“Theme:Women:Theme” is the current annual motto of the Fotogalerie Wien, with three exhibitions, curated by Susanne Gamauf, presenting innovative contributions to the central issues of feminine identity at the beginning of the new millennium. While the first show devotes itself to themes of “everyday life”, the second exposition, titled “Mother,” undertakes an evidence collection of feminine reproductivity. With photographs, videos, installations, photo objects and texts, eight artists from Germany, Finland, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Austria sketch a many-facetted scenario. The spectrum encloses strictly formal analyses of feminine self-perception as well as sarcastic caricatures of conventional gender roles clichés. It confronts the utopia of successful self-perception with the comic staging of the idealized nuclear family, and focuses on the timeless topicality of the generation conflict which is examined in the relations between mothers and daughters.
The social reality to which all contributions explicitly refer almost seems to provoke an insistent gaze. Today, certainly, the choice between different walks of life is largely a free one for women in western cultural circles. In progressive circles, the end of traditional gender roles is propagated: the self-determined construction of the self, which establishes itself as a permanently changing patchwork of multilayered, overlapping self- and other images, must take the place of gender-specific concepts. This opens up potentially unknown possibilities of realization beyond the borders of sex and gender. But the new freedom has its price. It requires the separation of the traditional social nets (family relationships) by new relationship clusters. That also means that the distribution of rights and responsibilities concerning reproduction must be renegotiated. This places women who decide to have children in front of a completely new challenge. In private as well as in public life, it is a matter of determining new positions beyond the inheritance of conservative clichés, and examining the adaptability of proven concepts.
As differentiated and controversial the concepts are with which women with children experiment today, as diverse and alive are the contributions of the contemporary artists who shed light on this topic from the most differing points of view.
Hildegund Bachler sarcastically decodes the Catholic ideal of women with montages that change between kitsch and art. She blends faces of models into popular pictures of the Madonna. Their immaculate beauty harmonizes perfectly with the religious setting, the conventional symbols of the unsullied conception and the painful mother of God.
Magdalena Frey interweaves an extremely private perception of the (own) feminine body with images of the media culture in digital picture combinations in a radical way. She consistently shows whatever shame and guilt force to silence: the ambiguous aspects of feminine reality in the field of tension between self-confidence and outside regulation.
Marikke Heinz Hök directs the attention back to her mother’s generation in her pictures and texts. In sensitive arrangements she confronts anonymous statements of contemporaries with portrait photographs of their mothers whom she changes by colour and structure interventions, to focus the eye away from the individual to an atmosphere of distance own to all points of view.
Ulla Jokisalo makes a theme of the process of her growing up in an equally poetic and uncompromising way. In quiet, lasting compositions she constitutes a new relationship to her mother, thereby sketching an iconography of similarities. The representation of the symbolic link between the generations is also considered a utopia of possible feminine relationship forms.
Ina Loitzl approaches the equally fascinating as distressing experiences of pregnancy, birth and motherhood in a lovingly ironic way in her videos. When Barbie recognizes in the delivery room that care of the brood and breeding are now her fulltime job, or when the artist stuffs the picture of her son with more and more baby food in a desperate effort, no eye stays dry.
Melanie Manchot minutely follows the changes of her pregnant body in systematically structured posters. Her chronological topology documents the artist’s perception, determined by her longings and fears, as well as the attempt to place her individual experience in a larger cultural and social context with photographs, ultrasound images and texts.
Isolde Loock plays different reality levels against each other in her installations and videos. When she places a small family of tiny plastic figures onto a photograph of her inordinately enlarged face, it raises doubts about the proportionality of our perception as with the video recording of the first cloned human embryo in the maternal uterus.
Margriet Smulders formulates a furious satire of the contemplative, small-familiar domesticity in her family portraits. In the lavish settings, everyday life emerges as a banal comedy in which the traditional roles have essentially not changed. The prototypical arrangements of father, mother and children hold all possible sensations between desire and sorrow ready for the woman.