The Hybrid Preternatural Works of Anna Uddenberg
In the sculptures of Anna Uddenberg, formal utilities exist to be overwrought, leaving only the faintest reminiscence of efficiency. Semi-shrouded in pastel athleisure, the Berlin-based artist’s trademark women assume extreme (though plausible) contortions, mounting luggage like a bull or arching over alien equipment. In each case, their screwed compression and frozen gyration overplay the flexibility and precarity that have come to emblematize the neoliberal subject.
For her most recent solo exhibition — Sante Par Aqua, which showed a few months ago at Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler in Berlin — Uddenberg moved from appropriating and rerouting consumer culture’s flat representation of women to soliciting the deceits of the luxury industry. With four works across two rooms, the emphasis of the space’s hollowness amplified the sense of pure luxury, an atmosphere common to the most austere concept store, the most sterile beauty parlor. “I think of the recent works as comfort zones or intimate controlled pods, pregnant with a script for an imaginary performance to take place. I wanted to use the logic and aesthetics of what one recognizes as functional and bend the meaning of function while suggesting new modes of being,” says Uddenberg.
Take Twin generators and Upgraded Tender (2017), a tri-tiered parlor chair, a mille-feuille of pedestals upholstered in quilted synthetic leather, ashen carpet, and completed with rotund lilac armrests. Their invitation for interaction is only skin-deep, though this may not be a superficial exercise. As Uddenberg elaborates, “These sculptures are actually opening up and reconnecting to a project that started off about ten years ago when I was still working with performances. I used to come up with ideas about performance pieces based on specific events that were taking place. For instance, I was looking into the way PR-events are aiming to make people feel exclusive and special, and how service can be used to direct and even manipulate people. I was looking at how social settings can function as implied manuscripts with specific roles, depending on context and interpreting these scriptures and changing the role of characters in relation to each other.”
The sculptures in Santa Par Aqua were barefaced in their refusal to provide sufficient points of entry. Marooned in their strange cloister, they are each a vessel for the imagination, hovering as a space for the body in crisis. Rewiring the codes of commercial products and their attendant discourses, Uddenberg redresses the most conditioned constructs, to be attentive to the fact of them as conditions. This is notable in her consideration of gender, and the term “basic,” as she explains, “I think the link between feminine expressions and conformist consumer options is the idea that it’s done for someone else’s pleasure and therefore it’s connected to victimhood. The ‘basic bitch,’ is somewhat a victim of mainstream consumers culture, in the same way that, to quote my friend Sara Litzéns, the cis-girl is behaving in accordance to a normative girliness, and then becomes synonymous with being unaware and therefore disempowered. So if basic is a synonym for normal,” Uddenberg continues, “then I’m super into what exactly are the different aesthetic components embedded in the basic, what do they look like and how are they applied, and then to elaborate them and pump them up, push them around, making the bubble we recognize as normal burst into hyper-normal.”
Finished with terracotta Crocs, Cozy Stabilization Unit (2017) hints at a butch/femme hybrid, appearing both potentially pleasurable and ergonomically alarming with its footrest-like hammerhead outlined with carpet. The interplay of covetousness and desire becomes unchained, irrepressible. Considering them as “mini condos or like a cozy trap,” these could be the new models of urban aspiration. Resting in counterfeit serenity and ersatz absurdity, Uddenberg’s machines seem perfectly suited to the 21st century.