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amo ergo sum

Renate Bertlmann: AMO ERGO SUM (PDF)

In 1978 a Plexiglas object titled AMO ERGO SUM was created. It contains 77 Plexiglas letters filled with messages from myself and others. In the course of my artistic work, a life plan . which I strive to realize with greatest perseverance . sprang out of this title. In 1988 it became necessary to recapitulate, or rather, document the last 20 years in form of a publication. The result of this memory work is the trilogy "AMO ERGO SUM" with its three parts: Pornography (Part 1), Irony (Part 2) and Utopia (Part 3). This division was a compromise in regards to the complexity of the undertaking. Today I still fluctuate between these three areas with the intention of weaving a dense, system analytical web of relations.

Logically, this leads to a complex, mutual fusion of all three parts. This means that PORNOGRAPHY is ironic and utopian, IRONY is pornographic and utopian, and UTOPIA is pornographic and ironic. In this sense the trilogy became the entrance into and a starting point for a .hypermedia. project, which is fascinating to me on a daily basis because it consistently produces new links, ties and additional information itself, as well as being able to take in from the outside.

Renate Bertlmann, February 2001

Renate Bertlmann: IRONY (PDF)

In the introduction to the trilogy AMO ERGO SUM I indicate that for me UTOPIA is not a matter of visions of the future but rather a journey into the unknown. It is thus about progression, a state of permanent movement, change and transformation. On these travels I have learned that there are many different ways to confront so-called "travel experiences". I can embrace them or stamp them into dust, I can swallow them, digest them and spit them out again, I can let myself be led or be dragged by them. Since I tend towards regarding a peaceful state of being to be a kind of stagnation, a standstill of growth, I have developed a way of coping with experiences in a way which I call "ironic". Somehow I seemed to sense that IRONY - and only IRONY - would protect me from losing myself within the world: DISCORDO ERGO SUM!

No sooner do the "lower, middle and upper worlds" appear to gain stability, I let IRONY uncompromisingly in on them as a disruptive factor . they begin to distort, to crumble and to lose that validity which gives them a dangerously false sense of security. A battle begins to rage, the flames start to blaze . what remains for me but to throw myself into the rescuing, cooling sea of IRONY, with the hope of being washed onto the shore of a newly found identity?!

The fear of entirely losing my own reality however made me recognise that this thoroughly ironic behaviour would have to be reined in to a certain degree. At least one area of life should be treated with proper dignity and seriousness. And what comes to mind more forcefully than . LOVE?

I therefore gave my life plan and work concept the title AMO ERGO SUM and promised myself that I would treat LOVE, this most holy aspect of life, as a contra-ironic taboo. And yet how much I have fooled myself, failed to recognise myself and misunderstood LOVE. For what is LOVE but a constant alternation between self creation and self destruction, between finding oneself and losing oneself, and is not this very oscillation between birth and death an expression of IRONY? Of an IRONY which, in the tension between these two poles, creates and destroys itself by creating and destroying distance.

It became clear to me that in fact LOVE itself is the very own and most happy hunting ground of IRONY, for it is after all through love that human absurdities and contradictions are most impressively revealed. One moment we are floating in a rose-coloured whirl of emotions, the next we are sinking once again in bottomless despair. Today we fill our pores with love goo, tomorrow we laboriously scrape it away again because it is threatening to suffocate us.

And so it happens that LOVE, unifying, infinitely exhilarating LOVE, can all of a sudden become the playground of vanities, of pathos, of obscenities and the most cruel injuries.

Learning to occasionally "watch" yourself in the process, from a distance, you learn the fear . and the laughter! IRONY thus becomes the harbinger of times of upheaval, awakening, even rebellion . and can become a ride on a knife.s edge. Whether we skip light-footedly over the razor-sharp edge or are cut in two depends on how much courage we have.

And that is what is ironic about IRONY: everywhere where I am subject to dangers and painful realisations, irony is both weapon and shield. It leads me to despair . and leads me out again . as long as I can make use of it.

Making use of IRONY correctly is however no easy matter, since it has many faces, it makes a fool of the fooler, understands and misunderstands, unifies and divides. Ironic behaviour is thus deeply subversive, it is Wordplay ("An-Spielen" - allusion, insinuation), Foreplay ("Vor-Spielen" . also meaning performance), Downplay ("Unter-Spielen"), and Playing the Game ("Mit-Spielen" - going along with something). It is attack and defence, self assertion ("Selbst-Behauptung") and self beheading ("Selbst-Enthauptung"): carrying my own head in front of me by the hair I can observe the world from the necessary distance and from varied viewpoints. The traces of blood show me the way, and with a painful, wistful smile on my pale lips I convince myself that IRONY just is a dangerous game with extremes . and a dialectic act which ultimately joins together what has been separated.

(Sandor Ferenci)

Pornographic or obscene jokes and dirty language have long, as we know, been a male domain. Men.s jokes are found amusing, but the "woman.s joke" has yet to acquire an equivalent social position and indeed, under patriarchal conditions, will only be able to gain a subversive, outsider role. As Freud rightly observed of our culture, jokes of a dirty, pornographic, always tendentious nature are "levelled originally at women". The joker appears chiefly as the attacker, whilst the woman appears more conservative, mainly as the object of the attack. She is the object and the man the subject of a sexual stripping bare and an aggression which, above all, generates lust. The desire to see what is sexual laid bare is for Freud the original motive behind jokes and dirty language. They serve the "satisfaction of a (lascivious) drive", in the face of "its cultural repression". Jokes and dirty language provide the individual with an outlet against the culturally dominant denial of lust and subsequent psychological pressure. In contrast to his general cultural theory of sublimation, Freud (in his work "Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious", 1905) identified jokes and dirty language positively as a means of reversing the repression and censorship of sexuality in our culture and so win back what has been lost.

Those who do not master the art of the (dirty) joke or who spurn it, also limit themselves in their expression of lust. This is the case for the female members of our society in an unequally high proportion to the male. The cultural process of sexual repression may affect both men and women, but, as the lack or rather complete absence of women.s jokes shows, it is mainly women who are the bearers and victims of this general repression.

Renate Bertlmann belongs to those artists whose work, in the context of these reflections, earns, or rather provokes, our particular attention. Her antipornographic objects and montages cause laughter - but not at first, if at all, from men, for here without exception men become for once the objects of the sexual stripping bare and aggression. Here the leopard is given the opportunity to learn to change its spots: for men to set aside their wounded pride and let themselves be disarmed by this unfamiliar "women.s joke".

