My name is Linda and I started having a bad life at 18. I met what I thought was a wonderful man. He was one of my bosses from work. He was so kind to me at first. We would spend lovely times together just having fun. I seemed important to him; at least I thought I was.
The days went by and I would get hit because I didn’t vacuum first then dust. The house was not clean enough or there was a fork in the sink I would get slapped again.
I sat down, I didn’t know what to do. It didn’t hurt, I could breath, but I could tell that something wasn’t right. My husband come over to me and I looked up at him and said you shot me. Call 911.
Such stories of domestic dramas are common, banal and poignantly concrete. They move the reader not by what they say – their content is usually only too familiar – but by how they express themselves: the character of the sentences, the peculiarity of the grammar. If there were a way to translate these fragments of stories into the tactile and intuitive language of shapes, textures and colors, what would they look like? Perhaps we would see a bulky assemblage of wood and paper, in which a linear drawing of a man holding a beer bottle is repeated twice underneath a maze-like arrangement of cardboard panels pierced by three stakes, their long sharp ends protruding far into the air. Or as likely, they would translate into a piece of yellowed paper with a small drawing of a woman hitching up her skirt and the words You don’t need a therapy written above in large carefully printed letters.
Both of these works are part of Birgit Brenner’s exhibition at Mark Straus Gallery (closing October 19). The German artist’s drawings, mixed-media assemblages and installations spring from the incidents of everyday life – the trivial domestic dramas that so often have devastating psychological consequences. The narratives behind Brenner’s works come from the artist’s daily research into the huge and ever growing archive of the everyday: Internet chats and forums, television shows and illustrated magazines. The stories, found and invented, are translated into arrangements of shapes, textures and colors that reveal no clear narrative but suggest a complex mixture of emotions covering a wide range from anxiety and sadness, to boredom, self-deprecation, and dark humor. The strong emotional charge of these works mostly comes from Brenner’s intensely physical relationship with her materials. Images (mainly figures of unhappy women) and text (brief and slightly mournful statements) – suggest a situation and set up the mood, but the work’s haunting effect comes from the tangible materiality of paper, wood, and cardboard. Brenner’s works are more tactile than visual: the drawing is tentative, groping for form, the colors are muddy or subdued, but the textures are rich and varied, and their juxtapositions create fascinating sensory narratives – the smooth surface of duck tape against splintered wood, the discolored paper next to roughly cut cardboard.
The title of Brenner’s exhibition is Ten Code 56. The cryptic phrase refers to ten-codes – sets of numbers each beginning with the number ten used in CB radio transmissions and by the police instead of common phrases. The ten codes are not fully standardized, and their meanings vary from one location to another. A quick Google search offers three possibilities for 10-56: “suicide”, “verify if ambulance needed”, and “intoxicated person”. The ambiguity is part of the exhibition: we can’t say what kind of calamity is going on, but we receive Brenner’s strong and urgent distress signal.
Birgit Brenner: Ten Code 56 at Marc Straus Gallery
September 7 – October 19, 2014
Article by Tatiana Istomina