Almanac of Contemporary Aesthetics
2018 018 05


In the work of the Berlin-based artist ANNA UDDENBERG, ergonomic figure/object hybrids oscillate between per- formative armature and gaudy narco-architecture, questioning function, style, sexuality, and the tropes of female identity as mediated by consumer culture.


The space was demarcated by ropes. The kind used to cattle fans during autograph signings in malls, or sectioning of the VIP section at exclusive clubs. Here they separate a portion of the gallery space equipped with a shiny silver backdrop in front of which a large head hovers up in space covered in long lavish Rapunzel-like blonde hair that extends to the ground and softly blows in the whiff of an invisible ventilator. It should have been immediately apparent to you that not everyone is welcome on the other side of the rope. Heightened social anxiety and a lifetime of being conditioned by invisible group dynamics taught you that much, yet if there had been any remaining doubts they would have been diminished by the presence of a group of young beautiful women gyrating and posing in slow motion beside the shiny poles that hold the ropes. Like a fair and ancient species, sparsely clad and heavily done up, they presented themselves in front of the blond-haired totem, occasionally adulating it by slowing dancing in its blond mane, rubbing against the golden streaks and gauchely bobbing along to the rhythmic techno beats that echo in the space. Their existence – both endlessly jaded and instantly dated – their vein and self absorbed looks a sign of a desperate clinging to the assurance of exclusivity and luxury that the ropes had promised. You know that as with most stylistic indicators of exclusivity, the promise of being in on something that not everybody is privy to is part and parcel of the attraction, yet equally fleeting as most things aspirational, once worn in, trickled down, and appropriated by the mainstream tend to loose their spell. Entitled ‘It’, the blond haired sculpture originated as part of the performance ‘Truly Yours’ in 2011 by the Swedish-born, Berlin-based artist Anna Uddenberg. The piece sat the scene for a body of work that Uddenberg would develop over the next years questioning the tropes of female identification, belonging and self worth and how these are conditioned and mediated though the feedback loop of consumer culture. “The early performative works where all about looking at how social contracts can act as implied manuscripts with specific roles, depending on context and interpreting these scriptures and changing the role of characters in relation to each other (...)“ Uddenberg explains, “I was interested in testing where the breakpoints lie between the personal versus the professional, and especially how performed authenticity and genuineness can feel and look like.“

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Departing from the performances Uddenberg began working on a series of hand casted mannequin cum commodity object sculptures such as her work from 2014 ‘Jealous Jasmine’. The series went about to merge aqua resin/fiber glass cast female bodies with the objects that had been selected by the industry as the accessories to define them. Jasmine for example takes a decisive plunge into a Graco pram, while raising one of her legs to an exaggerated yoga pose in the process. In the full force of the collision the figure and the pram almost appear to merge leaving it unclear if she attempting to destroy the pram and the associated status of motherhood or trying to become one with the object that promises the alleged ultimate female fulfilment. Either way her sexy attire, her tramp stamp, the Ugg boots and the long blond highlighted hair leave no doubt that if to be a mother she would surely be identifiable as a MIL*. Other women arch lasciviousness out of wheelie suitcases or ride them like electric bulls, breast pushed out and half exposed. Dressed in a combination of luxurious work-out clothes and high-end accessories topped of with a taste for excessively groomed hair extensions, Jasmine and her friends embody the style of the ubiquitous It-Girl, a media sensation that demands reverence merely with it’s presence and that is often associated with the nouveau riche – a subject predisposed for Uddenberg’s study of misogyny and class divisions. Her figures appear torn by the sheer impossibility of reconciling the trusts of self-improvement, spirituality, sexual attraction and personal and professional fulfilment leaving them in the end often lost in tangled contortions not unlike to the grand arc that the hysterics of the early 20th Century would resort to in escape of the limiting and exploitative conditions for women of the time.