In view of the many phallic caricatures, the unerringly accurate satires of male narcissism and fantasies of omnipotence, the question arises as to whether Renate Bertlmann has not conquered a new terrain; one which enables women to answer the lustful aggression of men with an equally lustful retort. The artist leads the way by creating montages of objects and images which are wholly disrespectful and expose self confident virile genitality, where nothing remains of what Freud identified in his time as the culturally valuable, sensitive "inability of women to endure explicit sexuality". Bertlmann.s "Präservativwurfmesser" ("Condom throwing knife"), her catapult in the form of two penis shafts, her cartridge belt decorated with stuffed condoms, her votive picture "Reliquie des Heiligen Erectus" ("Relic of the Holy Erectus"): all of these works are a double declaration of war against the pornographic violence of men and the male privilege of lust in patriarchal society.

As a general rule women react entirely passively, mutedly, expressionlessly, to the offensive jokes of men. Typically they react with the kind of martyr behaviour culturally intended for them as female objects, which is to look away with indignation or embarrassment and withdraw from the scene of obscene provocation. Renate Bertlmann makes a feminist protest against this withdrawal, but also, as an artist, she provides this protest with a humourous outlet so that it does not merely remain at the abstract level, hidden in theoretical and moral arguments.

In the caricatures, which take aim at figures of authority within our inescapable male society and reduce the manager, the cleric, the military commander, the old greying figures of eminence and religious prophets as well as their whole brood of sons and heirs to a common phallic denominator, there is alongside the accusation and criticism also a pointed humour to be found, a sense of enjoyment, a healthy sadism in handing it out. This double-edged approach to the caricatures is what makes them palatable artistically and distinct from feminist rhetoric. In the extent to which caricature in Bertlmann.s work closes in upon its object, the male and his sphere, fear of it diminishes accordingly, and the repression and censorship of female lust is reversed. It is this liberating element which is decisive, not the appropriation of male aggression, which reproduces the ubiquitous men.s joke and in the same obscene coin pays back what has been dealt out to women.

The new terrain which Renate Bertlmann has opened up for the "women.s joke" in closed male society does not try to compete with crude, violent and basically humourless pornography. This is assured by the poetic alienation with which the artist takes apart and reassembles in new ways the artifacts and relics of male lust, in particular the imposing, grandly decorative torture instrumentarium which her expanded condom collection becomes. No man can endure this rearrangement. The conflation of a "Männerschwanz" ("dick") and a butterfly (in "Diverse Farphalle Impudiche"), the "men.s protection" inflated to a balloon or drying on a washing line ("Der Waschtag" / "Washing Day"), textured condoms, bizarre in themselves, arranged into colourful artificial flowers and stylised as little hands or cock.s heads ("Fleurs du Mal") . all these material montages, and the way in which they appeal to the viewer.s desire to touch, destroy the false status of virile ambition for power. These varied caricatures twist men.s arrogant sexual prestige into metaphors of their failure. But they also disarm in terms of the goal which usually awaits women behind the male strategy of advances and .encouraging. jokes: deadly serious, sweaty coitus.

Maria Vogel: UTOPIA (PDF)

The utopia of a gentle, tender relationship with the world and our fellow humans is diametrically at odds with our current experience. Noise around us prevents stillness, and yet we need stillness if we wish to hear the quiet voices inside and around us. Haste keeps us from lingering, and so we lack the time to calmly take things in or pass them on. Greed of all kinds prevents us from carefully drawing nearer to and touching others. An atmosphere of violence is increasingly pervading our lives, urging the addictive satisfaction of the crudest urges. Some presumptiously exploit all and everything to that end, with no concern for the consequences. Others try to distance themselves, and struggle. If they isolate themselves, then they are no longer able to exchange thoughts and feelings, and risk withering inside. If they give up and conform with the masses, they become all the more incapable of contact, since they lose their sense of their own identity. Genuine communication necessitates a You and an I, the whole self with body, mind and soul, or, as Renate Bertlmann names it, "thinking loving, loving thinking".

Communication based on closeness and respect needs people who are prepared to open up to one another, to whom all forms of violence are alien, who lack the thirst for power. Nowadays however the dead and injured are par for the course. A society in which everyone respects one another is a dream of the future, a utopia. Working towards it requires a struggle, a fight with love against all that kills. Death however is inescapable. One of those puzzling antinomies of our existence is that there are some people . Elias Canetti is one of them . who take on this hopeless fight against death. For Canetti, death is an "opponent who lifelong calls upon us to develop, in resistance to him, what makes us essentially ourselves" Deeply anchored within us there is a yearning for something lasting which death cannot touch, a longing for indestructible life. There is no cult and no religion which is satisfied with death as the final end of existence. Death may always mark the end of our earthly existence, but it is also a transitional stage to another, unknown life.

Nevertheless, death is feared. We fear the unknown, even though death is the only certainty in our lives. It strips away our final doubts about our unique existence. In the face of our certain death, the short timespan of our lives takes on a weighty significance which only love helps us to bear. Love frees us from the fear, brings us closer, erases what separates, connects us. It does not banish death from the world, but it enables us to accept it in allowing us to act as conscious beings and, through fear of death as the final, most painful abandonment, allows uncompromising courage to grow. It is the utter fearlessness of a Cassandra who proclaims the truth in the face of all false hope, or the utter fearlessness of an Antigone, who in her loyality to the commands of the gods buries her brother in spite of the will of the king. This is the limitless courage which the utopias of love demand.

The works of Renate Bertlmann are steps in this direction. They are purifying exercises marked by the hardness of battle. They show the paradoxes and polarities connected with our inner and outer worlds. They hint at mystical experiences of love, life and death, like those described by Angelus Silesius.s short verses in his "Cherubinischen Wandersmann" ("The Cherubic Pilgrim"):

"Der Mensch hat eher nicht vollkomm.ne Seligkeit,
bis daß die Einheit hat verschluckt die Anderheit".
("Man does not know perfect bliss
Till unity has swallowed otherness.")

"Der Tod, aus welchem nicht eine neues Leben blüht,
der ist.s, den meine Seel. aus allen Toden fliehet".
("It is the death from which no new life grows,
from which, of all deaths, my soul flees.")

AMO ERGO SUM. This not only signifies self assertion and a sense of self focused on communication, it also calls to account a philosophy based solely upon logic and which does not involve the whole body, mind and soul of a person but separates out only one part, that of thought. It likewise calls to account a theology which reduces love to mind and spirit, with moral guidelines seeking to distance us from the body ("Wann werden uns die Theologen endlich etwas von Zärtlichkeit erzählen?" / "When will the theologians finally tell us something about tenderness?"). Further untenable is a psychology which limits love to the realm of the body and soul, to the exclusion of the mind. AMO ERGO SUM means the equal value of body, mind and soul, in an entwined, inseparable wholeness which may not exist for itself alone but seeks a unification as an "I" in collaboration with a "You" and finds therein its zenith.

