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DIE DAMEN - Irony as a ressource

Category: Portrait 12. September 2013

Irony as an active agent in order to continually reformulate problems of art, of the creative subject and of the presence of the viewer-subject, in a subjective world permanently being subjectivated: 25 years after their first appearance, the art group DIE DAMEN arranged an historic and documentary exhibition at ZEITKUNST Niederösterreich in the Lower Austria Contemporary Gallery St. Pölten, offering an insight into their multifaceted oeuvre and into an entire era of Austrian art life. In the years between 1988 and 1996, the artists Ona B., Evelyne Egerer, Birgit Jürgenssen (†), Ingeborg Strobl (and after 1992 conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner), staged performances and parodistic events.
As individual artists the members were established in various art forms like photography, light art or installation. Three of them knew each other from the University of Applied Arts Vienna. In our media age, they revitalized the genre of the tableau vivant, the living picture.

Satires, mockery about the art scene but also self-promotion were central elements of their events. Especially designed pieces like a post stamp (Postmodern in the Secession Vienna in 1989), or a drinking glass (DIE DAMEN beleben die Sinne, 1990), were usually issued in two versions: an exclusive limited edition for collectors, and a public one in large circulation. Remains of their exhibitions like the stamp, a CD with family music, a pair of tights, a drinking glass, a pencil, a magazine, a pin, and other things are exhibited in display cases, together with photographs and films made of their events.

Performance is a genre that allows female artists to express themselves beyond the dominating cultural structures. There is no advisor or director defining the presentation, that way a free discourse can be articulated.

The performers are not only artistic subjects but objects as well; life and art converge within them. It is thus no surprise that artists incorporate elements of their daily lives in the performances – even their private spaces, which they appropriate by representing them in public space. They are simple actions with playful elements, challenging the issues involving the body, but also reflecting on the value of artworks as such.

Many artists have worked with subjectivity and the fragility of their methods by including the awareness about the act as yet another tool, and thereby constructed a subjective index of empirical occurrences. This very register shall then be the subject of investigation, comprising the perceptual, representational and affective processes, as well as the ones related to the identity of the artists themselves.

The artists of DIE DAMEN also address the issue of the symbolisms regarding the construction of femininity; the possible analogies between the wreckage of identity in our cultural context and the construction of femininity are disclosed in a playful way, and their live interpretations of gender stereotypes are full of self-mockery, they are critical and witty, often performed in costumes especially tailored for the occasion. In the works various temporalities coexist, aiming to provoke feelings of ambiguity.

At the same time, the venues are never just randomly chosen for the performances; instead they are essential components of the work at hand. The notion of seduction regarded as a technology of desire -constructing, manipulating and distributing objects- inscribes itself into their work as a visual strategy and as a critique, by defining the subjectivities and constructing false identities. (written by Cem Angeli)

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