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In an interview with Radar magazine Uddenberg once stated: “As soon as you pass that level of effortlessness and drive things to the extreme, people find it tacky. The surface can be there, as long as no one can see it. It needs to be transparent. So if you take that surface and push it forward, making it more visible, people will find it awkward. That’s something I like to work with.” In her latest series of sculptures that she recently showed in the exhibition ‘Sante Par Aqua’ at her Berlin Gallery Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler the surface of the previous body of works has been pushed to the extreme. Here the figure/object hybrids have eventually become one occupying now the terrain of performative armature. In a colour palette of beiges, grey and mauve pastels the work ‘Cuddle Clamp’, 2017 continues the aesthetics of works like ‘Jealous Jasmine’. As if a spell had been cast upon the women they are now amalgamated with the furniture assembling a curious cast in mesh, quilts and fake leathers and furs evocative of massage chairs in transit spas, SUV limousine interiors, first class lounges and dentistry examination chairs. About the series Uddenberg states “I wanted the works to have a lot of body/presence, to be butch and femme simultaneously while suggesting/inviting for various ways of imaginary interactions on and with them.” Some vague idea of the former human figure can still be recognized in the object’s curves, however now its ergonomic shape invites interaction for whatever the cryptic usage may be that the object promotes. There is something machine-like about them, something functional but also quite sexual. One would not be surprised to see them strap in users for a variety of horny exercising games. “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. The works adopt a futuristic appearance, reminiscent of 1970s Sci-Fi films like Barbarella and Outland or the pods in which James Bond would inevitably end up in to get of with his Bond-girl du jour. Yet the machine logic of her creations also recalls Tomi Ungerer’s drawings for his Fornicon, a series of titillating illustrations displaying people in various forms of interactions with masturbatory machines. And although Uddenberg’s pieces are not interactive yet, they provoke a plethora of possible imaginative interactions by the sheer pretence of functionability.

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The pod is an interesting intermediate here, somewhere between temporary dwelling and medical armature at a scale of being almost architecture, much explored in modular abodes of the American artist Andrea Zittel. Though, sensitivity-wise Uddenberg’s new series is more akin to what has been coined narco-architecture, describing the gaudi extravagant MC Mansions of drug lords that bastardize the Taj Mahal, medieval fortresses, classical Roman architecture, and the US Capitol building at no expense spared and with little regard for function, tradition or the architectural style guide. Just like our cherished It-girls, the pleasure of excessive comfort, cosiness, and luxury that both exude is mesmerizing and yet repelling and looked down upon as tacky and vulgar. Leaving you once more with the question of how one can be both?
You think back to the blond-maned and faceless ‘It’ and its otherworldly resemblance to the evanescent figure of the Guide in Jen George’s short story Guidance / The Party. An ethereal being with illuminated skin and long flowing hairs down to their ankles, a crossbreed between the angel out of Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire, Dicken’s the ghost of Christmas yet-to-come and Oprah. In the story the Guide is assigned to the case of the female protagonist, who at 33 years old had failed to transition properly, with the objective to change her trajectory and help her host the mandatory celebration of her long overdue onset of adulthood. The Guide reprimands her: “We find you at the point of early decay. Decay sets in with the loss of possibility, not having children, having children, a string of failures over the years, memories, jobs, aging, falling out of shape, losing your looks, realizing you’re a one-trick pony or a fraud or nothing special, and understanding things too late.” Equipped with a sheer never-ending list of advice for self-improvement from beauty and fashion tips to manuals for conversation practice the Guide matches the level of spiritual guidance of women’s magazines and self help books. All the while they makes themselves at home, taking long baths, naps and getting drunk whilst postulating her on her wrong life choices. What has she been doing all this time, the Guide inquires. “‘Looking around. Watching stuff on TV. Having weird dreams. Eating sandwiches.’” They advocate: “Take up yoga, pilates, or zumba. Wear a sauna suit at all times when not in public. Make a lot of money to buy expensive beauty treatments and more sauna suits, preferably in a creative career that is high-paying, smart-dressing, and jet-setting. Once you’re wealthy enough a sparse diet will become second nature.” Unsurprisingly, she falls in love with the Guide. You know you would have too. “The thing to worry about now is not being broke and toothless at 70.”

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Anna Udenberg

Anna Uddenberg (Swedish, b. 1982) lives and works in Berlin.

Anna Gritz is Curator at KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin.


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