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Anja Luithle

 

The Twenty-Fifth Hour of the Day



The way Anja Luithle stages her images and objects involves a lot of mysterious allusions. It starts with the title of the exhibition. There are 24 hours in a day, so there is no 25th hour, and if there were one, then only if the clock is set for winter-time. But then that hour would be taken back six months later. Hence, this is only a man-made manipulation that makes no difference to the irreversible flow of time. Thoughts such as these lead to the question: Is time not actually a present given to us, a gift from the gods that we ought to enjoy every day? Or should we instead expect that this gift is limited and cannot be increased, so that it is in our interests to divide it carefully into units of time that serve as a basis for our life together, for work and its wages? With that we are right at the heart of the philosophical considerations on the topic of time that are triggered by this exhibition. Everything to do with dividing time is a question of practised life rhythms, conventions and more or less arbitrary requirements that we voluntarily accept so as to be able to achieve something in this world. So how do we divide the time that is given to us, and what endeavours and objectives do we fill it up with? To what extent are we free, and what is predetermined? Clothes and shoes, which recur in Anja Luithle’s work, are outward signs, aids, traces of life. They not only serve to cover and protect the body, but are also for the purpose of representation. Without their wearers, who are left to the viewer’s imagination, they are empty shells and function as representatives for the life concealed within them. The colours, given the significances associated with them, predetermine certain associations: passionate red, innocent white, negative black. Similarly, the shapes, positions and movements of the objects point to the situations in life in which the wearers find themselves, respectively, out of which they are in the process of breaking – under pressure or also voluntarily.

The artist playfully has a white dress float on the Danube, which flows through Tuttlingen. The title of the work, Ein Vielleicht auf der Welle (A perhaps on the wave), suggests that its position is like the flowing water in the river which carries it along. The allure of this item of festive clothing is positively baroque, a possible form without a body, whose role in life the viewers can imagine for themselves. Let us leave the Danube and go to the entrance side of the gallery where an – equally bodyless – dress greets us from a plinth. Its signal red color alone draws attention to it. Although this is not in fact the kind of dress that might be worn at work, the figure is carrying out a gently hammering movement. In an obvious allusion to Jonathan Borofsky’s Hammering Man, which is present with his similarly motordriven movement in numerous cities around the world as a homage to the working man, this work here bears the title Hammering Woman. Thus it not only references the other half of the working population, but artistic work in particular, for on closer inspection we see that the figure is holding the kind of hammer used at auctions. Instead of moving as regularly as that of the Hammering Man, however, this hammer makes irregular stops. The Hammering Woman is an ironic questioning of the artist’s own actions. Here, as in other works, Anja Luithle closely examines the commercial art system: on what fine and precarious line are artists to be located – between the deeper essence of art as priceless meaning-giver and the simultaneous securing of a livelihood? What place do they have in the mechanisms of the world of business and labour, as represented in a regulated and self-evident manner in the Hammering Man?

