Stadtische galerie wolfsburg: laconic and global disasters

The artist as an expert on multiple disasters: Birgit Brenner is the winner of Wolfsburg’s art award "Junge Stadt sieht junge Kunst".

Installation by Birgit Brenner: "Promises and other Lies" in the Stadtische Galerie Wolfsburg Photo: Bettina Maria Brosowsky

In January, the hand of the Doomsday Clock was readjusted from two minutes to just 100 seconds to twelve. Since 1947, this symbolic clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has indicated how great the current risk of a global catastrophe is estimated to be.

For this purpose, a scientific council evaluates the worldwide threat scenarios: in the beginning by nuclear armament, more recently also by climate change and information warfare. However, the clock still hides the corona pandemic, perhaps at present the hand would have to be moved a few seconds closer to the end of time.

For Birgit Brenner, the nominee for the Wolfsburg Art Award "Young City Sees Young Art" at the end of 2019, this fact was the reason to conceive a new work, which can now be seen in Wolfsburg Castle in her exhibition as award winner.

One hundred seconds until the end of the world

In her film work "Hundred Seconds to Midnight", created in stop-motion technique on the basis of drawn pictures, she lets her protagonists of both sexes, different ages and social backgrounds act as isolated dancers. A simple red line, starting from the cheekbones and elbows, holds the soloists together like puppets controlled by others.

Between the stroboscopic sequences of images, which do not aim for visual continuity as in classical animated film, but deliberately for a fractal rhythm, flashes of flames, a speeding car, or a hunter targeting a deer. These at least ambivalent, if not threatening, events of the barely four-minute video are accompanied by a disturbing sound as well as a second film work, "Shifting Baselines," produced especially for the Wolfsburg exhibition.

For this, Brenner drew images from art history or our collective memory, including the controversial photo motif of the man desperately throwing himself out of the window from a height of 400 meters when the World Trade Center became a burning trap after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

In September 2001 as a scholarship holder in New York

Birgit Brenner, born in Ulm in 1964, studied graphic design at the Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences in Berlin and graduated there in 1996 as a master student of Rebecca Horn. Exactly at the time of September 2001, she began her studio fellowship at MoMA PS 1 in New York, thus witnessing the local trauma caused by the terrorist act.

Brenner tries to invent small, personalized stories for problematic situations of world events or universal fears of human existence

From September 2019 until June of this year, she was a fellow at Villa Massimo in Rome. So here in the spring she experienced the prescribed isolation after the violent Corona outbreak in Italy.

Brenner thus seems to be an expert on multiple catastrophes. But as an artist, of course, she knows how to maintain professional distance and process events rather than merely illustrate them. Thus she vehemently refuses to reduce her work to the biographical. Nevertheless, she tries to invent small, personalized stories for problematic situations of world events or universal fears of human existence.

The collection of "beautiful sentences

Her narrative method includes not only static or animated drawings, collages, assemblages, and large installations, but also words and short texts. She literally collects these. She maintains a file called "Beautiful Sentences" in which she notes down everything she comes across in everyday life, but also in literature or during systematic research. This intuitively compiled fund, similar to the classic sketchbook of a painter, often already touches on themes, as she notes when she later refers back to it.

Stadtische Galerie Wolfsburg: Currently closed, otherwise until April 25. Elaborately designed artist’s book (Verlag fur moderne Kunst) 39 euros.

In Wolfsburg, Birgit Brenner can demonstrate all her skills in three large halls. For this, she has devised a staging that, with the two short film works, creates a hectic, almost agonizing restlessness in the first room. The second room is traversed by her new, twelve and a half meter long installation "Promises and other Lies". In it, visual motifs from the films can be found again, a shot deer, falling human bodies, a martial car, jags and flames.

Motivically a "Last Judgment," the supporting themes and stabilizing constructions are made of black steel, but the overall structure, which weighs a ton, comes across with the fleeting lightness of her drawings. Brenner seems to be able to confront even threatening aspects of our civilization with the laconic casualness of a "Never Mind" – never mind, never mind – as can be read in reverse, or viewed from the back.

The human search for happiness

In the third room is the 35-minute film "Sun. Summer. Sicherheit" can be seen, again created as stop-motion from a plethora of drawings that Brenner himself does not even know how to quantify. In three episodes, it tells of the human search for happiness and fulfillment – always doomed to failure.

A sign "Not in the picture: Future" leans in the projection. It comes from Brenner’s first exhibition in Wolfsburg, in 2006 at the Verein fur junge Kunst. When the art prize that has now been awarded again speaks of "young art," this is only partly true. Birgit Brenner can point to three decades of art practice and has been a professor in Stuttgart since 2007. The prize, which has been awarded since 1959, has long been a mid-career tribute. Brenner sees it as confirmation that he is "allowed to continue.

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