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Collage. Ogar Grafes and Tore Magne Gundersens Textile Works.


Urknallmutter  / Ogar Grafe und Tore Magne Gundersen

Eröffnung: 8. September 2017,  20 - 22 Uhr. 
Performance: Ogar Grafe

Ort: prinz-georg // raum für kunst. Prinz-Georg-Straße 9. 10827 Berlin

Ausstellungszeitraum: 9 - 15. September 

Öffnungszeiten (nach Voranmeldung): Samstag 13 -17 Uhr. Dienstag – Freitag 14 -18 Uhr

Für eine Voranmeldung oder Fragen kontaktieren Sie bitte Aage Langhelle unter der Handy-Nr. 0173-6035317 oder schicken Sie eine E-Mail an: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Catalog as pdf 

About the Exhibition:

As in the theater of the absurd, in this exhibition minor events and the great questions of life are interwoven to create a wild, loose network. Perhaps the exhibition Urknallmutter has a meaning and intention—or perhaps it doesn’t.

The subject matter is primarily shaped by a personally shaped mythology, where individual narratives touch on spiritual and mystical aspects in art and culture. Both narratives work with handicrafts, concretely and metaphorically in the sense of a personal space or a sphere linked to physical experiences of life on earth. Tore Magne Gundersen’s works can be associated with Christianity, while Ogar Grafe’s artistic practice stands in an esoteric tradition with references to modern occultism and Sufism. In the works of both artists, inspirations from the so-called primitive and folk art are evident.

Gundersen began his knitting work in the context of the illness and death of his mother Maren. Perhaps it can thus be seen as a kind of work of mourning. One of the textile objects bears the title Mantel for Maren, or Coat for Maren. The works can also evoke associations of protective clothing or perhaps mystical altarpieces. But at first glance, they seem la bit like masks or knitted portraits, something they share with the series of watercolors TM Faced and TM Landscaped.

The series TM Landscaped shows self-portraits as landscapes. Viewing oneself dissolved as a landscape is like a Buddhist practice of mediation where one is to imagine rotting corpses in order to come to terms with death. One takes control of one’s demons, and not the other way around. Gundersen’s works engage with existential issues by granting them a form, thus moving volatile thoughts and images to consciousness.

Grafe’s performances, which frequently involve burning tea candles, “wild” movements, and loud incantations, hark back to the spiritual séances and phenomena of H. P. Blavatsky and the ecstatic whirling dances of the Sufis. After the performance, the props are staged as independent objects all their own. The object Bastet, which shows the cat goddess from Egyptian mythology, also conjures H. P. Blavatsky’s writings on the lost high cultures of Atlantis and ancient Egypt.

The series Portraits of Women, in which we encounter H. P. Blavatsky, Gertrude Stein, and Valeksa Gert, confronts viewers in several pictures with written challenges in the form of a text written in mirror-reverse. The objects in the series Labyrinthine Handiwork consist of skulls that are completed covered with a colorful embroidered mask. This could be read as an attempt to arrest life and to hold off death, which, as we know, comes inexorably: an existential masquerade.

Gundersen lives in Oslo and knits coats that are dedicated to the artist’s deceased mother and his female ancestors. Grafe lives in Berlin and embroiders a skull from the anatomic theater. Separated by time and spatial distance, they create an exhibition like a storied patchwork quilt.
Aage Langhelle, curator


