Sue de Beer
Harry Dodge & Stanya Kahn
Luis Gispert & Jeffrey Reed
Erik van Lieshout
Stephen G. Rhodes
Ryan Trecartin & Lizzie Fitch
When female artists deal with desire, sexuality, or gender in their work, they generally thematize female desire, feminine sexuality, or questions of gender from a feminist point of view. While aligning herself with this tradition in her drawings, Chloe Piene often explores masculinity or the male view in her videos.
In Who Slept with Who (2005), for example, Piene continues exploring the theme of prisoners that had emerged in her earlier work. Filmed in a former prison in Ohio, Piene tries to trace, and make visible again, the decade-old passions revolving around sex and comradeship that must have consumed the inmates of the past. To do this, she placed a group of women into the prison and staged a moment after the men have fulfilled their sexual desire. In the course of the video, the separation of object and subject become increasingly nullified, and blood comes into play. Did the women kill the prisoners, or is the blood meant to remind us of their past crimes? The many, fairly abstract images, backdropped with deep, mechanically altered voices, conjure the uncanny, yet remain distinct from horror film effects. The viewer gets the feeling of digging into the essence of the image, into the truth, and of looking deep into the women and their abysses.
The fluid boundaries of identities, gender roles, and social behavior are also a topic of interest in Piene’s current project, which is as yet unfinished. Although writing about a work-in-progress is always a challenging endeavor, we will nevertheless attempt it. Initially inspired by Alban Berg’s opera Wozzek (1930), Piene then examined Büchner’s figure of Woyzeck (1837). Set in the first half of the nineteenth century, the stereotypical soldier Woyzeck kills Marie, his girlfriend and the mother of his child. Leading up to the crime, Marie had had an affair, and Woyzeck had suffered by physical and psychological humiliation at the hands of his employer, a captain and doctor. Before the murder, Woyzeck had also heard voices that ordered him to commit the murder. Büchner’s book, left unfinished due to the author’s early death, leaves us with three, possibly interrelated avenues of interpretation: jealousy, schizophrenia, and resistance to oppression.
This is where Piene jumps in, bringing Rambo onto the scene with her. Silvester Stallone’s final monologue in Rambo: First Blood serves as the textual basis of Piene’s new work. Despite the wholly different settings, there are evident similarities between Woyzeck and Rambo. For example, the theater version of Woyzeck, starring Klaus Kinski, begins with Woyzeck frenetically doing push-ups. The story of Rambo is, moreover, that of a traumatized war veteran who fails to reintegrate into society and ends up running amok after suffering a series of humiliations.
Far from contenting herself with simply restaging Woyzeck as Rambo, Piene takes it up another notch by having composer Marcus Schmickler write a song to accompany the monologue and having it sung by women (which brings us back to Alban Berg) living in German forests dressed in military camouflage.
The complex topic of survivalism alone is already sufficient fodder for drawing wide-ranging conclusions. However, I do wish to point out the connection between the withdrawal from social rules and subsequent failure to achieve social integration, that is, the figure of the “loser,” and the latter’s creation of a phantasmatic “law of the jungle” in which he tries to restructure what he perceives to be authentic masculinity. The revelation, then, that not only men seek spaces in which they are removed from all social pressure and their concomitant feelings of inadequacy will surely be a major value of Piene’s work.
In seeking to intensify this reading a bit further, the seemingly crazy and ill-fated survival fantasies of Woyzeck and Rambo nevertheless demonstrate a small measure of a rediscovered capacity for action. Convention forces Woyzeck to follow the doctor’s orders, leaving him no room to maneuver, even when his wife cheats on him because he doesn’t have enough money to support her. Rambo, for his part, lives in a society which is impervious to his traumas and which presumed his smooth reintegration after his return from Vietnam. Both men were driven to their limits, to a point at which they chose to take a leap, to resist, and to put their intentions into action, in spite of the knowledge that there would be consequences. They did this because they saw it as their only way of taking a stand, though their survivalist action remains nothing more than phantasmatic.
Lives and works in Brooklyn, New York
|2007||Witte de With, Rotterdam, The Netherlands |
Le Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nimes, France
|2005||Vita Kuben, Umea, Sweden|
|2004||Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland|
|2007||Chloe Piene and Willem de Kooning, Locks Gallery, Philadelphia, USA|
|2006||ARS06, Kiasma, Helsinki, Finland|
|2005||No Ordinary Sanctity, Deutsche Bank and Galerie Thaddeus Ropac, Salzburg, Austria|
|2004||The Whitney Biennial Exhibition, Whitney
Museum of American Art, New York |
Thriller, The Edmonton Art Gallery, Edmonton, Canada
Shamim Momin, “Chloe Piene,” in: Ice Cream (London, 2007).
Hilarie M. Sheets, “Making Skin Crawl,” in: ARTnews, no. 8 (September 2006).
Vitamin D : new perspectives in drawing, ed. Barry Schwabsky (London, 2005).
Mariuccia Casadio, “Chloe Piene Cut Through,” in: Vogue Italia (July 2005).
Chloe Piene, ed. Bernhard Fibicher and Lee Triming, exh. cat. Kunsthalle Bern (Bern, 2004).