Portrait und Hinterzimmer

We are delighted to present the solo exhibition Portrait und Hinterzimmer by Anneliese Schrenk.

The work of Anneliese Schrenk uses primarily the material leather. She creates images with hides, thick, tanned cow hides on which the scars, the swellings, the meridians of the living bodies are still subtly visible. The leather that she uses comes from rejected hides. These have too many imperfections for the production of Learjet seats, luxury handbags or shoes. They have been discarded due to animals’ natural blemishes or processing errors during manufacturing. But these form the lines, grooves, scratches and holes that run through Anneliese Schrenk’s imagery. Mounted on stretchers – thus adopting the concept of painting – the artist presents skin: The former living material is declared a work of art.

Schrenk’s works draw attention to the levels of meaning and value between humans and animals. The diverse presentation of the dead animals’ hollow husks brings us in contact with a seductive leather haptic as part of a multisensory artwork. Schrenk creates an artistic laboratory and takes us on a journey steeped in the aura of leathery scent. As Austrian cultural scientist and philosopher Thomas Macho points out, the differentiation between humans and animals in cultural history came rather late. Presumably Aristotle was the first to open up the horizon of what would become empiric zoology. It can be assumed that before Aristotle, man was not yet regarded as “the opposite,” “the other of the animals.” This only came about with the definition of the human in the assertion of difference, “that the human is an animal – but a special animal” (Aristotle). The distinction began because the human was the only being capable of forming a state, language and communication. In the course of its domestication, the animal occupied – or was rather coerced into occuping – a new place in relation to humans. It was pushed out of the myths and out of the sky, it was degraded into a working machine.  Meanwhile, with industrial societies, it finally was led into the slaughterhouses. As a pet, cuddly toy or advertising mascot, the animal then appears again as a surrogate of its natural purpose in our society today.

In her new series Portraits, Schrenk uses three simple cuts to arrange plausibly human facial expressions with the skin of slaughtered cattle. With her emoticon-like faces, the artist also addresses the incoherence of archaic levels of meaning between animals and humans. Ironically and full of desperate amusement, oversized human faces smile out from the exhibition walls. The face of mankind, masterfully shaped from industrially processed animal hide raises the suspicion that there must be a deficiency in this world. “Basically, the dot-dash-face is a sign that everyone recognizes, no matter which culture. In the traditional sense, a mask gave people the opportunity to transform themselves into something or someone else. In ceremonies and rituals, a spiritual, superior power was often attributed to them,” says the artist and sees quite a positive aspect in the celebration of alternative truths. Critically, Schrenk’s mask can also be considered a metaphor for the face of today’s governments. The large-scale misdirection of global citizens, which, in light of the quality of de-democratizing strategies of irritation in media and world politics, helplessly asks: Should we laugh or cry?

The installation objects constructed of wire hangers, aluminium-cast coat hooks, various fishhooks, butcher bell scrapers from the meat-processing industry and fishing rods seem at once delicate but also very brutal. They investigate and document the ambivalent aesthetics of homo sapiens at the interface of fashioning or fetishizing humans into hunters and butchers. A fantastic filigree appearance accompanied by a highly efficient transgressive and regressive potential in the imagined sacrificial body lies in the sculptures Untitled (Schlachthausfreundmetallgeflecht 10mm) and Untitled (Schabglocke). In the work titled “Untitled (Kettenhandschuh), Schrenk refers to instruments used in slaughterhouses for meat processing, while other works show equipment and objects used for the taming of animals, such as chains, rods or panic hooks, that could just as well be found in the human practice of sadomasochism. Thus the works question the current state of our communal coexistence. Connecting the delicate system of hooks, the coat hangers are deprived of their normal function, yet symbolize the absence of a person or a piece of clothing. Denying an aggressive potential but taking up a positive connotation, Schrenk balances levels of reality.

The installation Room 1022 shows an abandoned guest bed. The artist leaves an ambivalent image here. The viewer wonders who could have lived in this camp, and under what circumstances. It radiates something free and nomadic, but voided; the old, wild mattresses carry something disquieting. The tent structure sketched with leather strips offers perceived protection, but is in fact permeable. A copper plate is staged as a pillow. Historically, copper was one of the first materials used as a mirror. The driven human processes in his dreams unresolved questions of his soul. In constant hunting and in flight from himself he finds his answer in art.