Lucia Dellefant is a visionary artist who not only creates art for the sake of art in her multi-layered work, she is concerned with the means of the visual artist and a variety of issues of civilization and culture. Her fifth solo exhibition at galerie kunst-raum, titled upcycling society - level 2, presents her signature aesthetics with color-intensive works. Text and motif complement each other stylistically and conceptually. The virtual architectural spaces are organized without strict schemes of perspective, allowing the visitors new viewpoints and perspectives on aspects of social visions of the future. The painting alternates between realistic motifs and abstraction. The English text - used constantly nowadays - speaks to the viewers directly and reflects the international perception of the artist Lucia Dellefant by key institutions. The title guides the viewers with their own reflection on the relationship of individual to individual, person to time and individual to culture. The exhibition title ambiguously refers to the upcoming changes in society and utopias for the future. Upcycling is a trend to create something new from the old. The chosen typography is also a reflection of topicality. The orientation of the texts encourages participation and guides the eye. Particularly the large spatial sculpture face the fact and act dynamically transfers the latest philosophical approaches of the speculative realism movement into the gallery space.
In the context of the contemporary art scene it might appear disconcerting and anachronistic when Lucia Dellefant adopts as her own the concept of "responsibility" for the project "responsible" - started in 2010 with an exhibition in the Kunstverein Mönchengladbach. Here she encroaches on a controversial discussion waging in politics and society on moral and ethical questions which has found scarcely one echo in the discourse pertaining to contemporary art that can be taken seriously.
Ultimately, the postulate of "responsibility" can be traced to the theories of Friedrich Schiller on the aesthetic education of the human being. In august terms Schiller develops his ideas on the "ennobling effect of art" and ponders in his letters on the relationship of art to society in general and to the individual in particular. He develops an image of an aesthetic condition as a utopia by means of which human beings will be freed from the suffering of a purely physical being and relieved of all strictures and stipulations.
This close association of art and everyday life is then superseded by a reverse aesthetic concept such as that formulated by Kant in his "Critique of Judgement". Here, art is allocated to an autonomous region, far removed from practise, in which it is just this opposition of aesthetic judgement to purposeful thinking and acting which is given prominence. And here also, the attitude is that only what is found pleasing without any interest has the quality of beauty. The division - which continues until this day between art, economics and everyday life - is philosophically based on this concept.
From the beginning of the twentieth century artists have undertaken projects in order to overleap this rift, which is founded on idealism, to at least commence a new approach to art and life. Not least, Beuys was occupied with the holistic compilation of all questions pertaining to creation, nature and human life in the framework of an expanded concept of art. In times governed by the omnipotence of the art market, it has, however, become much more difficult to clearly demarcate the respective positions of Schiller and Kant. Works of art which can, more or less controversially, be classified in the area of autonomic art can be subsumed without much resistance to the internationally operating art-fair scene. On the other hand, conceptual art forms which attempt to span the contradictions inherent in art, economics and society have usually found their niche in art associations and houses, segregated from large audiences.
With her projects, developed on-going as "work in progress", Lucia Dellefant has found a way to combine the apparently disparate concepts of "aesthetic education of the human being" and the "autonomic Kunstschöne". In the execution of her ideas, Lucia Dellefant rarely allows herself to be limited to one artistic technique, although all her groups of works are closely interwoven. Her goal is to take up or trigger communicative societal processes then to formulate them artistically and to express and manifest them. From the encounters and dialogues with people, constructed inter-iors, furniture arrangements or space installations are developed. Parallel to this she designs painted works that have their conceptual point of departure in actions dealing with questionnaires, for instance. In these works, people are questioned as to their specific individual wishes and fears. The artist then chooses particularly pithy remarks which she then - on an intuitive basis - combines with abstract colour-form-constellations in the paintings. These in their turn are derived from photographic researches and are to a great extent abstracted so that an inference to the cityscape or landscape topography they are based upon cannot be drawn. Rather, the goal is to combine the text and image structures in a common composition without triggering foreseeable sensations and associations in the viewer.
