I think we’ve all been at one point in our lives stuck behind something: a door, a wall, an idea or belief, wondering, “Well, how the bloody hell do I get over this?” My obstacle was a glass door – mocking enough already by being see-through – yet firmly closed. What lay on the other side was my review of Franziska Fennert's works being on exhibition at Michaela Helfrich Galerie; facing a music/yoga retreat, a bakery and a Thai massage parlor (I think every building in Neukölln faces at least one of these three things), I was the silly boy outside. Clearly my meticulous Google search (writing down the three closest U-Bahn stops, all the connections, landmarks and appointment juggling) had all joined forces in my failure. So what does one do whilst being locked out? One reviews from the outside in.
Before me, I counted eleven works by Fennert, a past student at Dresden's Fine Arts University, honing specialized techniques in Indonesia. Hidden behind glass, the works were unframed and hanging like siblings watching one another. Her title piece –which the exhibition is named after – wasn’t what first captured my attention. Instead, it was the painting titled Dance: that of a girl, of oriental decent, frolicking in a pair of lederhosen. I was struck by the fact that I knew this feeling. This feeling of being an outsider no matter how much you fit in.
Franziska Fennert had spent large amounts of time in Java and China, both which are lands seeped with legacy; myth and folklore always seems to weave itself into troubled unsettled societies.This character felt like Fennert must have felt: so connected to the world around her, yet she was still distracted by the root of her origins. A man stood behind her, solemn; tattooed on his arm an anchor; a sinking weight into his true heritage. Yet she moved feely, happy. Above her, planes like black ravens flew – vehicles to another world. The girl in lederhosen still danced whilst the outsider watched, hands cupped, face pressed to the window.
A Tiger Can’t Choose Its Stripes
Luckily for me, the gallery wasn’t some mysterious wooden door nestled between an embrace of mortar and brick. Instead, it was the home of four large and very clear windows (thank god). I moved myself from the farthest window to the middle; giving me a clear view to the majority of work. From here I could clearly see “Die Hirschkuh säugt den Tiger” which translates to 'the doe feeding the tiger' or ‘the tiger suckling the doe.’ The painting was slight: a blindfolded doe of society feeding the national tigers; killers of a legacy, one day eating their own mother.
The painting was a work of self Neo-Expressionism, a painting that was on the border of genres. A political statement and personal belief lead heavily into its creation: no matter how much you let be taken from you, a tiger will not change its stripes. It will always take more than offered, until it’s claws pierce the flesh. All of Fennert's paintings are the work of human myth, venting emotion and igniting curiosity and imagination. I felt like an outsider, yet I was standing not much further than I would have been inside viewing the works. Would I have felt included there? Does her work symbolize inclusion?
I felt cohesion with all the pieces on view. Fennert paints characters in a mythic display: playing, jousting, dancing, being free and open with the world. The importance of children to the artist is evident as she includes many in her work. In every scene, age was of matter. The birth of the painter's son perhaps lent to this trend – telling night time stories of distant lands, of beasts; born into a time of mystery hushed in shadows. Her paintings are like prodigious children: colorful, exuberant, joyful and trained.
I only found aged sadness in one statuesque piece entitled Together. The name gives to something happy: to be together, included, not alone; to be sharing your space with something. The girls are together with the obstacle: knowledge. The knowledge found in a book; the knowing of the cruel things we have done in our short history. The foremost girl painted is burdened with color and clothing. The girl behind, more naked, is open and neutral in her expression. Knowledge is a being; it can be unkind and hold many agonies, yet it can be insightful and poignant. We have to be at peace, because Together they are the pages of our lives.
Psychology And The Golden Fish
Nestled in intimate corners, the works live in cohesion; they all told a similar story. Yet right smack dab in the middle was a fish – a work of golden scales. I was confused at first. Why this fish here, perfectly in the center, is holding my attention now?
Why was it important? Then a possibility struck me. On average, a low income Chinese family will spend 51% of their income on food. In Chinese lore, the Arrowana is believed to be the fish of luck and fortune – that is, if you keep one in your house, you will become rich.
Now the price for fortune doesn’t come cheap: the Arrowana fish will run you close to €5000. Did I mention the fish has no head? It was a statement to the myth: to pay your savings for a creature in order to become wealthy – it was absurd but it was still believed. The exhibition and the events of my day molded into one. Here I was, a transplant of British/Canadian heritage trying to include myself into German life. My papers were signed, I was accepted officially into this world of currywurst and beer (I'm sure those two things accounted for 51% of my income) but, did I feel included?
I chose Franziska Fennert's exhibition because of my love for story telling – I wasn’t expecting her to weave her work into something very important to me in these premiere weeks. She succeeds in writing painted words that must be read. I returned a few days later to meet with the wonderful Michaela Helrich for my next article (stay tuned) and to also see the view from the inside. I invite you to go include yourself in Fennert's tale, whether the door is locked or not.
- Michaela Helfrich Galerie – "Die Hirschkuh säugt den Tiger" by Franziska Fennert – June 15th to July 27th, 2013 – Tue-Sun: 4pm-8pm [Price range of works: €900 – €5400]
Article by Tristan Boisvert