Io sono is the first major retrospective that an Italian museum institution dedicates to Birgit Jürgenssen (Vienna, 1949–2003), one of the most important and sophisticated interpreters of the issues of her era.
The GAMeC pays homage to this extraordinary and as of yet still under-valorised artist, hosting an exhibition project, curated by Natascha Burger and Nicole Fritz, staged in close collaboration with the Estate Birgit Jürgenssen, Kunsthalle Tübingen (Germany) and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk (Denmark).
Birgit Jürgenssen drew on the languages of surrealism in her approach to social conventions, sexuality, the canons of beauty and the relationships between the sexes with an ironic language and a subversive humour which often made use of the image of the artist herself. The body placed on show is never
displayed ostentatiously, but rather concealed and then revealed through the use of masks, inserts and natural materials, almost like a number of extensions, prostheses deployed to sound the psychological and emotional depths of the female sphere.
Split into six sections, Io sono. provides a complete rundown of the Austrian artist’s production though the display of more than 150 works produced over her 40 years of research, from drawings to collages, sculptures, photographs, rayograms, gouaches and cyanotypes.
The exhibition itinerary occupies all the rooms of the Gallery, from her childhood drawings signed “BICASSO Jürgenssen”, to her later, large format works, via those linguistic and literary games that reflect her narrative and representative contamination, to the point of focusing in the central part on the two major themes that most strongly characterise the artist’s research: gender and nature.
Originally, Birgit Jürgenssen set out most of all to highlight and contest “the prejudices and models of behaviour to which women are subjected within society.” In order to do so, she adopted a searing sense of irony, toying with various concepts of identity. The private dwelling, seen as a place in which to carry out the female role, becomes a place of constriction in her work, and everyday objects such as shoes, clothes and cookers are presented in an enigmatic or sarcastic manner. The artist thus questions and deconstructs the myth of male power and desire, without falling into the trap of simplified dualism, extending her reflection to all the codified gender models – both male and female – within society.
But from the 1970s, her thought starts to evolve, opening up to new considerations on the deepest nature of humankind and on the relationship between nature and culture. These themes, until now largely overlooked in accounts of the artist’s career, are described in great detail within the exhibition. Structuralism, psychoanalysis and ethnology in fact stimulated Birgit Jürgenssen to ponder the dialectics between the animal, instinctive components and female identity, and the devaluation and fetishism of the object.
Jürgenssen’s ‘wild thought’ drives her to trace the relationships between the human and the animal on her own body. In this process, the artist gives life to hybrid creatures, in which the animal is anchored, grafted inside the human being, on the basis of a system of fluid relationships. The same applies to plant life forms, through a series of works that question the most common anthropocentric vision, promoting a systemic point of view around the processes of living elements. What is expressed through the artist’s works are bodies perceived not as shapes, but as ‘formations’: living organisms that promote a ‘profound’ ecological awareness, attention to the intrinsic value of the species, of systems and natural processes.
Birgit Jürgenssen’s work takes on new meaning in our present world: in a historical moment in which we witness the undercutting of fundamental principles and rights and a progressive banalisation of issues linked to the female dimension and, more in general, to gender identity, her strictly non-ideological approach (yet one rooted in the individual and intimate sphere) provides new concreteness to the emancipatory power of art.
The exhibition is accompanied by a monographic catalogue, published by Prestel, with contributions from Patricia Allmer, Michael Bracewell, Louisa Buck, Natascha Burger, Maurizio Cattelan, Melissa Destino, Marta Dziewańska, Heike Eipeldauer, Nicole Fritz, Lorenzo Giusti, Jessica Morgan, Marta Papini, Gabriele Schor, Jasper Sharp, Abigail Solomon-Godeau and Ninja Walbers.
On the occasion of the retrospective, the Public Program – the platform of meetings open to the public as part of the GAMeC’s collaboration with the G. Carrara Academy of Fine Arts – will address gender themes, involving philosophers, historians and scholars from the feminist movement, artists and literati. At the same time, the Educational Services of the Gallery will offer a varied programme of workshops, both for children and adults, fostering reflection on the theme of roles within society, as well as interaction and dialogue between genders.