The "Utopia" objects by Renate Bertlmann . each complementing one another . contain the components which can transform our human relationships: In the setting of the cemetery, among graves and urns, we familiarise ourselves with death. In purification rituals we take leave from the pleasures of the senses and our desires. ("Hinter jeder Sehnsucht steht der Tod und droht mit dem Knochenfinger Versagung" / "Behind every longing waits death, threatening denial with its bony finger", "Wunsch abnehmend" / "Wish decreasing"). It is the processes which are similar to death which lessen our fear of it. In "Les Amants" we are witnesses to a kind of dance of death. In the meditation wall "Ich-Du" ("You-Me") we find fulfilled love, in the unopened envelopes we find messages of love preserved, and in the burial objects of the urns our innermost self is kept safe from destruction. The "Mutter-Urnenwand" ("Mother Urn Wall") shows how tenderness transcends death. The poignant grave-finds in the "Haus der Erinnerungen" ("House of Memories") awaken feelings of protectedness. The tomb "Hier ruht meine Zartlichkeit" ("Here lies my tenderness") lets us mourn the loss of something very important. The abused "Schnuller-Heilige" ("Dummy Saint") with its soft "feelers" on the closed winged altar awakens our sympathy, and, when we see it on the opened altar picture, unprotected and helplessly vulnerable to injury, our admiration. It becomes a female counterpart to the thorn-crowned, crucified Christ.

With great will power, energy and distancing irony Renate Bertlmann exposes herself to public scrutiny through her objects. She penetrates into our innermost selves via our senses . as long as we don.t close ourselves off . and challenges us. Through veiling her face in the photo cycles she can be apprehended all the more clearly through the language of her body gestures. By concealment, whether it be with scarves, with latex skins, with urns or with envelopes, she shows us something very significant, precious, delicate. Concealment ("Verbergen") becomes shelter ("Bergen") and protection of the most essential ("Eigentlichstem"), personal ("Eigenstem"). From this protection comes the strength to open oneself up, expose oneself, to let go of everything, to accept death and so overcome the fear of dying. "The self assertion of our essence is never a rigid insistence on a chance state, but the giving up of oneself into the hidden originality of the source of one.s own being" (Martin Heidegger, "The Origin of the Work of Art").

At the threshold of death the opposites which characterise our lives touch: tenderness and hardness, devotion and refusal, concealment and revelation. At this meeting these opposites are cancelled out and something new is formed, as similarly in love when two individuals merge into oneness. Loving, living and dying are all inextricably linked. They are a prerequisite of our existence. They make us able to arrive at our true being and able to return to our origins.


In her multi-part black and white photographic series 'RENÉE ou RENÉ', Renate Bertlmann conveys temporal change and transformation through the use of photographic sequences. This method of performative photography has gained a special significance in the socio-critical analysis of gender specific role-play, brought to life as artistic self-performance. Dressed in a men's suit, the artist woos and seduces a female shop dummy. Bertlmann presents feminist reflection and elements of performance – a staging of the self – in a photographic role-play that questions male and female behavioural patterns, patterns which move between two extremes, and in so doing reveals or deciphers these. Since the 1970s Bertlmann's work has focussed strongly on the topic of sexuality as well as on the role and status of women and the relationship between the sexes. The breadth of her work ranges from performance and objects to drawings, paintings, writings and photography.

Carl Aigner, 1991

Translation: Larissa Cox


The interrelation of Eros and Thanatos stands at the centre of Renate Bertlmann's aesthetic investigations. Faithful to the motto "Amo Ergo Sum" under which the Viennese artist subsumes her work since the early 1970's, her sumptuous settings, settled in the sensitive frontier zone between kitsch, art and taboo, visualise this timeless topic in an equally imaginative as subtle way. Corresponding to the complexity of the reproach, this extensive artwork is intended as a trilogy whose equal parts are titled Pornography, Irony and Utopia. "Pornography concerns itself in the closer and broader sense with the war of the genders, the offenders and victims and the many other facets of naked survival. Irony is on the tracks of desires and an aggression rooted in infancy and tries to handle the arising sensations of pleasure and revulsion. Utopia does not dedicate itself, as one might be lead to believe, to visions of the future. On the contrary, it paves the way into the uncertain with sudorific exercises like asceticism, denial and exercises in death" (Renate Bertlmann, 1989). Resulting originally from the need to order the innumerable works of an overflowing creativity, the trilogy rapidly emerged as a demanding program which has, to this day, lost nothing in topicality and necessity. As powerful and meaningful the individual elements may appear for themselves, they are permeated and dependent on each other. In all facets of Bertlmann's productions Pornography appears ironic and utopian, Irony utopian and pornographic and Utopia pornographic and ironic. "Amo Ergo Sum" aims at self-assertion and self-confidence directed at communication in a patriarchal society from an explicitly feminine perspective. It means the equivalence of body, soul and spirit in a piercing, indivisible totality (Maria Vogel, in 1989).
When Renate Bertlmann tracks the trivial myths of desire in her plastic and picturesque settings, which are analysed in film and photography in a second work sequence, she takes moral and social traditions into her visor. The total concept does not only refer structurally to the trinity, this Christian dominion symbol of a male triumvirate, but also in content.
Great importance is given to aspects of gender differences and the function of role clichés. With joyful gesture the artist dismantles the insignia of male power and glory. However, she also describes the power of longing and lends form to the image of successful inter-sexual communication. Not least, she imagines sensations of shame in pictures which directly touch all the senses and explores the sensual fascination which lies in the interrelation of distance and approximation. The artistic interest applies primarily to metamorphosis. Performances and photo sequences with diverse scenarios of metamorphosis are joyfully experimented with. Installations and picture cycles sketch poetic stories and accompany their participants on their journey through an eventful existence. The differentiated iconography of these compositions is uninhibited in helping itself from the historic fund. The archaic fertility symbols of phallus and vulva appear as well as popular motives of piety.
Popular fairytale characters like Snow White and the seven dwarfs or the unicorn appear in an altered narrative context. Impressed by the feminine discourse concerning feminine role models and the individual need for space from attacks of reality, symbols of utopian, egalitarian love dominate in her early work. In the sequence, "Zaertliche Beruehrung" (Gentle Touch), two contrasting- coloured latex pacifiers explore the different stages of intimacy. The two equal cast members rub against each other unabashedly, wrap around and penetrate each other in an unmistakable representation of a sexual encounter. "Ex Voto", a sculpture of the late 1980's, is substantially more aggressive: feminine breasts, promising nourishment and care put forth an unexpected destructive quality. A sharp knife points out from a nipple of the heart shaped Styrofoam torso, presented like a valuable in a glass aquarium. The object of desire, the female body no longer signals vulnerability, but threatens injury, suddenly demands a respectful distance. The compositions of the past decade are dominated by a rather ironic gaze, preferably falling on the erect phallus appearing in the most unlikely costumes. A devotional is dedicated to "San Erectus" with glamour and glitter. Lavish, tailor cut ladies. robes decorate a group of colourful dildos, "Les Enfants Terrible," who have come together for an absurd fashion show. Seeking shelter underneath a glass bell with "Cheese from Austria" embossed on it, the seven dwarfs are dressed splendidly in their long pointed red caps. The cardinals bedded in silk and satin (from the computer animated sequence, "Zwitscher Litanei" . Chirping Litany) prove that spiritual vestments suit the upright fellow very well. Depictions of the male organ no longer shock. They are caricatures, "that pick at the obligatory male society and their relevant representatives and. brings the military, the eminence grise, religious prophets and the entire breed of heirs under a common phallic denominator." (Peter Gorsen, 1989).

