As in her large installation FERMATE from 1998 Katharina Gun Oehlert uses the ancient form of the torso to give expression to a difficult theme: “man between birth and death”.
The torso, this body part, stands as a pars pro toto, permits reduction to the essential, forces perception to extend and complete. Thus Katharina Gun Oehlert avoids any superficial realism, narratively illustrative subjectivism, or the decoratively ornamental which is concerned only with itself.
She creates the torsos by reproducing the form of the bodies; each conceals an individual.
The windings of the plaster bandages made of sacking form the body shapes, at the same time clothe them, strengthen them like a coat of armour and end in sashes, trains and aprons, often pointed and sharp-edged like weapons. They fall as only wet material can fall, while the body forms a mass in a state of tension, pulsating breasts and bellies.
The colours give the bodies a warm bone-like hue like polished wood or ivory or red and brown shades which suggest skin and warmth. Black shadows and outlines impart structure and firmness.
The figures float in space – suspended from gossamer wires – without touching. Each moves weightless between night and day, love and hate, life and death, wanders aimlessly, certain and pre-ordained.
The figures journey, unstoppable, upright, serenely calm, conscious of transformation and the finite.
The expressiveness of the entire horde flows from the reproduction of individuality.
The beauty of the work lies in its intensity
The work expresses a highly archaic emotional state:
To like oneself, simply to be as one is, as one is meant to be in ones own true being, as a counterpoint to all that is modish because that is the fount of vitality, courage, strength and the ability to love.
Rosmarie Kesselheim, 2000
Artistic activity develops in the ordinary everyday social context, not from nothing but from the materials selected from the model of reality. This artist illustrates present-day being from the theme of transience. Initially within the protection of her own personality, she looks for representations of sociability in familiar streets and in the public spaces whose functioning she knows, moving into zones of loneliness and stations of asylum-granting care. What a struggle to find material to create a representation of the trivial world in all its grandiosity! – The wooing of models, models which give credibility to the picture – the effort made to woo children so that their love can also find expression in this likeness, the old man with his familiar geniality accompanying us from our youth onwards who is to be given a memorial……the housewife from next door with her nugatory but nagging and deepseated worries……the salesman whose wit always flashes in such a marked and likeable way. …the melancholy working-class woman from the factory halls puffing and panting under the burden of everyday life, who excites a profound feeling of compassion….or the efforts to induce the advocate who is used to giving orders to show generosity, to act as a model in order not to isolate the less fortunate from smug complacency……
Within the framework of the soberly designed artist’s studio among the functional buildings of an industrial estate - the place where this artist rules supreme - the curtains are drawn as a protection against indiscretion, in order that the ritual of the creative process may be completed without inhibition. The light is carefully controlled, the linen bandage has been primed, moistened, covered in plaster of Paris, the room temperature has been raised in a welcoming fashion, joyful, feverishly nervous, expectantly awaiting implementation. The models are received in meditative calm and tranquillity. They have their proportions and measurements taken without knowing the artist’s yardstick. They entrust a cast of their appearance to her. Abandon themselves to mysterious and unknown artistic purposes. – And the author accepts them, absorbs within herself the representation of realities, anticipates their transformation into Art, their longing for the expression of love and pain, eros and suffering. Cast after cast of the torsos of such alienated biographies are transposed into the ensemble, into the mystery of the picture.
In the artistic realisation of the work the fifty casts are transformed into sculptures which detach themselves serenely from the models and which are vaguely reminiscent of classical excavations of ancient memories evoking the unconscious of other ages. Skilful painting in seemingly monochrome earthen tones magically transforms the figure-like shapes into a melancholy glowing ensemble inclining towards the abstract. The naked bodies attracted by tension at once static and nervous, disguised as a collective, clad uniformly to become an archaic primordial horde, in dignified serenity. The artistic figures which have been elevated from the subject to the object group themselves intuitively under the creative coercion of the artist. Quasi ceremonial, implicitly echoing a myth of humanity, life breathed in to celebrate their present life in the consciousness of man’s finite nature.
The work is now presented in an exhibition within the framework of a hospitable museum-like building in a passage-like room suitable for the generous presentation of art, promenading, floating in the form of an installation, amorphously elevated from any physical interaction, the group of figures glimpsed through a quiet room, makes visible what in reality is not visible: the equilibrium of existential being and the primordial basis of life; the instability of the origin of life and liveliness; volatile happiness on the border between certainty and the unfathomable. – Fertility, bursts of development, the wages of maturity and protection in fragility, associated in numerous anonymous forms, emerges floating from the hustle and bustle of the everyday, for the moment of observation, passes through the zone of transience into the past.....moving as art, steered by the inner core of reality into the pre-conscious zones of knowledge, gives material expression to a fictional world concentrated as in a dream, linked by our common perception which defines us as contemporaries.
Robert Bosshard, 2000