Anja Luithle


Slow motion – Motor movement in the work of Anja Luithle

She likes to work with attributes of femininity: a long red ball gown, delicate pumps, large handbags or fine ornamental cups. Radically reduced to the objects themselves, the impression they make in the exhibition room provokes a feeling of limitation and, simultaneously, a classification. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the observer feels directly challenged to complete the visual appearance, to imagine the female person, perhaps even to personalise her. Typical woman – typical artist, you might think, and you would not be too far from the mark. And yet that does not capture it, because Anja Luithle shows more than just attributes. Rather, she stages clichés, but nullifies their meaning. It is an interactive game with expectations, with the cliché of being a woman and simultaneously an ironic take on such patterns and stereotypes, which have not been taken too seriously for some time. Thus, for example, the red shoes are not only a real object for her, but also recall something pretentious, as the shoes do not seem entirely contemporary, but are striking because of their shine, like in the wonderful fairy-tale film The Wizard of Oz. The red shoes of the little girl Dorothy play a very special part in this. Far from home, she is advised by the Good Witch of the East to tap the heels of her shoes together to catapult herself back into the other world (dream versus reality). The American author Lyman Frank Baum published his children’s book in 1900 under the title The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a consummate story about overcoming apparent deficiencies, of solidarity and of friendship. The magic is ignited by the object, by the pair of red shoes. With Anja Luithle, they also take on a magical dimension because – as with many of her works – it is not just about the object itself, but about its movement. As if by magic, the shoes start moving, slide slowly forward and back and, as it were, thereby replace the whole person. Movement for Anja Luithle is coupled almost exclusively with the physicality of the person who is absent, but who is at least conceived and experienced virtually by setting the objects in motion mechanically. They are slow movements, sometimes seeming shy, gentle and vulnerable, but at other times very energetic and self-confident. A wide variety of works have been created in this context, finding their key nucleus in the red ladies, with which the artist began as long ago as 1996. Even then, they were pure figurines in red velvet dresses that began to vibrate when the viewer approached (Kunsthalle Göppingen collection). Through the shell into which a woman enters when she dresses, she represents herself, or at least an attitude, a social position or a vision she wishes to project. It is therefore also not unimportant to note that the mainly red dresses are always ball gowns, a gown which the viewer associates with a particular situation – a wonderful ball, a gala evening, a royal ambience, etc. – and which is intended to embellish the wearer in a particular way. But without a woman to wear it, it remains just a shell from which the most important thing has been lost. To this extent, the signal effect in these works of the colour red, of the special, sophisticated situation and of the movement, which simulates something that cannot exist in nature, is restricted. A dress will only ever move when it is filled with life by the person wearing it. What is lifeless in itself is made to move repeatedly in this case, however, sometimes with the active involvement of the viewer (clapping triggers the mechanical impulse). That, in turn, increases the impression that the item itself is exposed to a will-less, soulless compulsion to act, which is projected associatively onto an imagined person. This is transferred to the person who does not fill out the dress, even though that person is only thought up without actually being present. But also because the viewer recognises that he or she is entirely dependent on the object and it is not a case of a subject who is not present, triggering a kind of self-censorship – around the contradiction between what can be perceived and the intended expectations, which constantly strive for completeness. Anja Luithle has staged variations on this in many locations. The effect of her uninhabited clothing shells is particularly stimulating when they are in public places, where they seem to draw people’s gazes to them as if by magic. These include the Gratwanderin (Tightrope Walker, 2002/2011) at the Haus der Geschichte in Stuttgart, which runs like a tightrope artiste along the edge of the roof and looks as if it could fall at any moment, Rote Dame II (Red Lady II, 2007) in Essen-Borbeck, which completes its circular movement in a brick bus shelter, the Die Wegweiserin (The Signpost, 2009) on the Eislingen roundabout, which rotates every fifteen minutes and is therefore unable to fulfil its proper function, and the Die Springerin (The Diver, 2012) in the centre of Fellbach, which simulates a dive from a diving board. In the heart of the street scenery, the Die Springerin seems disconcerting in many ways: the red dress is there once again, seemingly preparing to make the dive itself, moving slowly to the edge of the board before withdrawing again; and then there is the diving tower, which is not on the edge of a swimming pool but is surrounded by