On the other hand, these luxuriously outfitted and lovingly decorated figurines are cute products of diligence to be interpreted as an ironic comment on female desire. This erotic prosthetic has long been socially acceptable as pleasure-bringing vehicles. For Renate Bertlmann they are an ambiguous subject, which degenerate to toys under the glass lintel. "All that remains of Eros. elemental force are infantile fantasies which should be protected rather than destroyed" (Konrad Paul Liessman).
Digitally generated picture stories with sound belong to the most exciting works of the last two years. The animations titled "Short Cuts" by the artist link up formally and in content to the early experiments with sensitive materials and thematize the possibilities and limitations of sensual perception. "Formationen" (Formations) lets the gaze wander over a permanently changing landscape of smooth, vividly active latex forms. In "Looking Glass," sumptuous splendour and abstract figures enchant into a kaleidoscopic world of forms and colours. As different as the screen sequences are, they nevertheless appeal equally to our ability to perceive. In a short time, they open abysmal Microcosmos which dream of the omnipresence of sensual sensations.
The facet-rich work of the artist, who appreciates classical display methods as much as experiments with non-artistic media and materials, is formally permeated by her explicitly photographic view of reality. All her works, whether they are of ephemeral nature as performances and installations, or even conventional artworks; behave as raw material to additional photographic settings. In countless individual pictures, Renate Bertlmann captures the sensory certainty of her existence onto celluloid and squeezes the last detail out of the photographs. This is how in over three decades, a truly monumental archive from which individual motives were isolated and programmatically condensed into cycles, sequences and series, and of recent, assembled into electronically generated picture sequences came into existence. These ensembles obtain a completely independent significance within the context of the entire work. On one hand they tell a new story, not necessarily inherent in the work as reproached, and on the other hand shift the act of aesthetic reflection to a meta-level. The camera creates a safe distance between the image object and the seeing eye, objectifying the conflict with socio-political problems in the context of the artwork as a whole. Suddenly artistic strategies of embodying immediate work on the subject are comparable to those which society demands of the individual. They appear as fake and as determined as that painful ritual to which body and soul are wilfully servant. That defuses the explosive nature of the central theme and defers to the author, who questions herself in her photos: By consistently refusing the concretization of desire in every inner vision, she keeps the promise which every art possesses in balance. What remains is curiosity for reality, together with the hope for change.

Gumpoldskirchen, im Mai 2002

Revisions to Renate Bertlmanns work. (2008) (PDF)

Translation: James Renier

Upon entering her studio one gets a Déjà vu-effect: in the Sixties there were the so-called "Stores" American Pop and happening artist - I think of Carolee Schneemann, but also Claes Oldenburg. Also a suspicious factor arises: is Renate Bertlmann still too American in her early work, because the resonance and demand of galleries and arts centers are too small in Vienna? Indeed and unjustly she was not celebrated such as younger artists like Carola Dertnig as the "Mother of Invention" of feminist performance art.

But the Austrian art scene is slow-acting, harsh, it rarely changes and Renate Bertlmann works had still touched on two other points very early on, which are connected with one another: ambivalence and kitsch. These methods up until a few years ago were practically not or only hardly embodied in the Austrian art scene. That is, there are many tendencies, which arose in her work decades earlier, which were not written into the history of art in part due to the unheard manner and ephemeral character of the performance. Also contributing alongside her often use of ambivalence the "breaking the leitmotif" and the gift of the revision.

One of her tactics thereby is to make lustful cute embarrasses from pornographic implements, bride dresses, pacifiers, hearts, and garden gnomes. The art theorist faction often homogenized by conceptual thinking sees in these tools the trivial as an enemy of its actual pictorial refusal and takes panic-stricken flight. It could be possible, the trinity for their work blocks - pornographies, irony and utopia to describe- with a title, selected by the artist, like "St(r)ammhalter im Bru(s)tkasten". Just like what Louise Bourgeois's loved, in Robert Mapplethorpe's photos with an under the arm carried sculptural penis, "La Fillette", also Bertlmann answered the gaffe of the female "penis envy" - among other things -, stirred up by Sigmund Freud, with shrill doll dresses pulled over the dildo from the porno shop, and above all extra large black ones. Or the large cock wrapped like a mummy and put into a showcase replacing the incubator: "Corpus impudicum arte domitum". Subversively on the offensive taboo "borders" are Bourgeois and Bertlmann common like often the questions about identities, achieved by disguising or transformation, perversion and deconstruction, whereby female stories do not address themselves accusing to an opposite - thus the male view "of the different one" is included in principle as social criticism.

A typical American feature is the interactive communication with the audience, which were included in her performances right from the beginning. This means that Bertlmann not only uses her body as a screen (projection surface) of female identity and enters the room with her body and with malleable work partially consisting of relics, but that her performances are rather like "happenings". The visitors and people of the audience were actively integrated in the process in a stronger way than by the male representatives of the "Wiener Aktionismus" as they had to throw money into a collection bag, or had to shoot at parts of the art piece, dance or push a wheel chair. They had to actively participate. Not only did Bertlmann perform together with international colleagues of the performance scene at festivals in Bologna, Amsterdam and Vienna, but her encounters with Gina Pane and Ulay/Abramovic left such a mark on her work, while leading "Aktionismus" into the direction of an international development. The Viennese specialties such as injury and concealment are shared only between her, Rudolf Schwarzkogler and Rita Furrer. However, some views she displays differ from the rest, such as her humorous aspect and what more is the interaction of music, language, the use of teaching boards, sketches as well as the photographic and film documentation - just as most young artists do - right from the beginning. In the 70's she co-founded the "BC - collective" with Linda Christanell as an early teamwork of two women to ensure these interactions. Mutual filming with Super - 8 cameras allowed for documentation of their ephemeral work, whereas the objects, which are made of textile, wood, latex, etc. that are used here could also stand for themselves in installation photos. Therefore there are more possible variations of their "tender loving care" presented on chairs or hanging from string to show a kind of "laundry (wash) day" for the artistically manifested taboos.