The cycles of prints included in the exhibition in Tuttlingen also revolve around these themes. Graphic art is an important pillar of Anja Luithle’s work, alongside her object art. As is the case with everything she tackles through her versatile media and themes, Luithle also has a great command of the techniques required, in this case, linocut and embossed printing, with which she creates a form for her thoughts on art and life that is full of humour and cryptic meaning.
Anja Luithle’s liking for traditional idioms and maxims shows to advantage in a series of seven linocuts in which she satirizes them. She calls the series “Geflügelte Worte” (familiar quotations, or literally, winged word) and in it she enriches images from the Asterix comics so familiar to her generation with famous Latin citations. This collision between a sort of sub-culture and a sophisticated bourgeois trove of knowledge has a humorous impact that is not without profoundness.
Another serial work is her “Value papers” series, a major work-in-progress which she repeatedly extends and which accompanies her work on her large objects. In that series, all kinds of toilet paper are transformed into art, the kind of art that can in fact be hung in a living room and also used as an investment. Anja Luithle shows us that an artist in need can make something valuable out of almost nothing, if he has a clever idea. The series causes us to reflect on art, its ideal and its market value, on investment and value creation, and thus on its producers and their future potential and income, and it does all that with a mischievous wink. The inscription Wertpapier (Value paper) in a great diversity of languages and letterings, and on papers of very different origin, indicates that in this case we are dealing with a global phenomenon. The coffee-cup series is a further variation of her reflections on art and its status. In the artist’s childhood the display case with the collection of coffee cups was considered to be the epitome of bourgeois pride. Here she is particularly concerned, not without irony, the glass cabinet with a prestigious collector’s item and the features it simply must have: the object should suit the living-room, be beautiful in the general sense, durable and technically well made. These cups with their flower patterns were made in the rare embossed printing technique which, like the precious shimmering fabrics for certain items of clothing, testify to exquisiteness.
Fabric motifs turn up in Anja Luithle’s work in various forms and makes, motifs which in the Renaissance already served as pointers to the power and wealth of those depicted with them. Her recent series of oil paintings, therefore, is dedicated to the fabric motif. In the two large paintings with motifs from valuable Asian fabrics – a famous Japanese pattern in one, in the other a famous Chinese pattern – visual excitement is ensured not only by brilliant and distorted motifs and motifs of movement, but also by the fact that the paintings mysteriously shift on the wall (with the help of hidden motors). As they both bear the name of an island to which the two countries lay claim, one in Japanese and the other in Chinese, the paintings are also point to the fact that the need for a representative aesthetics is often linked with matters to do with aspirations to power and subjugation.
The two drapery paintings (Faltenwurf schief / Crooked fall of folds, and gedrehter Faltenwurf /Twisted fall of folds) are in turn ironic allusions to the classic art connoisseur, who is capable of allocating artworks to certain epochs and masters based on the way the fall of the folds has been painted or sculpted. The subtext raises the question: Can art become the object of a connoisseur’s ambitions at all in a globalised world characterised by hectic change and the simultaneity of the most varied forms of expression? How is contemporary art to be defined? What role does art have today in the interplay between narcissistic distinction, trophy-like appropriation and the subversive expression of essential being? The subtle movement, which initially seems like a hallucinatory deception, confronts the viewer with his ability to distinguish what is real from what is feigned. It brings home to us that the limits of perception can shift due to the time factor.
The above-mentioned coffee cups, as components of a household culture, have, like the shoes and clothes, been abandoned by people, lead a life of their own and stand for private philosophising around a coffee table, the dynamic aspect of which mainly involves stirring the coffee. The flow of time seems to be halted in the swirling movement of the fluid, which may also stand for thoughts revolving. This motif also crops up in the series of embossed prints of cups and, in another way, in the “Brain” monotypes, where the brain also mutates into a swirling mass. In the installation entitled Der Himmel über meinem Haus (The sky above my house) it is primarily the turning moment that is of significance – as a central perceptual experience in the exhibition. Rotating above the viewer is an oil painting of a swirling cloud-like movement. This could be interpreted as a retreat into one’s own little world which had been taken possession of during the search for a safe anchorage, and where even the gaze at the sky no longer conjures up a mood of departure, as was still the case, for example, with the Zero artists of the 1960s. Heinz Mack understood the flowing, rotating movement of his objects as expressing the unabated energy of a new era. Here, by contrast, the fallen dove, cast in bronze, lying on the floor underneath this rotating sky is a clear indicator of the finitude of all flights of fancy. The cage-like structure and the rotating movement also symbolise the hermetic insularity of a certain kind of restrictive thinking that hinders progress. The theme of the fall and of efforts made in vain is also addressed in the kinetic installation entitled Karriereleiter (Career ladder), albeit in a drastic and multifaceted way. In this work, women’s signal are red high-heeled shoes ascend in small steps, only to dash downwards with a loud clatter. At first sight, the Casting Shoes seem to be more harmless; these are deceptively realistic men’s and women’s shoes made of cast resin walking rhythmically on the spot thanks to a motor hidden in the plinth. These refer to movement without progress, the Sisyphus aspect of many an effort made in life.

