‘Artists’ Conquest’ is the first in a new exhibition series organised by Dresden State Art Collections and the State Palaces, Castles and Gardens of Saxony. Contemporary artists create surprise encounters for visitors in the historic and culturally significant buildings of Pillnitz Palace. Margret Eicher, Luzia Simons, Rebecca Stevenson and Myriam Thyes respond to the historic interiors of the palace and the objects held in its collections. Taking an approach that is at once affectionate, ironic, provocative and thoughtful, the juxtaposition of the contemporary art with historic surroundings vividly illuminates the connections between past and present. ‘Artists’ Conquest’ aims to open up new ways of seeing and thinking, to challenge preconceptions about historic spaces. The artists’ interventions sharpen the mind and re-focus the vision, generating a new perspective on familiar forms. Art, culture and history combined inspire us to take wing towards this magic.
The digital tapestries of Margret Eicher allude to the function and importance of courtly tapestry in the seventeenth century. In the Baroque era, these tapestries served primarily political purposes. They represented power, communicated ideologies, and through their idealised imagery acted as a form of propaganda. Compared to today’s mass media one can find fascinating parallels. Eicher draws her subjects from the world of images generated by advertising, journalism, film and the internet. She uses an elaborate digital process to create collages out of these set pieces, then weaves them into tapestries using computer-aided techniques.
The dialogue between Luzia Simons’s works and historical still life painting only seems like a whimsical game. The discovery of the “New World” in the Baroque era – the first wave of globalisation – brought with it huge economic and scientific revolutions, leading to a whole new world view (Galileo). War and chaos, insecurities permeating all areas of life created a mindset of ‘carpe diem’. It was a time of social upheavals with many parallels to today. The scanograms of tulips that Luzia Simon creates under the title Stockage refer to the cultural transfer from Asia to Europe, and to the issue of a hyped-up market ‘bubble’ (in 1637, trading in tulip bulbs led to a collapse of the stock exchange). At the same time, these works make aesthetic allusions to Baroque visual imagery – splendour and transience; the drama of chiaroscuro scenes. Merely our perspective has – it has become the digital Now.
In Rebecca Stevenson’s sculptures we see an obsessive continuation of Baroque-era excess. Familiar art-historical motifs (a portrait bust or still life) are meticulously copied and then alienated or transformed. Surfaces are cut open and ripped apart and the resulting cavities decorated with fresh roses and luxuriant fruit arrangements. By reversing the traditional functions of a sculpture – the communication of continuity, power and heroism – Stevenson’s works manifest the Baroque object as mutable and unstable. She mostly works with wax, a material that imitates flesh and is associated with transparency and transience. The sculptures emerging from this process are simultaneously beautiful, uncanny and absurd.
The themes and image explorations of Myriam Thyes revolve around social and cultural symbols, their significances and transformations. She presumes that everything we perceive (and hence interpret), also everything we produce and shape, is “a matter of faith”. Thyes works with familiar and powerful signs, works and figures from politics, architecture, religions and Hollywood films. Meanwhile she quests after “lost” and “forgotten” symbols that speak different languages from those of power (and the power of definition). Motifs from our environment become metaphors of collective mental states.