The audience could actually get into physical contact with these taboos as they were manifested into palpable art objects. They are composed of latex castings and either Schnullermatten or Präservativschnüren and carry the task of pointing out, as an overflowing suitcase full of embarrassments, the ambiguous forces of Eros and the taboo objectified cruelties such as rape, incest and cannibalism.

Daily sadomasochistic practices such as shooting at sex puppets with a slingshot in form of a forked penis, which was used in the in the 1980 New York performance of "sling shot action" or the more complex piece "Knife - throwing bride" in 1978 were converted into the radically artistic "execution". Similar actions were Niki de St. Phalle's rifle shots at the "Tir" installations, which were often peppered with Christian symbols, or Chris Burden's automatic shot apparatus. With the cutting of the textile panels for "Deflorazione in 14 stazioni" in Bologna's modern museum, one is reminded of the early "cutting actions" of Lucio Fontana or the in the 50's parallel performed jumps through paper panels, by Saburo Murakami from the Japanese Gutai group. The weeping pimple strings from Bertlmann's "Urvagina" spoke of these same contents a decade before Kiki Smith's birth and menstruation iconography. This topic was once again a violation of the taboo threshold und this also didn't cause comfortable associations with the audience. They both put their topics and the method of direct revelation early into cross-examination of both female and male sides just as the usage of erotic prosthesis for men. She had to realize that not only the men, but also the women persevered their trivial myths of wedding, baby carriage and single family house, in which these "helpers", also in the form of art subjects, were, in any form, not to be seen but rather remain locked away in secret drawers.

Many had been preoccupied with their reactions of aversion as she then stretched the contraceptives around knife blades, graters and other tools of a private torture chamber or the in the 19th century so readily feared "vagina dentata". Because she makes the subject of embarrassment and kitsch so pleasurable, it is difficult to make one's way into the art market with such a critical form of art. In childhood deeply rooted desires and the in Vienna domiciled psychoanalysis are also possible reasons, in Bertlmann's opinion, for aggression and violence in society, especially when the disappointment or the disciplinary action fail through the rules of the dominant middle class family structures and only remain a shelter for neuroses. Criminal cases in Austria, which even incited prime ministers to act in the nation's defense, although they were recently sickened by the disclosure of incrusted patriarchal structures, show how close she already was in the last decades, with that, to the tragic pull of time. At the same time the artist attacks the theologians with her work and the accompanying texts, by appealing to cardinals, as dressed dildos, for more tenderness, for more togetherness and true solidarity instead of shrouded language.

Naturally, the veil and virginity have often concerned her, before these became political themes of a new Europe, as the multicultural views of the 70's died down in terror and the murder of sisters in honor. She used scarves in performances for photography cycles, which had inscriptions such as: "Behind every desire waits death and threatens with a skeletal finger: rejection." She broaches the idea of the protection within and without, also the protection of the body from its commercialization as an advertising surface, one of the many focal subjects of the 70's and therefore an essential point of discussion in the "IntAkt" artist group.

Social structures have gained, particularly in the last few years, even broader space in the work of Renate Bertlmann: films and photo cycles about migrants or photos by a poet, who writes about traumatization. Film and photo workshops, the organizing of symposia und their publications are various aspects of teamwork she enjoys with younger artists such as Andrea Kalteis, whom she dedicated an entire cycle, "associations", to. Just as the phases of teaching do, she uses the discussion with other than reflection phases, for the renewed material classification and reorientation. The initially radically achieved feminism has, for her also, reached the third phase in its development, which has made some revisions necessary.

Although the performers in the 70's in Vienna have opened art to the discourse with new medias, with space and also with new and unusual material, this is hardly known today. However, the close relationship to the American happenings or the mix of language game of minimalism and the conceptual art as well as partially opulent objects will gain meaning. The subversive bride iconography remains, from Hanna Höch to Renate Bertlmann, an essential answer for one of Marcel Duchamps' main pieces "the big glass" or "the bride nakedly exposed by her bachelors", the artist even tries, in many of her "Ready mades", to unmask the intellectual masculinity of the protagonist to be one-sided. Without the inclusion of the psyche, the Meta layer is the artwork with life. This is where she finds herself near Joseph Beuys.

The thereby prior essential quest of a specific feminine aesthetics in the 70's, which seemed justifiable, given the male dominated art scene, is very often forgotten and even suppressed by the artists themselves, since the queer and transgender debates seemed more tolerant than the tendency of mirroring a gender through his heterosexual opposite. Nevertheless, the historical aspect must always be considered, which quite increases the importance of their artistic messages. To Hanna Höch's collage like cutting of the brides Bertlmann adds the technical x-ray photo, which previously has already been used by Man Ray and Meret Oppenheim and later by mainly Jürgen Klauke. Klauke's dark irony and gender switch have also been conducive in the decision for the photo, as tableau of a sorority, in Bertlmann's photo sequence "Renée ou René" from 1980. Kitchen objects such as the talking "cheese cover", also to be used for artistic content, they play with the "Trompe l'oeil - thought" of the baroque era, to the present pornographic gnomes or "forbidden fruits" on pedestals.

The object of desire of the kitschy snow globe is naturally just as indispensable as the various heart iconography and children's toys, which, upon closer observation, have emerged to become a handicapped persons remedy. This enticed the younger colleagues such as Anna Jermolaewa or the Odradek siblings to do their own photo and video work, which also has assumed the latent aggression, though softened it with humor. The artist's sentence, about the newest work groups, "In the meantime I have become more peaceful" doesn't necessarily have to be signed, as it is probably an alternation of humor from ribald to subtle, that has already been noticed in her photo books since 2001. Since 2008 I have been a carrier of Renate Bertlmann's "Zoo Guide", which is a honorary membership in her fan community, visible as a key chain, made of multiple layers of plastic, which can also be worn like a necklace. I, however, cannot yet give an answer, as into which art zoo the journey will lead.