Parallel to these pictorial works, in different locations and institutions, Lucia Dellefant developed the project "visioning" in which the artist brings together various representatives from the areas of art and economics to create a controversial exchange as well as to formulate mutual visions. These encounters culminate within a framework of solo exhibitions by the artist which present a stage-like character by means of specially made seating objects. The distance between the viewers and actors is thus reduced so that the goal of bridging distances and contradictions becomes illustrated experientially. A further series of actions unfolds from an action object, the "award of change". This is an award presented to individuals or organizations who introduce changes to established structures in society.
At the focus of the action "responsible", commenced in the summer of 2010 in the Kunstverein Mönchengladbach, we also have an object produced specially for the project and derived from a logo - a piece of jewellery making up the word "respon- sible". With a profile on Facebook, Dellefant has created a platform for encounters, discussions and controversies. Thus she gives herself the opportunity to break out of the regionally limited radius of her action and to open up an international, continually developing perspective. A printed folder accompanies and propagates the action project. As an advertising strategy - in the sense of a multi-layered public relations campaign - she appropriates for her own the internet as well as the classical medium of print. Dellefant sends the folder to banks and rating agencies and awaits their reactions in order to publicize them. From the description of the precarious economic and ecological situation of our world she brings to the attention of the main actors in these companies their responsibility - not least for these situations - in the present. From this scenario, Lucia Dellefant follows up with the demand to re-think strategically and to take action for the good of all; the company, the employees, the customer and the general public. As a visible avowal of this responsibility, she proffers the invitation to acquire the logo "responsible" as a piece of jewellery for themselves or for their employees, to be worn confidently and ostentatiously in order to further propagate this vision.
In addition to this widespread campaign Lucia Dellefant selects prominent people from politics and the financial world to whom she sends a personal appeal. Among these are Angela Merkel, Josef Ackermann, Wolfgang Schäuble and Georg Funke. To these persons she has sent their respective portraits depicting them in a photomontage with the aforementioned piece of jewellery. The montage is accompanied by the question; Would they, in various situations, really acknowledge their responsibility? In her letter, Dellefant confronts Ackermann with her own vision of a value-oriented company culture which should be a role model and have a signal effect for a goal-oriented development of the finance market structures for society as a whole. Her formulation of the demand is to reduce the scope of risky investment banking during the current financial crisis. She needles Schäuble with a direct question as to why he does not take a strong stand in favour of the transaction tax. In the face of the photographs and accom-panying text, uncertainty is triggered in the viewer and he or she is scarcely able to separate fake from fact, propaganda from reality, artistic from political statement.
In this project, Lucia Dellefant appropriates the strategies of aggressive advertising campaigns for her own. However, only a minority of those approached have reacted to the folder or the letter with any degree of seriousness; and even then only in the form of a polite refusal. Thus, for instance, some banks and rating agencies indicate that for a number of reasons, the employees ought not to wear such expensive jewellery at their place of work. The actual appeal for change and shouldering of responsibility is swept under the carpet and not even mentioned; as if the issue were merely a brief and ignorable advertising flyer.
For the exhibitions arising from this project the walls of the respective rooms are draped tent-like with panels of polyethylene. The visitors feel isolated from the world outside by this sheathing; almost claustrophobically constrained. A contradiction arises between the international direction of the project '"responsible", propagated by Facebook, and the feeling of exclusion experienced here. The exhibition room does not have the character of a "white cube", usual for the presentation of art, rather it has the feeling of a trade fair booth for the launch of a new market product. The further development of this project remains to be seen. For instance it is quite unclear if, and in what manner, those approached will answer the letters sent to them in the future. It is only the viewer, following the project on Facebook, to whom it will be apparent if there is positive feedback from the recipients of the letters so that a transfer of the vision to reality becomes a possibility.
In her actions Lucia Dellefant, with great consistency, leaves behind the classical role model of an artist. She places herself in the public eye with her campaigns and leaves herself open to possible criticism and hostility with her provocations, consciously taking on the role of a broker in the sense of a product campaign. Thus she rebels at the same time against habitual structures and hierarchies in the art business. Accordingly, the project "responsible" will be exhibited in coming years in various stations as "work in progress" in order to find the greatest possible publicity on local levels.
