Article by Iman Vakil in Berlin // Tuesday, Jul. 18, 2017
After 50 years of producing an impressive body of work, Katharina Sieverding has been awarded the 2017 Käthe Kollwitz Prize for her experiments in film and photography, and their relation to the public. First endowed in 1960 by the, then East German, Akademie der Künste, the prize is often awarded to artists who, like Sieverding, engage with society and politics as opposed to the individual-as-creator; in line with Käthe Kollwitz’s concerns with destitution and class inequality. An accompanying exhibition at the Akademie der Künste in Tiergarten shows selections from a wide range of Sieverding’s work, specifically her piece ‘Test Cuts’, and 19 large-scale photo works.
Born in 1944 in Prague, Katharina Sieverding was a student of Joseph Beuys at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf in 1967, alongside Blinky Palermo and Imi Knoebel. Comparably, her work is extremely conceptual. Many of her large-scale photo works depict world events, in what Sieverding calls “political creations”, where she acknowledges the inherent manipulation in photography as documentation and its influence on cultural memory and public opinion. Her political creations bring to mind Vilém Flusser’s observations on photography as misleading information models, dangerous as the artist’s or photographer’s hand is not inherently obvious. Instead, Sieverding forces the viewer to recognise her subjectivity, in a nod towards feminist traditions—through her use of tints, layering, and stylising—akin to Flusser’s argument that experimental photography is needed to counter false consciousness. Sieverding does bring up several questions about gender—most obviously through her active self-portraiture and explorations into her own means of gender-presentation—yet disassociates herself with feminist movements for their lack of intersectionality.
Several of these large-scale “political creations” have been dispersed in public spaces outside of the institution, replicated on hundreds of granted billboards in a given city. In their large format, these political creations confront the wider public in the familiar form of a poster campaign, as Sieverding repurposes existing advertising aesthetics and strategies for societal critique. She often uses circulating images as well as short, snappy, and charged phrasing common to advertising, yet adapts the language to become something entirely ambiguous. For instance, in her 1992 piece ‘Deutschland wird Deutscher’ (Germany is becoming more German), Sieverding takes a phrase from Roger de Weck‘s Die Zeit article, pushing the viewer to consult their construction of nation-based identity in the unstable times of EU formation, a freshly reunited Germany, and radical and violent right-wing reactionaries. The piece, originally intended for the Kultur Region Project in Stuttgart, was blocked from being distributed, demonstrating the strength of Sieverding’s polarizing capabilities.
The exhibition at AdK also shows newer work, such as ‘TESTCUTS 1966-2010’; a photo-montage of 580 selected byproducts of the analog enlarging process, taken by Sieverding over 40 years. Projected onto the wall in 9 channels, the images from the archive are generated randomly and rhythmically, offering an ever-changing look at nostalgic, pivotal moments in history through one individual’s lifetime. Devoid of any further manipulation, the intimate piece allows for an interesting comparison to the political creations in the adjacent gallery.
This article is part of our BLINK series, which introduces the practices of artists around the world. To read more BLINK articles, click here.