Staged Subjectivity in Renate Bertlmann's Photo Videos

To copy the truth can be a good thing,
but to invent the truth is better, much better.
(Giuseppe Verdi)

In a nimble balancing act between irony and a careful securing of evidence, Renate Bertlmann's photo videos initiate a discussion about the reality of images. Since 2001 and after various experiments with performance, installation and object art, as well as with staged photography, the artist also explores the medium of photo video. The hybrid nature of this medium equally employs the imaging strategies of both photography and film, consolidating photographic snap shots into film sequences by means of animation and cross-fades. Through the fusion of these two different image forms-still image, in which time and movement appear to be frozen and film, its unique quality based on the organization of time and movement-artistic gems emerge, whose unconventional imagery reveals new perspectives and allows for a multitude of interpretations.

The enthusiasm for the genre (whose history Alain Resnais' begins with in the artist biography, "Van Gogh" from 1948, where sections from various paintings are compiled to tell one story) is based largely on the enormous amount of creative freedom and the fascinating technical possibilities this genre offers. Similar to film and video, photo video is likewise dependent on equipment as well as on the advances and developments in digital image processing programs. However, in contrast to the tedious production processes of film, photo video allows for a more direct, immediate, and inexpensive production. One single person can carry out work on the camera and computer so that, in the ideal case, the entire creation of a photo video, from the concept to choice of imagery and composition to sound design, stems from one single author. As the starting point for artistic activity, the most diverse photographic material can be drawn upon: found or newly produced images, staged photography or snap shots. Their visual quality is relevant and is defined by clair-obscure contrasts, spatiality, plane and contour, harmony or dynamics. The transformation from a static single image to a moving stream of images occurs through cross-fading and animation, whereby the transition to video clip is smooth. In addition, an effect of this process is that the position of the camera appears to be fixed, as if the artistic gaze was focused on the scene of events from one specific point. This gives the photo videos a subjective, as well as a theatrical character and blurs the boundaries between documentation and mise-en-scène. In condensed narratives, realms of experience are constructed, whereby the penetration of reality and virtuality and the interplay of visual saturation and aesthetic concentration irritate and sensitize perception.

Thematically, Renate Bertlmann's photo videos - oscillating between matter- of-fact protocol and poetic transcription - revolve around the question of the subject as well as of the boundaries and possibilities our society provides for the work of humans on themselves. They are attempts at reassuring oneself in a time, where the development of media advances the differentiation of society and with the media presence of each individual potentially on the rise, the complexity of communication increases and along with it, the need for even more symbols. Precisely these symbols have always been at the center of Renate Bertlmann's artistic focus. Under the motto "Amo ergo sum", she has developed a very personal variety of ironic- romantic feminism and with her versatile artistic work, she makes a case for a respectful and tender relationship to herself and to the world. She contrasts the objectified image of self and of the world in a knowledge society and its primacy of analytical thinking with aesthetic imagination and the power of subjective impressions.

Work with memory offers a starting point; it is a rather fragmented and ephemeral medium that is nevertheless the foundation of how we position ourselves in society, and that forms cultural identity in general. Guided by a leitmotif formulated by the feminist movement, "The private is political", Bertlmann explores the spaces of individual and collective memory in her photo videos. The spectrum of images in her short works ranges widely. It ranges from subtle portrait studies that grant glimpses into the life and world of women friends, to mini-dramas, where dolls become the protagonists to examine patterns of roles and relationships. The spectrum of images include symbolically laden studies of nature, where unspectacular landscape scenery invites for reflection about the rhythm of becoming and disappearing again, as well as explorations of urban architecture and panoramas of life, in whose associative vista of images the simultaneous and non-simultaneous are themes: nearness and distance, movement and suspension of movement, history and presence. Time and again, Renate Bertlmann's gaze turns to her own art objects, whether they are concerned with finding an expression for the most basic human needs, wishes and sentiments, or whether they are about questioning ritualized patterns of communication and conventional gender roles. However, now and again, her objects are also concerned with a formal experiment that examines the particular artistic view that both stages the interplay between form and color, space and time, image and audio in the film analysis and directs the meaning of the images through conscious contextualization.

The works have many layers of meaning and are puzzling, and are therefore, indebted to a central aesthetic paradigm of modernity: ambiguity. It remains unclear as to how far Renate Bertlmann's photo videos aim at representing reality or if they are rather concerned with reflections about how perceptual patterns are transmitted through media. Does authenticity even exist? Or is representation the only remaining possibility for self- assurance in the hall of mirrors that is our thought systems? In any case, the artistic view of reality remains fictional. The subjective dimension of experience in the image narrative-especially emphasized by the intimate, condensed form of the medium-is not the origin of the artistic implementation, rather it is the product thereof. The resulting product is not only witness to immediate individual perception; rather it constitutes a perspective that claims to be autonomous. In this manner, subjectivity is localized in the work itself and at the same time, disconnected from its creator. The creator remains intangible, hidden in vaguely perceivable subtexts and tangible spaces of meaning, that find themselves between, in front of, behind, and beside the images, and that precede their own visibility. Her works however, characterized by both a distanced irony and a tender devotion to life, provide us with breathing space in the flow of time.

Edith Almhofer, December 16, 2009

Translation: Melissa Lumbroso

Magdalena Felice: Love & Sex. Renate Bertlmann's Art in the 1970s (PDF)

The call for self-determination and liberation from constraints that was voiced in all spheres of life by women in the 1970s made no exception of art. At issue was mainly the image of the female in art, which up to then had been - with a few exceptions - an image of women made by men. And the issue was to develop a female image, made by women, which did not yet exist. The search for adequate artistic expression of these demands and the new female self-conception went hand in hand with introspection and the exploration of what this image might be, and of what it might be like. It was the disclosure of societal conditions and constraints, the deconstruction of traditional image concepts, questions of identity, the exploration of one's own body and sexuality, and the demand for control over them that informed the search for formal and contentual possibilities outside of and beyond the established patriarchal forms of representation.

Renate Bertlmann numbers among the most consistent of the Austrian women artists who took this path in the 1970s. Her work revolves around the subjects of love, eroticism, and sexuality. She casts light on the innermost realms of the female psyche, making them public and placing them in a social context. From a distinctly female perspective, she represents feelings and desires, addresses the battle of the sexes, unmasks society as being informed by a type of male-determined, fetish-obsessed sexuality, and assumes different female and male roles to trace and explore different identities. The range of subject matter in her work is characterized by ambivalence: tenderness stands alongside aggression, lasciviousness alongside asceticism, the feminine alongside the masculine, and the dead serious and profound alongside a revealing and occasionally biting humor. And at times, the one switches into, or merges with, the other.

The artist creates parallel groups of works which highlight various aspects of a subject, and the consistent iconography that thus emerges lets her oeuvre grow into a coherent and increasingly complex system. Drawings are made alongside objects which she reuses for staged photographs and performances.