A new project in the framework of "responsible" commenced in December 2010 with the publication of the promissory note of the Bayerischen Landesbank on the front page of the BBK newspaper "im Bilde". This note was made public per e-mail and by post. The artist also handed them out in an "envelope" of polyethylene to passers-by on the street in Munich which event in its turn was further propagated on Facebook.
In all her projects, Dellefant hazards the consequences of the temporary and ephemeral character of this campaign in order to detach herself from the utilization mechanisms of the art market.
An important element of her artistic work lies above and beyond this in the participation in art-in-architecture competitions. In the conception and execution of these projects, Dellefant also highlights their participatory character in order to guarantee a sustainable acceptance and identification. Through ever-new projects and the self-critical questioning of her methods, in re-determining the relation of art, economy and society, Lucia Dellefant also finds whole new configurations and approaches for the role model of the artist. She enters directly into the structures of companies and institutions which also means taking into account that inner-company critique will have a stronger effect than an external one. As an alternative to a purely theoretical discussion, Dellefant has developed exemplary situations for a constructive participation in politics and economy in the sense of an all-encompassing life model.
Dr. Christoph Kivelitz Art historian, k.gallery, Bochum Speach for the opening of the exhibition "responsible" at Kunstverein Mönchengladbach 2010
"CAUTION! This mailing is under video surveillance."
For several years now, this warning, printed on a small sticker edged in red, has graced the envelopes that Lucia Dellefant sends through the mail.
Current issues, such as that of a surveillance society, continually give Lucia Dellefant the stimulus for new artistic projects and enterprises. The taking up of artistic traditions, such as mail art, installation and intervention art or painting, is just one of many possibilities for the artist to actualize and to disseminate her artistic position. This method of availing oneself of an artistic theme or a particular medium of expression according to requirements - that is, based on contextual and formal necessity - makes her work appear variegated, even sometimes bewilderingly heterogeneous because Lucia Dellefant is less interested in the cultivation of a hallmark in line with market demands than in a visualizing of her concepts and artistic position. Only in this way can one understand the different artistic thought and action strategies as a harmonious holistic concept.
In her painting and in her spatial scenarios, Lucia Dellefant is occupied with economic, psychological and social phenomena. What is characteristic of her artistic practice is that she does not illustrate social-political and socio-psychological issues, but rather mirrors these first and foremost in communicative and participative projects. In recent years under the titles "personal strategy" and "life design", the artist has shown large and medium format pictures which are composed of colour-intensive backgrounds, architectural form elements, trompe l`oeil painting, wandering outline forms and inserted statements.
Initially it is difficult to make a connection between the title "personal strategy" - which could have been taken from a management magazine - and a style of painting which is characterized by a lack of directive and a marked flatness as well as by a sampling of heterogeneous clichés taken from architecture and living design.
In the same way, the bands of text and blocks of words floating on a coloured background appear to have no relationship to the picture motifs. Dellefant's sentences, set in her preferred type Eurostile, do not give an indication of the picture motifs nor is the painting illustrative of the information contained in the texts. The key to Lucia Dellefant's visual-verbal pictures lies in her experimental modus operandi which is expressed, amongst other things, in the participative actions in which the visitors to the exhibition are challenged to participate and to help shape.
The pictures for the projects "Life Design" (from 2003), "Personal Strategy" (2005) and "Visioning" (from 2007) are therefore not to be understood as products of studio painting, but as syntheses from the fund of painting and explorative series which were carried out between 2000 and 2008 in the various locales where exhibitions took place. An essential component of the projects was also, in addition to the text pictures exhibited on the walls, the (living) space scenarios that could be used by the visitors to the exhibition.
The origin of the projects at the turn of the century was the exhibition ICH (German for "I"), whose setting was composed of a three-part seating landscape assembled to spell the word ICH. Questionnaires were supplied that could be filled out by the users of the chill-out setting. By the arrangement of the seating elements to make a spatial ICH, several visitors could embark on an undisturbed search for their "I" either in a reclining or a sitting position. The questionnaires were drawn up based on the personality tests that are usually employed to assess individual characteristics in recruitment procedures or self-awareness in psychological tests. The psychological testing procedure was constructed so that each participant could answer fourteen questions referring to his or her past, present and future. In short sentences the participants could give information on their current life-situation, the degree of their satisfaction with life and their self-confidence, their wishes and self-criticism, their life-plans and visions for the future.
