For her first exhibition in Canada, Josephine Meckseper created eight new works in the street front window vitrines of the Contemporary Art Gallery. Originally intended for retail, these spaces could not have been a more sympathetic location for Meckseper’s ongoing artistic proposition.
For over twenty years Meckseper has developed a complex body of work that unites modernism with the formal language of commercial display to combine mass-produced objects with images and artefacts of recent and historical political events. Consumerism as an unrelentingly presence in our daily lives is reflected in the artist’s highly polished and glossy sculptural installations which offer a critique of capitalist economy and ultimately lay bare some of its absurdities while acknowledging its seductive surface. Meckseper’s re-interpretation of forms not only challenges the way consumer culture is transmitted, but also the foundation of its production through her bringing together of symbolic objects and images, often contained in glass and mirrored vitrines. Here disparate collections, for example an unopened package of vintage women’s nylons, perfume bottles or a crisp-white folded men’s shirt, may sit next to a book on the British militant group, the Angry Brigade, a symbol of the Soviet-built Treptow Monument in Berlin or an image of an anti-Bush demonstration in Washington.
In this installation Meckseper both used and undermined the language of consumer display with her characteristic deadpan humour. Juxtaposition creating new meanings. The vignettes presented across each window may have appeared superficially simple or austere, but the individual displays were connected and it was the relationship between objects, their materiality, placement and order that unfolded as more than a sum of its parts.
Two windows housed solitary chrome car rims, displayed on mirrored pedestals, the image of the luxury car distilled into two distinct shimmering objects. In another a pair of black dowdy sandals sat atop a reflective pedestal; two others showcase single mannequin legs clad in hosiery. As if to further isolate each object, she placed them against a black background defining their form as silhouettes, in stark contrast to a white vertical text along the door frame of each window.
The design of the typeface for these texts refered to Jugendstil – an artistic style in Germany from the mid-1890s into the early twentieth century as part of Art Nouveau – adding a further critical dimension as well as particular personal resonance for Meckseper. Her great grand uncle, Heinrich Vogeler worked within this tradition and is well-known for his participation in the German avant-garde through his involvement with the artist colony in Worpswede. Here, in addition to illustrations and paintings he began making and designing household wares. A pacifist and vocal advocate for the working class, Vogeler joined the German Communist Party shortly after World War 1, immigrating toRussia in 1931. Meckseper’s interest in connecting contemporary consumer culture and Art Nouveau is one imbued with optimism for art as potential for change; in how the historic avant-garde emerged from a consideration of the everyday and developed as a form of aesthetic and political resistance to the mainstream.
This over-arching theme played out in each window, but also spoke to a broader, more locally inflected past. References to Vancouver’s pioneer beginnings and its colonial origins, today often linked to tourist attractions, were reflected in one of the sculptures, which loosely referenced the vertical forms of the North West Coast totem-pole, neatly stacked collections of objects, assembled to form new associations, and other display had a racoon tail dangling of a poorly painted black monochrome. With these two works Meckseper suggested alternatives to the individualism of market-led economies – that of bartering and gift trade within large communities, exchange systems now lost. Pepsi cans and scrubbers are stuck on metal poles like sinister totems of a mad consumer society. The value of appropriated and recycled imagery and objects is central to Meckseper`s search for cultural and sociological end points, which she in turn uses as a platform to subvert notions of authenticity and value.
The exhibition was generously supported by the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen e.V.
Prompted by Josephine Meckseper’s work, artist and writer Gareth James speaks to the theoretical and experimental methodologies that underpin his own practice to investigate the artistic considerations which emerge when one artist considers the work of another.
This series invites cultural and critical producers to present thoughts and ideas rooted in their own interests and practices, and invites audiences to join in the conversations that will explore relevant contemporary issues, theories, ideas and culture.MORE
In this talk, artist Josephine Meckseper discussed her practice exploring the relationship between politics and consumerism. This event was presented in partnership with SFU Woodward’s Cultural Programs. The talk was held at Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema, Third floor, Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, 149 West Hastings Street, Vancouver.MORE
Beginning May 25 through September 2 2012, Josephine Meckseper will create eight new works for the window vitrines on the CAG’s exterior. Currently based in New York, this will be Meckseper’s first exhibition in Canada. Utilizing these spaces as a site that mimics a commercial display, her work invites a critique of the aesthetic and political connotations of the objects presented within. The juxtapositions of materials and objects in her installations compose a kind of narrative that challenge the world of advertising and consumer culture.
Below is an interview with Josephine Meckseper and Flavin Judd from Bomb Magazine speaking about her work and practice.
Karina Irvine – Curatorial InternMORE
Edited by Rachel Hooper, Gail Kirkpatrick, Heike Munder. Text by Sylvère Lotringer.
In her photography, videos and installations, Josephine Meckseper (born 1964) sets images of political activism—photographs of demonstrations, newspaper cuttings—against twinkling consumer goods and advertising motifs. This publication concentrates on a new series of works, such as the installation Ten High (2007) in which silver mannequins bear anti-war slogans.