One central group of works from the 1970s is her "tender-poetic" pieces. There, the artist develops abstracted and reduced shapes representing affectionate experiences of a tender corporeality. In her 1974 drawings entitled Berührungen [Touches], gently shaded outlines form organic shapes, shapes which touch and embrace each other. Renate Bertlmann finds an equivalent to them in the form of inflated condoms and latex teats. Through the way in which they are used, through the gaze being purposefully directed towards the soft materiality of the surface, and through the works' titles, these objects become synonyms of tenderness. The fact that these drawings belong to the spheres of both the sexual and the infantile adds to their abstract quality, evoking associations of sexuality, contraception, motherhood, and childhood experiences. The period beginning in 1975 saw the creation of a large number of teat and condom works: inflated condoms positioned in light contact with one another in glass cases, including instructions for re-inflating in case they should "go limp"; teat mats and objects with pushed-in and protruding rubber nipples that can be read as female or male genitals; the photo series and film Zärtliche Berührungen [Tender Touches] showing the inflated ends of two condoms caressing and eventually penetrating each other; Zärtliche Hände [Tender Hands], a Zärtlicher Christus [Tender Christ] wearing a crown of latex nipples; the first series of staged photographs, Zärtliche Pantomime [Tender Pantomime], showing the masked artist intimately absorbed in herself and her sexuality. At the same time, Renate Bertlmann combines teats and condoms with scalpels in other drawings and objects, thereby creating images of repudiation and aggressive self-defense in light of the vulnerability of tender intimacy and with regard to images of aggressive sexuality.

In another group of works, Renate Bertlmann explores societal aspects of sexuality and the relations between the sexes. Examining assigned roles and constraints that men and women are subject to, she shows marriage to be a central element in this structure. In a series of colored-pencil collages and drawings from 1974/75, the artist introduces the image of the female mostly as a pregnant bride in a white dress and veil and the image of the male as the bridegroom. In the colored-pencil collages which mark the onset of that revealingly ironic humor which particularly characterized of Bertlmann's pornographic phallic works of the 1980s, she shows the guests of a festive party reduced to phalli, denouncing society at large as phallocentric and advancing a female interpretation to counter the female penis envy posited by Sigmund Freud. Also belonging in this context is the cartridge belt developed in 1976, which transforms a tool belt into a military belt equipped with fancy condoms. From the socially critical play Ein Fest für Boris [A Party for Boris] by Thomas Bernhard she borrows the motif of the legless cripples and wheelchairs for further drawings, objects and performances, with the wheelchair being readable both as a societal corset or as an assistive device for individuals who have been reduced to their prescribed role. The representations culminate in the 1978 performance Die schwangere Braut im Rollstuhl [The Pregnant Bride in the Wheelchair], which ends with the masked bride - who has just given birth to a crying bundle - dashing out of the chair and getting away.

From 1977 finally, Renate Bertlmann created several sequences of staged, black-and-white photographs in which she plays several different roles, as well as pieces in which she deals with self-denial and sorrow. Particularly noteworthy in this regard are the photo series Renée ou Renè, in which the artist acts out masculinely connoted attitudes and actions including masturbation and rape, and the sculpture with the tomb and the gravestone bearing the inscription "Hier ruht meine Zärtlichkeit" ["Here rests my tenderness"], which is mentioned here as just one of many other works.

To this day, Renate Bertlmann's art has continued along the path which she decided to take back in the 1970s. In the 1980s, her works became more direct, more ironic, more lavish and colorful, incorporating an increasing amount of kitsch elements and direct references to pornography. Her photography developed progressively into a superordinate medium which the artist also uses to rework older pieces, and which has provided the working material for her more tranquil photo films of recent years.

What distinguishes Renate Bertlmann from other feminist artists of the 1970s is the fact that, from the very beginning, she has not confined herself to a female-created female image. She also works on a female- created image of the masculine and of gender relations in society, taking on masculine roles and, with her teats and condoms, often blurring - despite her fundamentally heterosexual orientation - boundaries of gender and sexuality. As early as the 1970s, she foreshadowed demands and issues raised later on by the third-wave feminism of the 1990s. At the time, this drew frequent criticism from radical feminists, who instead called for concentration solely on the feminine. From today's perspective, however, this is what gives her position a special significance.

Translation: Axel Fussi

Brigitte Borchhardt-Birbaumer: Speech for Renate Bertlmann
at the presentation of her DVD Amo ergo sum Works 1972-2010
Secession, Vienna

As the DVD presentation illustrates (even more so than the catalogue trilogy published in 1989 by Ritter or the catalogue from the Fotogalerie Wien in 2002), Renate Bertlmann has since the beginning of her artistic career been a multifaceted player on various levels (in terms of content), she has used diverse technical media since 1970 and has made use of her own body in public performances as well as in stagings in her atelier. The transformation of sculptural approaches applied to installations and objects, combined with theatrical sequences, at times including music and sound through tape recordings creating sound-space sculptures, were since their introduction by John Cage, Japanese Gutai, but also Yoko Ono, brand new in Europe during the 1970s. This was received as a total surprise, often even considered offensive and scandalous, at a time when Actionism and the Happening after 1958 – with George Mathieu, the "Wiener Gruppe" or Vienna Group), the Prachenskys as well as Nitschs with the primal scene of theater interwoven with gestural splash and drip paintings (Bildschüttungen) self-paintings (Selbstbemalung) (Brus) – was only able to establish itself with painstaking difficulty. Yet it proved to be an even rockier road for the feminists of Viennese Actionism that, with Renate Bertlmann, also brought the characteristics of Allan Kaprow's or Wolf Vostell's Happenings to Vienna. Audience participation, a relevant aspect of the animistic aesthetic in art since 1945 (see for example the current exhibition Animismus. Moderne hinter den Spiegeln at the Generali Foundation, Vienna), then became especially relevant for the artist practice of artists such as Renate Bertlmann, VALIE EXPORT, Linda Christanell, Helga Philipp, Peter Weibel, etc..