Through the active participation by the visitors and the subsequent publication of the anonymous questionnaires on the artist's homepage, the private emotions and desires, the motivations and projections became a component of a public art project and therefore a partial discourse in the art scene.
In his study "The Fall of Public Man", written in 1974, the American urban sociologist Richard Sennett describes the disappearance of the borders between what is public and what is private with the explanation that what was public is becoming ever more private and what is private is becoming increasingly public. This phenomenon, which has been amplified enormously through the electronic and digital media, as can be seen in the numerous interactive forums and the reality programmes on commercial television, is linked to a culture of wanting-to-participate and the need for "mise-en-scène". This external way of being can, however, only function if there is a clientele that finds this display of intimate feelings praiseworthy and supports it with TV ratings. Lucia Dellefant's pictures draw a very particular intensity from this interplay of self-representation and voyeurism. With the series "Life Design" and the subsequent project "Visioning", Lucia Dellefant addresses these social trends and issues. However, she refrains from analysing them psychologically or from exploiting them for voyeuristic reasons.
The fact that it is not a sensation-seeking psychological bias which comes to the fore but rather an artistic interest is apparent in the processing of the questionnaire material. For the transposition of texts onto the works in acrylic, only the final answers dealing with personal visions of the future and the needs of subjects chosen at random were included in the prepared image area. The texts, therefore, take over the final image surface and thus have a surprising effect, sometimes even a disturbing one.
This aleatory and sampling procedure provokes a lack in the contingence of form and content, of picture atmosphere and embedded texts so that perception, trained on advertising posters, commercials and comic-like text and picture combinations, searches almost automatically for correspondences and points of reference on the image surface. As all the statements begin with ICH ("I"), the pictures become more or less inevitably the representatives of imaginary persons who are present in the pictures with all their emotionality but also with their anxieties and clichéd, even bizarre, wishes.
"I would like to do something really crazy sometime" But also yearnings are formulated in ways such as "I just want to be loved", and which find unexpected resonance in speech-balloon shapes. Due to the personifying of the pictures, suddenly all elements that belong to the composition of the image - such as, for example, colours, forms and lines, the painterly gesture, the puddles and rivulets of paint as well as the design and architectural-like fragments - are individualized and designated as accomplices of the speaking text.
"I feel myself never close enough"
From 2003 onwards when she declared battle on the widespread hype surrounding logos, Lucia Dellefant has occupied herself with true and false identity, with active participation and questions directed critically at consumer behaviour. In her logo-obliterating action "my-one", which can be seen as following the tradition of "semiotic sniping", the artist leaves one in no doubt as to what value she places on brand loyalty or enslavement in our society. Under the motto "occupy logos and enjoy your own stuff" she stuck her my-one labels over the commercial logos gracing bags and textiles. The application of the stickers and expunging of the purchased identity took place in exhibitions and often with the energetic support of the audience.
"Globalization is not fate - there is a chance for a different world" A further variant of the requisitioning of already established practices found expression in the initiative founded in 2005, "Award of change". With the bestowal of the "Award of change", Lucia simply reverses the usual procedure of award-giving which in the art world serves for the distinction and highlighting of individual achievements. While art prizes, stipends and other supportive measures are awarded to individual artists by renowned institutions on the basis of recommendations from the art world, Dellefant now takes her own initiative and each year awards the Golden Change Award to a person, group or organization. Instead of market eloquence and speculation, the artist acknowledges exclusively social competencies. All those who have the courage of their convictions and the courage to initiate change can become the possessors of the golden trophy, which is composed of a metal plinth and the word-sculpture CHANGE. As in institutional prize-giving ceremonies, Lucia Dellefant also combines her award with a ceremonial act but with the distinction that the ritualized deed and spatially plastic stage-setting take place on a meta-level. The focus of the award-giving is on three circular platforms of different heights and diameters which serve as a raised representational surface for those being given the distinction and which stylizes them for a brief time as a living monument. The word-sculpture CHANGE, handed to the prize-winners in the ceremony, suggests in its reflective conversion of the last three letters not only change, but also the association with CHANCE.
