Wall Installations - Wandinstallationen
Germany - New York, 1991 - 98

   


German
 

 
Gigantic portraits everywhere, on the floor, all over the
walls: The Paranoia of Big Brother watching you? Or just a
kind of heady art?

These faces do not ever laugh, they don't emit emotions,
signs, or signals. Empty and rigid, they stare at you or into
space, with no expression whatsoever, without the slightest
trace of an attempt to interact or to communicate (the way
we've learned to read such an attempt). But then, some
of these faces seem to be, quite literally, beyond themselves:
They speak from somewhere else, just like those figures in
cartoons, from little bubbles opening up in random body
parts, as if permitting sudden access, or just a glimpse of
hidden, partial vulnerabilities - enlarged, distorted and, yes
suddenly expressive mouths, or noses, hands or various
fragments overlaying other, and indifferent, body parts. It is
in these insertions, these wounds cut into healthy tissue
that we detect the kind of diction of a second (inner?) life,
an alien voice lent to these figures who, left to themselves,
seem to have lost just that ability: A kind of mental outsourc-
ing, someone else to put in charge of emotional communication,       
so to speak - perhaps even in charge of administering their
emotional life altogether?

A simple and straightforward symbol of the Zeitgeist?
Of atrophied abilities to see ourselves as objects, in various
perspectives, from many sides at once? To be sure, these
standardized faces do remind us of contemporary icons:
A certain stylized sensuality, the empty gaze, nothing at all
that points to any aim or focus beyond the moment, gestures
and faces lacking expression, meaning or directions, or even
individuality, no hint of expectations anywhere: their world
is either/or, is black and white, that's it. It stops in the
immediate present. What happened to Kerstin Roolfs usual
inspired use of color? At best, these portraits do allow
some accidental traces, an afterthought, an echo maybe of
some long lost sensibility.

Kerstin Roolfs will not try to capture some essential,
true identities behind, below all social rules, masks, histrionics.
Like any artist she refuses to assume there is but one identity
- she searches out those latencies, i.e. the simultaneous
presence of all potentialities. These heads do not suggest
the rigor mortis of a terminal identity, they seem to be
identities "in waiting", without a substance of their own,
waiting to be activated by an Other, as in a fairy tale, someone
kissing them into existence, breathing life into them, a
looker-on turning into a partner.

More often than not these heads come in dual-packs,
in multiples - even though they seem to have nothing in
common, no interaction. At times, their eyes seem to
intersect but not meet, in other cases they just stare in
parallel directions, like aliens in an urban mass, not noticing
one another. There are overlapping faces but even then
it is a mere physical overlay, a competition for physical, not
mental, space. This juxtaposition of alien existences, this
incredible distance between bodies so close perhaps suggests
a desperate search for some far focus which they have
stopped expecting in their everyday environment, a groping
motion toward some point of reference beyond themselves.

Perhaps the mirror images are such a variant of this
pursuit? Splitting oneself could be one way of finding, or
constructing, such a point, an addressee out there to finally
relate to. Narcissus chose this method misunderstood as
crude self-love). And finally, there are those quasi-serial
pictures in which fragmentary figures, also without a context,
background, or environment seem to step out of themselves,
so to speak - but never toward another. Kerstin Roolfs' oeuvre
does not know the notion of a group- an icy wind of
existential loneliness surrounds her figures. We know, and
we experience almost physically: they are not really "portraits"
- portraits presuppose someone on the other side, someone
seeing the original from his or her perspective, a relation,
an interaction of seeing and being seen. These are faces
without an addressee or target, faces not facing anyone nor
anything, faces ready to go, to be or to act, all resource,
nothing but latencies.

Like an ironic commentary: Kerstin Roolfs transparencies.
Some aspects do become transparent, translucent, literally
permitting 'insights' into and onto various levels of what lies
in store, a preview of a possible, gradated, composite identity,
a warning too: don't waste these potentialities, don't force
them to accept ultimate shape identities.

If this be form, there's method in it. Paint and trans-
parencies, images overlaying and/or covering certain areas
and levels, highlighting others, focusing on different levels
of depth; objects intertwined, juxtaposed; levels of distinct-
ness, of visibility and translucency: A simultaneous presence
of items and materials of (so to speak) non-simultaneous
origin. The life of the object is a temporal, not just material
construct: such is K. Roolfs' postmodern revolution of classic
evolutionary logic. Purity, in any sense, is not an attribute of
object, it's the lack of attributes, the painter seems to say.
In our thinking, feeling, perceiving, judging, in anything we
do all our past experiences, sensibilities, all our past (and
anticipated) stages of development are simultaneously at
work - not just in terms of passive material but as active
perceptual filters. It's no coincidence that, at the end of
each cycle, Kerstin Roolfs gathers everything in those well-
known wall installations.

This is not just painting, this is a kind of experimental
anthropology. Pompous as it may sound, it's the approach
itself, not the particular objects that reveal Kerstin Roolfs'
objective, or actual topic, comprising and uniting that im-
pressive spectrum of formats, methods and subject matter.
It is a formal topic, a topology, a style: Le style, c`est la femme
mÍme.

There are entire populations of figures, with the drama-
turgy of their bodies reduced to, and seemingly dissolved
in, mere lines: a variant of the theme of fragmentation,
shrunk to sketches of patterns of motion. As a style, fragmen-
tation emphasizes the compository nature of perception,
the compulsory ideas we employ, in all innocence, to turn
some raw material of perception into concrete objects.
Are what we see, then, really these objects? Or individual
projections or creations?

Kerstin Roolfs' objects come across as if unchained from
some coercive identity, they are crafted with lots of attention
to detail but they are not parts of an organic whole, they
do not want to be: they're centrifugal objects, their power
source is not a hidden inner center but something in the
future, yet to happen, something as yet without a concrete
shape. K. Roolfs' paintings are like plays on some imaginary
(inner?) stage, a 'heady' kind of art in the best sense.
The painters' head is like a prism refracting images, ideas,
compositions, reconfiguring them into new programs.

In short: Kerstin Roolfs' oeuvre is a kind of frontier
experience, a permanent revolution of perception, her
paintings and drawings like tentative plays trial running roles
and identities. A highly sophisticated formal language permits
her to momentarily arrest and fixate these processes, and
for a moment the images seem to turn into identifiable
objects. Yet, as soon as they are de-fined, their finite nature
has already been transcended. Having recognized their de-
fining boundaries, we have obviously moved beyond them
- or else we couldn't be aware of them as limits. The dialectic
of such moving targets imparts a kind of simultaneous
melancholia and serenity, of playfulness and a continuously
fermenting drama. The courage to sustain creative moods
like that is rare now in contemporary art, this fertile morbidity
- for all the formal discipline. Form is always that of its
content - the style of Kerstin Roolfs confirms, and resurrects,
this ancient wisdom.

                                                       Eike Gebhardt, Berlin 1999