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Deborah Sengl - A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

Category: Portrait 7. September 2009

It was animals that were created first, only thereafter, human beings. Seniority, the privilege of age, was compensated by the privilege of designation, the late arrival meant: “the ability to observe and appropriately designate what came before“. (Peter Sloterdijk) But human beings are the notorious late arrivers, one should not be deceived by the biblical version. Because humans only come into their own through language, the individual must always harbor the eerily daunting gap of pre-linguistic existence.

When Deborah Sengl uses metalinguistic capability in order to create a new word, she refers to the fact that the found language masks as much as it reveals. By creating the word “ertarnen“ (“to deceive through displacement”), which is used in most of the titles of her artworks, she incapsulates the central themes of her work: humans, animals, camouflage, and breeding.

The artist represents hermaphroditic natures in her paintings, drawings, and taxidermal sculptures: Human bodies with animal heads; animals that are camouflaged as their prey, or, as their predators; female figures whose bodies are covered with fashion logos; masked faces. The diverse variations of deception which nature holds ready—which its creatures usually use for their own protection—are shifted a bit throughout her work, thereby disturbing conceptions of hierarchies, balances of power, and victim-perpetrator relations. It addresses the various roles we must play in the struggle for existence in order to survive in society.

Sengl’s junction of human and animal, playing with the roles of perpetrator and victim makes one thing visible above all: the fracture which takes place within all humans. The lion in the skin of its most-prized prey; the zebra, the cross-country skier sporting the head of his feared pursuer, the bear; the woman, who has “ertarnt” herself with a luxury logo-hide, these characters deceive their so-called enemies by impersonating or “ertarn-ing” them, they are all primarily creatures torn by identity and/or language.

Deborah Sengl studied at the University of Applied Art in the department of visual media design and completed her degree in painting in 1997 under Christian Ludwig Attersee. In the beginning, she was also pursuing a minor in biology, with a focus on genetic engineering. (sh/jn)

Deborah Sengl's new exhibition "All you can lose" opens on 8th of September 2009 at the Steineck Gallery in Vienna. On 9th of November 6pm her new book "Deborah Sengl 2008/09" will be presented.

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