The first award was given in 2005 to "attac", the organization criticizing globalization. This group, which declares itself for democracy and justice and against the ruthless exploitation of resources on behalf of globalization, contributes the share with its activist practices that contemporary operational art treats only on a symbolic level, but ultimately still finds no answer for. For those who are prepared for personal commitment there remains as a consolation prize, or also as an incentive, the silver "Award of change" which can be purchased. "Let's develop a clear sense of purpose and goals to focus and drive the creative energy." 1 (Advertising slogan for "visioning" in the American consulting firm creativeadvantage)
With the project "Visioning" (2007 - 2009) Lucia Dellefant extends her artistic practice to a critical variation of "ambient art" in which interaction, participation and the creation of atmospheres play a decisive role. At first, "visioning" appears to refer to a business term where visions for the future are formulated, success strategies developed and management targets are set. However, within the framework of Lucia Dellefant's critical practice, "visioning - meeting your vision" is divested of its significance as a "brain former". The methods of alienation and distortion are reminiscent of practices used by Culture Jammings that remove the core from already introduced brands, logos or firm names (in their meaning) and use them for their anti-campaign.
The method of misappropriation is not, however, limited solely to the conceptual level, but continues through the acquisition of standardized motivational texts from coaching seminars that, depending on the exhibition conditions, are displayed on walls or picture surfaces and are intended to act like catalysts on the viewers.
With this form of acquisition and reinterpretation of the slogans and the methods of consulting firms, a social anti-model is established in the exhibition space instead of a conforming, ambitious and goal-oriented attitude. "Visioning" now functions as an impulse-giver for communication and action processes in which models of ideas and ideal life and communication forms are applicable for a limited time.
The central shaping element of "visioning" are seating landscapes covered with coloured plastic ribbons which are evocative of garden furniture from the 1950s and 1960s. Out of this unpretentious material, various spatial images and atmospheres emerge that - as could be seen in the Berlin Exhibition 2007 - are reminiscent of a sanatorium but also university plena or discussion forums from the ecological scene. The modular seating and reclining landscapes are, however, not constructed in an uncomfortable retro design but are rather a self-designed modification of nostalgic leisure furniture opening up new ways of being used by the visitors to the exhibition. Thus, they have a friendlier and more ergonomic effect and can be pushed together to make larger units. They make various, communicative seating and reclining forms possible such as face-to-face as well as back-to-back seating. Due to the unusual shapes of the furniture, using the installation results in an almost inevitable kind of performance interplay. It is only this "performance space" created by the visitors that becomes a forum for conversations dealing with subjective and social visions (Berlin, Hof, Munich and Linz) and a place for discussions about the forms this acquisition or reality take - and which is exemplified in gathering (eating).
If, in traditional exhibitions, there is still a separation between the observing of art, information, discussion, social interaction, seeking the muse and relaxation, then this is revoked in "visioning". Depending on the locale of the exhibition, this form of multi-functional exhibition makes it possible to vary the spatial setting and to experiment with new forms of reception.
The work examples described above are exemplary and allow one to draw conclusions as to the entire artistic practice of Lucia Dellefant. The use of differing artistic genres and media, as mentioned above, are used by her for the construction of social spaces and ambiences which are intended to contribute to the intensity of the message contained in the exhibition. This type of exhibition could be described with the concept of the dispositive, which the French philosopher Michel Foucault defined as a "net" which can be knotted between "various heterogeneous ensembles" and which comprises "discourses, institutions, architectural establishments, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, academic statements, philosophic, moral and philanthropic guidelines".
(Michel Foucault (1978): Dispositive der Macht. Über Sexualität, Wissen und Wahrheit, Berlin: Merve, pp.119 f.)
© 11/2008 Susanne Jakob