paving stones. Finally there are the large bronze shoes, which are taken off shortly before. The dress and the pool-less diving tower: nothing fits, nothing goes together. Everything remains isolated and yet forms a disturbing whole. Numerous other works play with the motif of the party dress that is thrown into a banal life situation and unerringly ‘goes its own way’. The red or brightly coloured dresses emphasise something that is only conceivable as a substitute for what is absent per se: Aus der Mitte (From the Centre) and Twins dualise the movement of two dresses, trace a marginal dialogue between two protagonists. They all complete patterns of movement that are fundamentally possible and realistic, but which, in the context assigned to them, make no sense. As a result, what Anja Luithle presents here always ends up revolving around identity. How important this is to her is demonstrated by other works in which the dresses represent women, while the attributes assigned to them are an equally clear illustration of the relationship between life as it is lived and heteronomy. Prime examples in this context are Katholisches Kleid (Catholic Dress), Käsefrau (Cheese Woman), Innen wie Außen (Inside as Outside) and Griffbereit (Within Reach) (all 2008). In addition to the element of the surreal mentioned previously, everything in these works jars, works which are about loneliness, injury, heteronomy, mechanisation and thus, in a wider sense, also about dehumanisation. The fact that this can also be seen in other works is very evident in Wandläuferin (Wall Walker, 2007), in which two black shoes scrape noisily along the wall and in Solitude (2008), where ownerless suitcases wander around the room. In Meine Suppe (My Soup, 2008), she makes wooden spoons bang noisily on the metal outside of a pot, and with six pots, the whole thing rises to create an unusual composition of sounds. Sounds in general, and the beat with which they ring out, is crucial to the perception of each work, for they increase the absurdity of what the viewer is able to perceive. In a kind of cacophony, the moving objects create a feeling of a strong need for action, the meaning of which, however, remains open and absurd. It is clear that the object is specifically not a substitute for the subject, but makes the absence of that subject all the more painfully clear. No less charming but more conciliatory from the point of view of its tenor is one of the more recent installations, which Anja Luithle staged on the former military exercise ground at Münsingen, Schwäbische Alb, on the occasion of the Interim Biennale. In a long row of barracks standing opposite one another, all long-since deserted, she developed a piece of choreography in which the window shutters open and close alternately. Here, too, there is no sign of how the shutters open, an action that would normally be associated with soldiers. As a result, however, the opening and closing is magical, an action that is both reflected or runs with a time delay, on both sides or sometimes just on one side. The shutters clatter, crunch and squeak, they open and close, while in between you hear both passing cars sounding their horns and birds singing. It seems as if a bilateral dialogue is taking place, a dialogue of the neighbourhood? An open one, or perhaps one that is shut off on both sides? Anything is conceivable, everything seems possible, because the artist leaves the final interpretation open. Rather, a moment of spectral presence is consolidated, of a space that is entirely without human beings, in which perhaps only the wind may have blown through to enjoy the spectacle of the sonorous wooden shutters. Anja Luithle’s works can be read in a content-rich context of numerous artistic works that use clothing: starting with Cindy Sherman, Joseph Beuys’s Filzanzug (Felt Suit, 1970), Rosemarie Trockel (Balakalvas, 1986), Jannis Kounellis through to Erwin Wurm’s latest sculpture Hose lüften, Hände hoch (Air Out Trousers, Hands Up, 2014; in the Städel Garden, Frankfurt). What is crucial with her, however, is not only the sculptural form, but the mechanical motion into which she sets her works. In the tension outlined above between beautiful shell (dress) and more or less typical movement (the sway of a skirt, shoes taking steps, etc.) that takes place without context in space, she focuses quite fundamentally on the question of identity. This ultimately appears insoluble, not least because it remains caught in a movement that does not come from the innermost self but is guided and determined by mundane mechanics which noisily make themselves known. Thus, Anja Luithle puts at the heart of her work the central question as to the nature of human beings by staging it as a tensioncharged dialogue between the conventions and the self, caricatured to the point of absurdity and irony – sometimes even as far as complete negation. When the artist designs her objects, she directs everything at their presentation in space, so that their effect and appearance is entirely composed. More than her objects themselves, they develop their presence through the movement caused by invisible motors. As if guided by the hand of a ghost, a long skirt shakes, clothes turn, a hand consisting of a blue satin glove seems to move along a wall. Movement and contact – the bemusement of the viewer develops in an interactive dialogue that emerges between expectation and surprise.

Beate Reifenscheid
Museum Ludwig, Koblenz