herself. She, herself, is a genuine sight. Her work is always a narration in the first person. The peculiar oeuvre created by Elke Krystufek (Vienna, 1970) is composed by hundreds of painted and photographed self-portraits, collages, clothes and objects she has designed, as well as written and films works, which are always self-referential.

Her first performance already caused a commotion. Actions like masturbating in public (Jetztzeit, at the Kunsthalle Wien, in 1994) and addressing topics like bulimia (Eating/Vomiting, 1992) received the expected media reaction. However, it then seemed easy to associate Elke Krystufek’s work, given the artist’s nationality, to Viennese performance art: the search for body experiences, art as an intense experience, and all those stereotypes that have been used to describe the artistic movement that took place in the Sixties.

With provocative contents, between exhibition and invitation to voyeurism, Elke Krystufek continued to display and exhibit different versions of herself. Naked or in costume, showing herself, at times, according to the parameters of beauty and eroticism used in contemporary advertising; at others, portraying her ruins, her blood, and images of her most abject intimacy. Uncountable self-portraits (body parts, her mouth, her genitals, her piercing gaze looking straight at us as if seeking a reflection in the mirror), domestic scenes of the artist in common settings, childhood photos, photos of travels, of her lovers…All this appears alongside statements about herself –painted on the canvases, or as a voiceover in the films- talking about her idols, phobias, dears or pleasures. All these different representations form a narrative framework of her life, of herself.

Yet, do these images disclose her genuine identity? Are they spontaneous forms of a self she wants to express? As we learn more about Krystufek’s work, it reveals a content that is clearly detached from a strategy of sincere self-representation. The portraits in which she represents herself obsessively –very meticulously aesthetic portraits of her face or body, alternated with others in rude, almost pornographic, poses- correspond to archetypical images of femininity: beauty, the object of desire, the impure body, and they merely reproduce the forms of the different discourses on women in our society.

In these portraits, Krystufek does not reveal herself; she constructs herself taking the position of the subject-object in different discourses on women, on femininity. The artist is both the product and the subject that manipulates these discourses, constructing and reconstructing herself in different contexts, and showing how any form of identity is perceived in terms of the specific discourse from which it is constructed.

This idea of social meaning, of how identity is perceived in terms of the common meaning it is granted socially, is what essentially defines Krystufek’s work. Yet the most interesting aspect is how her work has developed other elements that go beyond the idea of identity linked to the body, although the audience may find it easier to continue linking Krystufek’s name to the notion of the Körperkunstlerin(1). That occurs with the series Katharsis Couture, which Krystufek created by transforming existing clothes, painting them or sewing parts of other clothes, as she has also with the furniture she transforms randomly. The artist reminds us that she has worn these garments, and they are consequently part of her. The dresses participate in the ritual of her self-representation: they contain part of the artist, they become significant entities and part of the narrative framework of her work. However, in this exploration of clothes as a prolongation of the self, Katharsis Couture also presents the social connotations of fashion: fashion as a machine that receives and relays a social identity, as a creator of dreams and a symbol of status. By means of contradictory juxtaposed images of herself –images that range from glamorous to grotesque-, the artist questions established cultural conventions and proves –albeit through rejection- our inevitable participation in the social ritual.

Entitled Liquid Logic, and contradicting all the forms of a logical, ordered and established structure typical of an institution like a museum, Krystufek has taken part this year in the Museum für Angewandte Kunst (MAK)in Vienna in a singular exhibition: she asked the institution curators to select works from the museum’s collection that were linked to certain concepts like sex, religion, thought, etc. She then used these objects at will to display them, manipulate them or add her own comments, presenting them without a chronological principle or by schools as museum visitors are used to. A “liquid” presentation, with an obvious structure, which does, however, combine Krystufek’s typical codes: her provocative, exuberant and contradictory identity presented in frontal portraits with a vagina instead of a nose, clothes and furniture bearing her name in gigantic letters or large penises painted in different colours that occupy the whole wall.

The film Dr. Love on Eastern Island stands out in the context of the show. In this work, the artist, using the name “She Bas” becomes something like the personification of Bas Jan Ader (1942-1975). Using the real storyline of the death of said Dutch artist-performer, whose boat disappeared out at sea, “She”, reborn, reaches Eastern Island and, in a strange dialogue with the voice of an absent “Dr. Love”, presents issues that allude to artistic production and the power of institutions like museums –which legitimate it-, the role of women in the art world, etc.

The exhibition also displays another work loaded with this type of references. In this case it is an installation that reproduces a kitchen (her kitchen) that is as complex as it is chaotic. The association by contrast with the Frankfurter Küche (2), a kitchen from the 1920’s for social houses designed to maximize the efficiency of (women’s) functions in time and space, is inevitable. Krystufek’s kitchen, at the opposite end of the ergonomic and practical model of Viennese architecture, presents a narrow space full to the brim and overflowing with personal objects, notes, photographs and data –like all her work, unconnected-, autobiographical traces, projects of her identity.

Thus, in each painting, photograph, performance, installation or film, Krystufek presents a new relationship with herself which, also, reveals how she constructs her appreciation of her self: it is not her essential-self, but her role in a social process, more like a relational-self. In each of her representations, a new narration is added to that apparent “reality” of her identity, a narration that has no limits and will be reproduced potentially as long as our reflections as viewers exists, as long as it can be heard or seen. As the artist says directly in one of her paintings: ”I’ve still got a lot of work to do on myself”.

Translation: Laura F. Farhall

1. Along the lines of the (female) artist linked to the body.

2. Designed in 1926 by architect Margarethe Schütte-Lihotzky. A reconstruction is preserved in the permanent collection of the Museum für Angewandte Kunst (MAK) in Vienna.

(Lápiz n° 236 October, 2007)

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