time standing still
enduring the „now“
at the end of a phase
anticipating a new beginning
In contrast to the current trend in contemporary art, depicting the world of mankind as segmented, self-destructive, consisting of incompatible contradictions, virtually doomed, Katharina Gun Oehlert’s work sets a positive, integral vision of life, indicating powerful emergence and growth, stability, continuity and hope.
Twenty-eight pregnant, female bodies, formed from plaster and gauze, individually shaped, life-size torsos, suspended in mid-air, form a dynamic, forward-thrusting procession in the shape of the ancient magic sign of the triangle, a symbol associated with woman since time immemorial.
Our perception is shocked by the bold confrontation with the nude, pregnant, female body, by the breaking of a taboo, which even today perceives this body as being not suited for public display, often even unseemly and not beautiful.
At this stage our customary mode of perception requires adjustment. The beauty of these bodies does not obey the dictates of fashion, it breaks free from the cultural norm and replaces it with an archaic aesthetics, in stark opposition to the fashion-oriented ideal of the slim, young and therefore „beautiful“ body.
The bodies in Katharina Gun Oehlert’s sculptural group exude maturity, strength and voluptuousness, the shapes are extended to the utmost limit, their enveloping skin like a hypersensitive membrane. We sense the new life growing within, the tension expressing its urge to be born soon.
All the bodies have the same expression, ancient and knowing and far removed from the here and now. Twenty-eight pregnant women are twenty-eight individual beings, each with its own effect, each body making a separate statement. We can distinguish between the aggressive, the assertive, the tender, the introverted, the maternal, the mature, the statuesque, the at-peace- with-herself, the burlesque, the cheerful and so on.
One quality applies to all equally strongly – they are at one with themselves.
As a result of this self-approval and self-acceptance, the artist was able to combine them within the unbelievably compact, meaningful shape of the triangle. This order directly represents continuity and multiplication of life to come, throughout time. The triangle of female bodies is an absolutely overarching symbol, removed from the present, emerging from the past and pointing to the future.
The combination of numbers – twenty-eight bodies in seven rows represents the monthly female cycle as well as the ancient magical number seven – the rhythm of years in which all human beings change, and the generations to come – for all time.
To release this procession of women from the static, to set it in motion, to give it drive and dynamics, it has not been placed on the ground, but each woman is suspended from fine wire and thin dowelling in the same way.
The whole group floats 120 – 180 cm above the ground, sloping upwards slightly by 10 cm in each row from back to front. This increases the intensity of the forward surging movement. Faced with this formation one is visually overwhelmed by the irresistible, unstoppable phalanx of female torsos.
On the ground a 10 cm deep, even layer of duck down mirrors the triangle, suggesting a bed or camp, sterility and softness, an absorbing, protective element. Shadowlike, the white feathers capture the surging bodies, calming them, holding them, whilst re-establishing the basic order.
In choosing the title FERMATE, Katharina Gun Oehlert provides us with the key to her work: „From the complex process of being pregnant, I wanted to capture the moment of maximum suspense, maintain it for the duration of the creative process, capture and hold its incredible presence in my work – the moment, just before a new life emerges, when one holds one’s breath in anticipation of the event, still full of hope, in spite of any possibility of danger and potential evil.
We may criticise Katharina Gun Oehlert’s work or we
may be overwhelmed by it. It is impossible to remain indifferent. This
sculpture is a great work. It is simple, forceful and powerful. All the
elements, material, formal and compositional interrelate most stringently.
This inner harmony, created by the interplay of the white torsos, their natural order, the well balanced distance from each other and the feather triangle, the play of light on the bodies, creating a connecting structure between them and the minimal, concise selection of materials – all completely convincing to the point that one gives credence to the work without hesitation.
The complete absence of aesthetic or decorative elements renders the subject matter neither fashionable nor opportune, but equally convincing and credible. Katharina Gun Oehlert’s work is further enhanced in its importance because it is not derived from anything, it does not borrow other ideas, formal or compositional. It is unique. The work derives its autonomy from the basic theme – the moulded human bodies. Never before has the pregnant woman been made the subject of art. This is the very first time, executed in all seriousness, a concise symbol, which is unforgettable.
Rosmarie Kesselheim, 1999
. . .
FERMATE meets water tower
270 metres above Solingen hang the white torsos of pregnant women suspended against the sky. Surrounded by the folded glass cupola of the former Gräfrath water tower, which the lighting designer Johannes Dinnebier converted into a workshop in 1998, the dynamic flight of these heavy, powerful female bodies seems intent on piercing the transparent walls of the tower.
In strict and solemn triangular formation 28 massive female bodies whose bellies swollen to their utmost limits proclaim the new life within, float towards the heavens, both forward-thrusting and at one with themselves.
The rising line of the seven rows of voluptuous bodies appears to defy gravity. On the ground beneath the sculpture, echoing the graceful formation of the massive torsos, a triangle of white goose feathers, soft and trembling at the slightest breath of air, suggests a bed and a place to rest.
An archaic force emanates from this profoundly gripping installation by Katharina Gun Oehlert. The white bodies of plaster and gauze, moulded between 1995 and 1999 from women in the final stages of pregnancy, reproduce delicate, slender, statuesque figures whose individuality is attenuated by the uniform white of the material and the shared fact of their pregnancy. They are the overwhelming expression of the eternal recurrence of new life itself.
FERMATE is the name given by the artist to this group of suspended women in the final stages of pregnancy. This is intended to convey the suspension of time, awareness of the moment at the end of a phase before a new one begins, full of anticipation of what is to come.
The profound symbolism of the group, whose number points to the 28 days of the menstrual cycle and reflects the magical number 7, leaves the observer spell bound. The thrusting strength of this phalanx of constantly recurring new life is breathtaking. Anyone who senses the archaic beauty of these swollen bodies is filled with silent awe.
The tower as the exhibition venue and a symbol of the aggressive thrusting male principle is here the sanctuary of the pregnant torsos whereby the glass of the cupola offers transparent protection and support against the outside world.
The harmony of this space and the sculpture, which the Hilden
artist created in her studio and not in the tower itself, is truly overwhelming.