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Irene Andessner - Portraits of the Self

Category: Portrait 24. December 2009

Irene Andessner’s self-dramatizations are revivals of historical personalities that utilize memory as a source of reactivation.

Irene Andessner began her career with painting. She first studied with Emilio Vedova, one of the most important Italian Informal painters, at the Academia di Belli Arti in Venice, and then with Max Weiler and Arnulf Rainer—also a representative of the Informal—at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Andessner encountered paintings by the Italian Renaissance painter, Sofonisba Anguissola, for the first time at an exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. The self-portraits fascinated her,

and after an attempt to paint herself as Anguissola, she turned to the fields of photography and video art, in which she explores contemporary forms of the self-dramatization.

Andessner’s portrait works are revivals of historical personalities that utilize memory as a source of reactivation: Marlene Dietrich, Electress Dorothea of Brandenburg, Wanda von Sacher Masoch, Irene Harand, Barbara Strozzi, Hedy Lamarr, Ida Pfeiffer, Maria Sibylle Merian, Barbara Blomberg, Gwen John, Constanze Mozart, Angelika Kaufmann, Frida Kahlo. The artist portrays over fifty personalities, primarily women, through role performance. The selection of her protagonists follows strict criteria: they are strong and politically involved women who were inventive, creative, aggressive, intelligent, and remarkable, who made an impression through their personalities or their approaches to life, however, often enough to be displaced into the lower and hidden ranks behind a male-dominated world and historiography.

Andessner is interested in how women have dealt with themselves throughout various centuries. In order to develop this approach, she investigates the life of her subjects, seeks out portraits of them, and then selects one of these picture-worthy moments as a starting point for her artistic embodiments. Through the conversion, the artist reflects on the models as social figures, as fictions of women as holy, untouchable superstars, as suffering, dominating, or promiscuous, and reenacts them partly faithfully, and partly as a reinterpretation with materials from our own time.

Andessner’s self-dramatizations take place either in the studio or in photographic situations that are recognizable as sets. Large polaroids are taken there. According to Andessner, the material was always important to her, since she also wanted to take a painterly approach to photography, which the polaroid material makes possible. When her self-dramatizations are done as videos, they also have a performative character and integrate others into the revivification.
When the artist mixes among people as Ursula K.—a scarred, depressed woman—in suburban bars, laundromats, and public saunas, or, in the live-streaming project, "Maternoster", rides up and down the traveling lift compartments in a paternoster in the headquarters of the Federation of Austrian Industry with heads of business as Alma Mater, Maria von Nazareth, Mutter Courage (Anna Fierling), and Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone, she approaches these self-dramatizations as real performances. Her restaged self then becomes evident through actual existing circumstances and thereby eliminates the boundaries of who she is. (wh/jn)

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