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Between Myth and Reality - Victor Man's Existential Painting
"The Contemplative Art Experience no Longer Takes Place" - Olaf Nicolai on the Future of Biennials
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - Hide and Seek: The Self-Portraits of Annina Lingens
An American Affair - A Visit to the 2014 Whitney Biennial
Let's talk: Dayanita Singh & Gerhard Steidl on the High Art of Making Books
Six Feet Under - Why does contemporary art love to spotlight Old Masters and forgotten outsiders?
"Optimism is part of a revolutionary mindset" - An Interview with Biennale of Sydney Curator Juliana Engberg
Rethinking the Language of Art - The Whitney Biennial 2014 beyond Discourse
The Man Who Invented Pop Art - London Celebrates Richard Hamilton
Dark Metamorphoses - Victor Man Is Artist of the Year 2014
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - "Colors were never strong enough for me": A visit with Nicolas Fontaine
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - Lena Ader: A Certain Strength


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MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners
Hide and Seek: The Self-Portraits of Annina Lingens

I’m someone else: in her self-portraits Annina Lingens impersonates artists such as Nan Goldin and Sarah Lucas. Now works by the MACHT KUNST prizewinner are on view in the studio of Deutsche Bank KunstHalle. Achim Drucks met her for a talk.

A challenging stare, an androgynous look: the young woman is sitting straddle-legged in an armchair fixing her gaze on the viewer. She has put two fried eggs on her T-shirt right where her breasts are located. “I know it,” many might think when they see this photograph. In point of fact, however, it is not the iconic Sarah Lucas photo from the 1990s. Instead, Annina Lingens simulated Self-Portrait with Fried Eggs. Just as she reenacted other self-portraits of various photographers for her series Me / Copy. In each picture, Lingens slips into the role of the respective artist. As Nan Goldin, she looks pensively out of a train window; as Rineke Dijkstra, she stands bewildered in a shower room. She looks at us confidently from a “selfie,” which was not taken with a smartphone, but with a simple pocket camera. Just as Tina Bara, a photographer who was active in the peace movement during the last years of East Germany, did. Lingens does not only restage the individual motifs, but employs the respective techniques used for the photographs, which were taken between 1863 and 2007.

She got the idea for the series, which the MACHT KUNST winner is now presenting in the studio of Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, from a photograph taken by Claude Cahun in 1927. “Leafing through a photo book, I saw one of her self-portraits and thought immediately: “Hey, that’s me,” she explains during an interview at the kitchen table of her apartment in an old building in Berlin-Treptow. “The face, the body, the way she sits – it all reminds me of myself.” But unlike Cahun, a lesbian Surrealist artist who portrayed herself as a genderless being, in Me / Copy Lingens does not investigate female roles. “I’m not trying to question anything. Instead, I’m interested in the self-portrayals of the different women, how they see and photograph themselves. Of course some of these artists explore gender roles, including Sarah Lucas. But that’s her personal theme. Granted, I do make the theme my own by appropriating her role in my copy. But I’m primarily interested in similarities between us or whether I empathize with the woman in the picture.”

In her reenactments, Lingens refrains from wearing wigs or using heavy make-up. This distinguishes her from Cindy Sherman, the mother of all transformation artists. And from more recent artists, such as Gillian Wearing, who embodies different members of her family in her self-portraits. Or from Nikki S. Lee, who reveals herself to be a true chameleon in her Projects photo series. Lee joins different groups, including punks, yuppies, and Latinos, and then has herself photographed with her new friends in the corresponding look. Lingens, on the other hand, can always be recognized as herself in her photos. However, in her role-play she breaks with the traditional understanding of a self-portrait as an authentic expression of a person “the way they are.” It is this ambivalence that constitutes the appeal of the series, in which all of the photographs meld into a statement about the artist. “This selection reflects different facets of my personality, says something about me. Nevertheless, I disappear behind the different identities; in none of the pictures do you see only me.”  

The theme of hiding oneself is very prevalent in the work of the artist, who was born in 1983. The self-portraits in her series Sometimes I Think (2010) also dispense with conventions of the genre. For instance, Lingens bends her head so far back that her face cannot be seen. As a result, the part of the body from which we interpret the personality of the person portrayed is concealed from us.

Her refusal to show herself takes on an entirely different form in the series Heimat I (2011). Lingens found the motifs for the series in the streets of her home village in the northern German lowlands. They are strangely impersonal-looking one-family homes concealed behind juniper and beech hedges. She heightens the almost surreal impression of these photos in her follow-up project Heimat II. Here Lingens airbrushed the houses’ windows and doors on the computer, leaving only the impenetrable facades.

When she took these pictures, she had long turned her back on the northern German lowlands. Initially, Lingens studied classical stage dance in Leeds, England. But a knee injury forced her to give up her plan of becoming a dancer. Lingens subsequently went to Amsterdam, where she studied performing arts at the Amsterdam School of the Arts (AHK) and free art at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, focusing on photography and film.

It is not only in Me / Copy that Lingens mixes performance and photography. For her current project Prototype, which comprises around seventy works, she again appropriated photographs – pictures of mentally ill people, which up until the 1950s were often taken against the patients’ will. The patients’ duress is apparent in these photos, which makes them so shocking. Media scholar Susanne Regener characterized this as “visual violence” and her book of the same name inspired Lingen to create her series. “They’re self-portraits, but they’re not about me. Rather, they’re about the fact that certain prototypes of schizophrenics or depressives were made assigning people to certain groups.”

Such categorization is also the theme of Kinderaltar (Children’s Altar), the large photographic work for which Lingens won the award in MACHT KUNST. It’s based on photos taken during a children’s wrestling tournament in which after each bout there was a winner and a loser. Lingens photographed the losers, who virtually screamed out their frustration. She integrated these portraits into an ensemble she found in the apartment of an older woman she is friends with. An arrangement similar to millions on display in Germany and around the world: framed family photos, dried flowers, candles, and little porcelain figures on top of a chest of drawers. Instead of the usual happy family with grandchildren smiling dutifully, we are confronted with a collection of crying, desperate children that torpedoes the notion of an ideal world.

Lingens almost didn’t participate in the MACHT KUNST action. “I was pretty exhausted at the time, and when I saw the long line in front of the KunstHalle, I drove back home with my picture. But in the evening, I had a sneaking suspicion that I just might be able to win. The next day the line was gone – fortunately – and I could deliver the Children’s Altar immediately.” Lingens did actually win. Sometimes you simply have to trust your intuition.

Annina Lingens: me / copy
16/5 – 1/6/2014
Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, Studio

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