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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
Lena Ader: A Certain Strength

Desire and violence, closeness, alienation, the vulnerability of the body—Lena Ader addresses existential experiences. Now, the MACHT KUNST-Prizewinner’s recent paintings and sculptures can be seen in the Studio of the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle. Achim Drucks met with the young artist in her studio.

It’s a visual overkill: hyperrealistic portraits, abstract compositions, expressive still lifes with flowers, and in between photographs, collages, reliefs, and this or that homage to Gerhard Richter. In the second part of MACHT KUNST, around 1,800 works are hung closely together on the walls of the Alte Münze. Many of the artists present themselves in the 24-hour exhibition with bold, eye-catching works—lots of loud colors, lots of large formats. At the Deutsche Bank-initiated action, Lena Ader presented the exact opposite: her painting In dein Gewand II (In Your Guise II) is hardly larger than a standard DIN A 3 sheet of paper, and nearly monochromatic. Its skin and beige tones appear subtle against the ungrounded canvas. At first, what can be seen in this densely atmospheric painting seems evident enough—two women whose mouths are connected by a straw. Yet the image retains an air of mystery. The breath that flows through the straw from one mouth to another also has something existential about it, something playful and erotic. “It’s about this concrete situation: a woman drinks through a straw from the mouth of another woman,” explains Lena Ader. “But of course this reality stands for something. I try to give a visible form to interior states and sensitivities. When I made the painting, it was mostly about desire, neediness, and needs.”

In any case, In dein Gewand II counts among the strongest paintings to date by the artist, who was born in Heidelberg in 1988. “At the time of MACHT KUNST, it was the painting that best expressed what I wish to do with my art and why I paint.” The professional jury was also convinced and selected the young painter as one of three prizewinners invited to present their work in a two-week-long solo show in the Studio of the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle.

At first glance, Ader belongs to the sea of ambitious young artists living in Wedding or Neukölln who are constantly preoccupied with getting into exhibitions and galleries. But Ader seems to maintain a certain distance from the so-called art scene. Instead of making contacts, she would rather refine her paintings in quiet perseverance. She works in a basement studio in the third courtyard of a brick building on Kreuzberg’s Oranienstrasse and she shares the space with four other artists; it’s the only way she can afford the workplace. During our meeting, Ader comes across much like her paintings: reserved, acutely present, unusually clear, yet somehow out of reach.

She made her first “real” painting series in 2010, while she was still studying at the Alanus Hochschule für Kunst und Gesellschaft in Alfter near Bonn. Ein Jahr lang Trost (One Year of Solace) was the title she gave to these watercolor-like paintings of women and couples. The themes that carry throughout her work are closeness, loneliness, alienation, and violence: there’s a woman lying on her face, for instance, with her mouth and cheek disappearing into blood-red brushstrokes, as though after an attack. Later paintings depict hands pierced by glass shards, or a bodily orifice, ripped open by two hands to form a gaping wound.

If you compare the early paintings with her current work, one thing becomes evident: the move she made in the summer of 2012 from the Rhine provinces to the capital did not lead to a break either in stylistic or thematic terms. Her protagonists still move in hermetic spaces that are merely hinted at through abstract shapes. The coloration has been reduced even further. It’s no wonder that Ader, in answer to the question as to what influences there have been on her work, only has one name to offer: that of Michaël Borremans, whose paintings in shades of beige, brown, and gray depict individual figures or small groups in enigmatic situations. There are parallels between Ader’s paintings and the Belgian painter and director’s work that go beyond painting method and coloration: the two are also linked by a certain sense of timelessness, of loss of place.

Ader’s motifs come from the subconscious; she links these interior images with actual situations or experiences. When a motif has finally acquired form in her mind, she stages it with friends in order to take a photograph. The figures always have their eyes closed. “It has to be that way. The people would look strange with their eyes open. The closed eyes also have to do with the fact that the figures should be more with themselves. They don’t want contact with the viewer, they want to remain in their world and do or feel something there.”

Ader calls her exhibition in the Studio of the KunstHalle Der Tag war fast noch Nacht (The Day Was Still Nearly Night). Along with her most recent painting series, two sculptural works are also on view: an old showcase of the kind one finds in a natural history museum contains a replica of a human hand and a slightly larger-than-life human lung—a dual-winged complex of fine tubes and arteries that hangs suspended above a column in the room. Like all her sculptures, they are made from white tissue paper, which Ader uses to craft a variety of shapes and then assembles into delicate pieces.

Just as subtle as these objects are the paintings of her new series with the somewhat outdated-sounding title Anheimgeben. “The word has to do with trust, with entrusting someone with something. But I’m not concerned with illustrating that in any concrete way in the paintings. The title is intended to create associations. In the paintings, you can see various body parts with something lying on them. I only realized this afterwards. Something is always very close to the body—an object or a living being.”

With its combination of paintings and sculptures, the exhibition makes it clear that Lena Ader is always concerned with the body in and of itself—not merely its mental life, but its inner physical reality, as well. “You deal with your body every day, it stands for life. A lot is revealed in it, or rather, with it I can show what I want to show,” Ader explains. “I find the body very fascinating. Not just its various states, but also its organs, how it’s made—that it’s always with you, although you never really know what it looks like.”

Lena Ader can’t quite agree with the view that her works are mainly about the vulnerability of the body or humans in general. “There are two sides to everything,” she says with a quick smile. “To show this fragility and to bear it also requires a certain degree of strength.”

Lena Ader. Der Tag war fast noch Nacht
4/4 – 20/4/2014
Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, Studio

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