The path to acknowledgement in collective consciousness was a dogged one – with a delay in regional museums to this day – and such acceptance was only made possible due to artistic research. Despite the exhibition "Mothers of Invention" and Carola Dertnig's publications, and in spite of the increased relevance of Bertlmann-like works for young artists from Anna Jermolaewa and Andrea Kalteis to Die Geschwister Odradek, it is still widely unknown that the "Streicheleinheiten" (or "caresses") or pacifier wreaths and phallic objects (among others made out of latex or foam, Plexiglass, tulle, and glitter) that are worn or carried by the human body preceded Franz West's "Passstücke" ("adaptives" or "fitting pieces"). Bertlmann is more frequently associated with her role as a serious pioneer in the fields of staged photography and the expanded field of photography (being a founding member of the photography initiative FOTO FLUSS is one such example). She is also known to a certain extent for her objects and expanded notion of art in general. Her use of her body in the performance scene should however become just as recognized as "Action Pants: Genital Panic" by EXPORT. By now, the break away from logos-masculine / mythos-feminine for which EXPORT, Katharina Sieverding, Marina Abramovic, Gina Pane, Birgit Jürgenssen or Bertlmann fought for, has long since been achieved. The younger generation has been able to reap some of the benefits. Yet a lamentation about the almost non-existent hype surrounding actionist women is here entirely inappropriate, since art history is constantly being rewritten and the DVD could once again change something in the ever-delayed expansion of a narrow-minded, undemocratic and still very elitist art historiography here in this country. It is here that I would like to remind the reader of a quote by Christian Krawagna in an artist catalogue published in Krems in 2003: In Austria only one woman per decade is allowed be the great new discovery...

Yet there are other aspects in Bertlmann's work that are still cause for discomfort, also with regards to her critical posture towards the art market. Being on the pulse of the times over a longer period of time, and in some cases being ahead of the times is in fact not a good criterion for securing a place in mainstream. Accomplishments are only rewarded after the fact. Additionally, there are two things that, constantly running parallel to the supposed avant-garde history of sexuality, further hinder the commonplace triumph: Bertlmann explores mechanisms of pornography that are anchored in society. She never spares us from the embarrassments or breaches of taboo and has a great interest, even theoretical in nature, in kitsch. In 1981, she organized a symposium about Art and Sexuality; in 1993 on Kitsch, Art and Taboo. These research activities did not go unnoticed by the city of Vienna. What was back then a rather unusual attempt to combine art and scholarship has now been recognized in its own right as "Artist Research". By contrast to forced provocation with the goal of maintaining, through scandalization, a kind romantic idea of the martyr cult of the artist in bourgeois society, Bertlmann always pursues ambivalencies and the inconsistencies with a great deal of humor, something that lacked entirely during the early phases of Viennese Actionism among her well-known masculine peers after Egon Schiele and Richard Gerstl.

The feminist cry for self-determination (of body and mind), the caricature of the bride and the false sentimentality of the dreams of motherhood or being a bride (once again so terribly present in gruesome perfectionist rites of consumption in collapsing late-capitalism) are easily understood through a large vocabulary of gestures and mimics. It should however not be forgotten that back then the discourse revolved around the search for an alternative "feminine aesthetic". But Bertlmann has however already surveyed the ambivalent forces of Eros in the reversal of roles – as did Jürgen Klauke or Urs Lüthi around the same time, yet from a different starting point and often ending in the masquerade of a woman. Bertlmann's photo series "Renée ou René" is only the most well-known "skinning" or masquerading in the direction of "trans- or cross-gender" (currently used, albeit clumsy terms) that, contemporaneous to the writings of Judith Butler, denied strict boundaries between genders and instead, called for the differentiation of social gender and sex.

The central ideas in this work consistently employ varying approaches, experimentally orbiting as if from one station to the next. Various media - photo series, installations and performances (public, as well as those staged in the artist studio resulting in photo series, but also as music score-like sequences of Polaroids or contact sheets – melt into each other. The results of this orbiting around ideas are collected on so-called educational boards ("Lehrtafel"), something like anti-statements in response the masculinely structured score of a Nitsch or Beuys. Behind each and every one of the passionately processed "paradigms of longing" stands failure, denial, visible in the scenes of veiling such as the "Les Amants" series. But also the topic of death, whose dominance Bertlmann then opposes with the life-affirming symbol of the ancient Egyptian ankh along with Eros, like fingers crossed behind one's back (Hexenkreuz). The veiling becomes a misty haze to the otherworld, a rejection of consumption and a revealing of the strange nature of money or of misguided church dogma. Very few have skewered – quite literally in the case of many object series – the prudery of the church and the old cults of Priapus or Phallus with as much pleasure as Renate Bertlmann has. (gelitin also use toys for their expressions regarding the phallic cult, however the combination of the dressed-up pecker as a dervish, a naughty child, the pope or a mummy only constitutes a minor part in their series of fantastical figures.) The longing for tenderness and protection from violence caustically approach satire and yet other issues – such as child abandonment, shame, powerlessness, failure – endure in a time of absurdity as critical statements, even in their playful approach.

The "primal vagina" meets "Saint Erectus" and breast ex-votos. At one end of these works stands the symbolism of the early history of art with its figures of women, wrongly named "Venus", to which the fetishist character of the earlier works refer. Bertlmann then takes this to the other end of time, into the present – also in regards to the merchandising of the breast as fetish – touch-objects ("Tastobjekte") are as essential to her as the knife or blade[1] (to lastly point to a heavy repression of Eros in our society. Violence that increasingly replaces real erotic or abuse is often present in her performances – the woman as a sex doll with no desire (at times however there is also a masculine sex doll, the woman as phallus), a mouth stuffed with Lego blocks, riddled with feathers is elevated in its loud colors from kitsch to threatening power. The plastic prostheses, from pacifier to dildo and sex doll, replace the human other. The substitute is dressed up and cherished as a human-like, fruit-like replacement, sprinkled with glitter and metamorphosed into insects like evil dwarves and aliens, displayed on their own alters, in vitrines and snow globes and captured in photobooks and films. According to Vilem Flusser, behind the post-modern types of play – kitsch and camp (Susan Sontag) – in the ever-growing culturally stored memory are the signs of its decay or its transformation into immaterial images on the computer of a future information society even after the post-industrial one. Just like garbage and cheap materials, kitsch and camp range from being a passing fad to being totally constipating and consequently require the disposal of cultural memory as a sign of our simultaneous exploitation of nature. Even politically, we are falling more and more obviously back into medieval or even older myths and ideologies and we compensate these retrospectively with kitsch – Bertlmann wants to make us aware that the destructive components of being glued to the couch in front of the television can only be countered by switching the channels or by turning off the tube. Trivial myths of desire, infant fantasies and erotic prostheses are replaceable – at first in life with multi-faceted art and then through reality.

Brigitte Borchhardt-Birbaumer

Translation: Melissa Lumbroso

[1] The pun in the original German text goes lost in translation, yet should not go unmentioned. The word used in place of blade or edge is "Sch(n)eide": implying both the connotation of a cutting edge, while the word without the "n", "Scheide", translates to mean both "sheath" and "vagina" in English.