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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

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Gabriele Stötzer in the Pankow Gallery: Naked bodies as zones of resistance

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Bright red lips, bright red nipples. The latest works by Gabriele Stötzer made of fluffy wool and ceramics are huge and full of colour. “I celebrate the female body,” says the artist. Her photo series from the 1980s, on the other hand, manage without any opulence. However, the limitation of funds was not necessarily a free choice. Black and white photography cost little, the darkroom work was self-made.

And in order to be able to show such subversive works at all, a handy format was practical. With pop-up presentations in the underground circles of the GDR, a photo leporello could be quickly unfolded and pinned to the wall. No transport costs, no traces for the always suspicious Stasi. Such art eluded control. For Gabriele Stötzer it was a necessity for survival: self-assertion and self-exploration in a repressive system.

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It’s been a good forty years since Gabriele Stötzer grabbed the camera or even acted as a performer in front of it. Mostly naked. Now the artist, who will soon be celebrating her 70th birthday, stands between her photo series from the GDR era and talks, lively as ever. One believes her immediately that she was not easily defeated.

The exhibition in the municipal gallery Pankow, right on the village green by the church, focuses on the early, performative cycles. The completed group of works fits the director Annette Tietze well into the programme. Photographic art, especially female GDR positions, can be seen more frequently here.

Gabriele Stötzer called the photo series with Birgit Bronnert from 1982 “stand-up games”.
© Gabriele Stötzer, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2023, Courtesy LOOCK Gallery, Berlin

A hand presses against a pane. A face is deformed by the counter-pressure of the invisible border. The glass stands between the actor and the camera eye. But it only becomes visible through the gestures that go against the barrier. In other series of photos, bodies are unwrapped, wrapped in white bandages as if to heal injuries. The bandages enclose the limbs more and more tightly, restricting mobility. What emerges suddenly resembles a mummy, alive.

The existential and the political intertwine in the scope for interpretation of these actions. Stötzer called them “stand-up games”. What the camera captured step by step always developed in spontaneous doing. Color runs like blood over skin. Sometimes two women act in a performative duet, until their pressed bodies are tied together like a straitjacket to form a unit. In the middle, the two laugh.

openness and vulnerability

Openness and vulnerability become visible. Then again, the tight camera detail fragments the bodies, alienated by a cracked clay coating. “I just wanted to make these gestures,” says Stötzer about one of the first works in which artist friend Cornelia Schlemme pressed the shutter button.

Their own early photos are also famous today: both artists are among the most important representatives of their generation from the GDR. However, their names were missing from many post-reunification exhibitions. Recent art history has caught up. Parallels to the international art scene are now striking. Others, such as Ana Mendieta, also used the body as a material and tool. Stötzer knew nothing about it: their home base was Erfurt, deep in the provinces.

Self-Portrait from the 1983 series 'A Gaze Obliterated, I Lay My Wounds Open'
Self-Portrait from the 1983 series ‘A Gaze Obliterated, I Lay My Wounds Open’
© Gabriele Stötzer, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2023, Courtesy LOOCK Gallery, Berlin

Provocative, frivolous, with subversive humor and just “insubordinate”, Stötzer appeared there with a group of younger women from 1984, for example at inappropriate fashion shows. The models in her photo series now remain clothed, clad in minimalist clothes.

But friendships fell apart and many activities were undermined by the Stasi. Other artists went west. Stötzer stayed. After the protest against Biermann’s expatriation in 1977, she spent a year in the Hoheneck women’s prison. This experience, initially processed in texts, became the starting point for her resistant art. In 2013 she received the Federal Cross of Merit from Joachim Gauck for her commitment to civil rights. The first occupation of a Stasi headquarters was due to the Erfurt artists’ group.

But Gabriele Stötzer’s photographic works are strong even without the knowledge of their political context. It is her first institutional solo show in Berlin – hard to believe.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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