Another work that deals with striving for something higher is the shoe with an outsized heel presented like a monument on a plinth. It is cast in bronze and its gold patina underscores its prestigious character; it is made to last, for posterity. Its mysterious title “Das Erbe” (The Heritage) reminds us of its owner, who is obviously no longer in this world, but has left behind a memory of a grotesque endeavour. Alice Wilke has written a wonderful text in which she refers to the shoe using the term fetish to designate the transformation of an, in itself, trivial thing into an object of desire, which unleashes reflexes “that extend far into psychological fields such as the aspiration to possessions, riches, beauty and power.”(1)

Anja Luithle is a kindred spirit of the Surrealists and Dadaists in that she makes the tension between man’s rationality and his suppressed longings and desires the theme of her art. In her world of objects and images, the viewer walks onto the stage of a spectacle which, like Baroque theatre, deals with both beauty and splendour and with finitude and vanitas. The mechanics of theatre that allow movement only along predetermined tracks, the absence of people and the representative function of lifeless objects all bring home clearly to the viewing subjects that they are (still) alive and have every possibility of taking fate into their own hands, filling it with life, and, together with Anja Luithle, using their freedom and questioning the supposedly well-trodden way of the world. On the one hand, her objects visualise the machinelike functioning of man on an apparently given and established path, so as to initiate, on the other hand, a mental escape by this very spectacle and with a dose of subtle irony. For Anja Luithle, being an artist means everything except being a functioning cog in the works. Instead it means – without entering the stage oneself – taking very consciously and literally the role of the person who moves the things in a deliberate mise-en-scène. It is no means by chance that Anja Luithle’s white dress in the Danube refers to one of the most famous paintings in art history, Las Meniñas by Diego Velázquez, 1656, the complexity and mysteriousness of which have caused an avalanche of art-historical reflections. In the middle of the painting one sees this very kind of white dress worn by the Infanta Margarita, whose existence, like that of other princesses, consisted of being a plaything in the power game (i.e., marriage policy) of the Habsburg monarchy. In that painting the artist drew attention to himself – with the help of mirroring – thereby revealing that he played an important role as the secret manipulator of the courtly representatives. This was highly unusual within the rigid conventions of the Baroque era, marked by courtly hierarchy, and it indicated a new and very self-confident concept of the artist’s function in relation to the commissioners of the work and to society. The royal commissioner, by contrast, is not personally in the painting, although there are pointers to his indirect presence. Michel Foucault links this with an epistemological turning point in history. For Foucault, Velázquez’ painting subtly brings the viewer into play in the merely conceived position of the king, as the discerning and sovereign subject.(2) It took a few centuries in time and a change to a democratic society before this interpretation could emerge. Today the market, which makes a commodity of everything, including art, is as dominant a power as the courtly set of rules was for the Baroque artist. Today too – albeit in other contextual connections – it is also an act of self-assertion when artists like Anja Luithle resist the pressure, lend expression to it with humor, and deliberately take the role of subversive mover (to be understood literally in this case) and in doing so grant the viewer his role as king.

Anna-Maria Ehrmann-Schindlbeck
Galerie der Stadt Tuttlingen



(1) Alice Wilke, “between dust and stars“ in Anja Luithle, ganz oben rückwärts um die Ecke,
ed. by Sandra Elsner, Saarländisches Künstlerhaus Saarbrücken e.V., 2013, p. 11.
(2) Reinhard Haneld, Die philosophischen Hoffräulein, Der Platz des Königs – Foucault und Velázquez,
lecture given in Duisburg on 9 March 2012, see www.reinhardhaneld.wordpress.com