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October 3, 2009 Artists 1 Comment
Bärbel Rothhaar's Talking Heads (1-77) made of plaster and pigmented wax

Bärbel Rothhaar's Talking Heads (1-77) made of plaster and pigmented wax

Comprehension – an elusive word, especially when applied to contemporary art.  We approach art with the idea that we should immediately get what it’s about.  If we don’t, we conclude that our bafflement must be due to our lack of  sophistication and knowledge and voilà! –  the elitist aura that pervades the world of contemporary art.  So you find yourself standing in front of a canvas dominated by squiggles and bold dashes of color, interspersed with random numbers and letters.  You read the title, hoping for enlightenment.  Universe, 200?.  Ohhhh, you say to yourself, now I get what it’s about.  It’s about…

Dialogue.  This is what art is really about.  Dialogue dissects through the various layers of meaning in what we encounter, be it art, architecture, poetry, issues, people…

As mentioned earlier, I interviewed the Berlin-based artist Bärbel Rothhaar yesterday (the interview will be uploaded here in a few days).  For those who saw Rothhaar’s video on my Oct. 2 post, you know that Rothhaar is interested in bees.  They are an integral part of her art and this is certainly true in her latest exhibition entitled, Bee Works, being shown at Galérie Samuel Lallouz.  Take the collage entitled  Mum-Wax. It is not a very large piece (70×100 cm) and is composed of mixed media on photography.  What is obvious are the words MUM and WAX.  Also obvious is the gauze-like strip that ravels (or unravels) a wrapped object resembling the shape of a beehive, the fragments of honey-comb, and the clipped pictures of bees.  What is not obvious (to most of us) is the fact that Mum is the Farci word for wax and the etymological origin of mummification.  Mummification is also a process the ancient Egyptians borrowed from their observations of bees.  Bees will kill an intruder, such as a small mouse, and then mummify it with wax since it is too large and heavy for them to carry it out.  Mummification prevents the mouse (in that case) from rotting inside the beehive.

Rothhaar's Mum-Wax

Rothhaar's Mum-Wax

I learned about the bee connection to mummification by talking to Rothhaar.   I learned about the pivotal environmental role bees play by reading on bees.  In other words, I sorted through the layers by having a dialogue which, in turn, further incited my interest.

Certainly dialogue plays a central role in Rothhaar’s piece, Talking Heads (1-77).  I love this piece and in many ways it, too, is a collage that involves un-layering.  It is composed of 77 small plaster heads which are mounted on four walls.  A recording of voices greets the viewer as they enter the space – the space could represent a metaphor for a beehive.  The alternating voices, which belong to the heads, tell their various stories.  I got to hear a child talk about their pet animals, a man talk about a failed swimming lesson, a woman talk about her garden… It was like being at a café.  More than that, it was like the beginning of a friendship where I got to learn a little bit about the people whose heads I was looking at.

Rothhaar best summarizes the significance of dialogue when she says, “Dialogue is the last step in the process of art.”  In my interpretation, I think what she means is that an idea forms in the mind of the artist; an idea is then expressed in the creation of the work; an idea is then shared through discussion; an idea is then passed on…

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