After the Mothers The Sons are the Next to Die
Notes on Urknallmutter

Anyone who came in contact with feminism and the ecology movement as a teenager in the late 1970s will be familiar with the idea of the mother goddess. Demeter products were en vogue, as was The White Goddess, a book by the British poet Robert Graves that had already been published in 1948. Poetry and lyricism, according to Graves, has its origins in the matriarchal age and draw their magic from the moon, not the sun. The notion of the great mother, the white goddess of many names, can primarily be traced back to the myth constructions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries inspired by the discovery of Stone Age statuettes like the famous Venus of Willendorf. But in the 1970s, the myth of the great mother left its mark on alternative culture and the feminist movement.
In the early 1980s, heathen cults, shamans, witches, esoteric practices, and holistic medicines gained strength. But in response, feminist and queer currents also took shape, influenced by punk-rock, post-structuralism, and left wing thinking, that turned against this very aspect of biological determination and the dictum of fertility, against health, divine orders and the idea of the primordial. Later, during the AIDS crisis in the late 1980s and early 1990s, thinkers like Judith Butler argued vehemently against notions of a normative gender and heterosexual role models. As a counter-model to the biological founded binary construction of gender, Butler declared gender a performative model that is formed by the repetition of speech acts, and not a natural and unavoidable absolute.
The joint exhibition Urknallmutter surely has one of its origins in just this discursive field of tension that surrounded both Tore Magne Gundersen and Ogar Grafe in their youth and at the start of their artistic careers. “Urknallmutter” (Big Bang Mother) could refer to the ultimate form of female creation and fertility. The Great Mother stands at the start of all life, the entire universe. And yet, looking at the maternal figures and goddesses in Tore Magne Gundersen’s and Ogar Grafe’s cosmos, they are anything but voluptuously feminine primordial beings. They represent not the beginning, but apparently the end, extinction, departure from life as we know it. The mother is dead, she is gone, or she needs help, like a young child.
The ancient Egyptian cat goddess Bastet was originally a goddess of fertility. But Ogar Grafe’s dressmaker’s mannequin of the same name, branded with an alien-like head in Edding markers under which a women’s handbag is draped, holding a preserves jar containing the skull of a cat, seems more like a psychedelic relation of the calaveras, the skeletons of papier-mâché, plaster, or sugar that are carried through the streets on the Mexican Day of the Dead, just like the embroidered skeleton of his Opiumqueen (1999–2017). Both goddesses wear heads or wigs of extinguished tea candles: the ritual is over, the flames that were bursting out from their soul or their spirit, have gone out. What remains are left-overs, relics, shells, skeletons, the building is empty, the guests have to be summoned to return. 
The same applies to Tore Magne Gundersen’s Coats for his female ancestors. They are shells for memories, protective coats for the delicate souls of the dead. Gundersen began to knit these immense knitted structures, hybrids of wall hangings and cloaks, when his mother Maren was forced to move to an elderly care facility due to illness and frailty; her son visited her often there. He purchases and finds wool, or receives it as a gift. He knits smaller and larger pieces together, combining them like a patchwork or a collage of fabrics, increasingly sewing in fabrics and furs that he finds in his apartment. After several years, Maren became weaker and weaker, and finally she refused all food and medicine. It was some time after her death that he decided to dedicate his knitted works like Coat For Ingeborg Tomine (2016) to his female ancestors, or Coat for Maren to his mother. “I think she had a good life, at least she said she did,” according to the artist. “When we spoke about my depressions, she said she never experienced anything like that. A least not before the last three years of her life, when she only wanted to die. She couldn’t understand why God let her suffer this pain, this meaningless life. Although I’m not really religious, I also couldn’t understand why God allowed it.” All the same, Gundersen rigorously denies the notion that this is a work of mourning. If it is, he says, it is only in an unconscious way.
In his oeuvre, the knitted fabric sculptures refer to a further development, and yet a paradoxical one, for the path leads through regression. His work with frowned upon handicrafts turns toward the “feminine,” literally to the soft, vulnerable. Gundersen was influenced early on by Edvard Munch’s (1863–1944) Nordic symbolism, but also by romantic landscape painters like Hans Fredrik Gude (1825-1903) or Johan Christian Clausen Dahl (1788-1857). Later, expressionism became for him the “highest art form.” In particular, he was fascinated by the notion of the artist as redeemer, as “exemplary sufferer,” as described by Susan Sontag in her 1966 essay. But at art school, he turned to concrete art, to constructivism and supermatism. Like Ogar Grafe in Berlin, in Oslo in the late 1980s and early 1990s he was surrounded by a post-conceptual art world: “I begin to make installations that recalled the early works of Imi Knoebel. I moved entirely in the realm of post-modern thought. And at the same time, I interpreted the works in a mystical way. For example, in 1990 I called an installation at the Oslo gallery UKS The Forefathers, rather phallic-Freudian wooden sculptures.”
A transformation can already be seen in Gundersen’s prints and drawings from the early 2000s. The works become increasingly surrealist, mystical, illustrative, while his painting in this period seems to be influenced by Philip Guston’s late figurative work. The paintings are unbelievably physical, full of voluptuousness and heaviness, but also fairy-tale like, narrative like an illustrated storybook.
The fairy-tale mythological aspect runs through Ogar Grafe’s work from his childhood onward. During the 1980s, Grafe was part of the active Berlin alternative scene, working in music, the fine arts, and performance. Grafe started out as co-founder of the gay experimental film group Teufelsbergproduktion, which achieved cult status with its low-low-budget films on suburban housewives and vigilantes, cannibal teachers and possessed nuns. But the film and costume work developed increasingly into performances, readings, concerts, dance theater, and work on surreal objects in the periphery of the artist group Die Tödliche Doris. When he cofounded the artist group Louvreboutique in the late 1980s, this was also a reaction to the barrenness and reduction of the art world at the time, which was shaped by the language of institutional critique and rather hermetically focused on itself and the art business. While increasing numbers of artists undertook minimalist “interventions” in spaces and institutions, engaged in textual work, appearing as producers, having their objects or light boxes industrially made, the works by Grafe and Louvreboutique are emphatically auto-didactical, narrative, and folkloric in quality. Grafe batiks and embroiders pictures, casts tables in sugar, creates life-size sculptures of hemp and horse chestnuts.
His works tell of spirits, possession, and vision, but with a certain ambivalence. Exhibition titles like “Scheiß Korbmöbel” (Fucking Wicker Furniture) or “Pullunderbeermädchenwege” (Sweater Vest Berry Girl Paths) allude not just ironically to design and fashion, but also imply that like punk rock it could also be a great capitalist sham, a pose that is entirely inauthentic and artificial.
He has continued to develop this posture until today. For example, he calls the ink drawings (2008–2009) on view in Urknallmutter poly-spiritual decorations, his installation Antipopshop – Prokryptische Träume mit dem Glaszwerg with a suit of armor consisting of tea candle holders (2010). It is not only Grafe brought spiritualism in the proximity to decoration, the pop shop, Keith Haring’s ingeniously failed idea of an art for all, becomes the epitome of an art world that increasingly operates like the corporate world. The corporate identity of museums like MoMA is generated in the museum shop, with branded tote bags and coffee ships with reproductions of “best of” masterpieces. The canon of modernism is propagated on erasers and refrigerator magnets. As a counter-model to this monopoly on interpretation and all the merciless marketing, Grafe develops the anti-popshop, a spiritual, anti-capitalist shop, where everything is personal, everything is unique, everything is pop. It is no accident that Grafe’s materials are consciously “poor,” everything in his art deals with the overlooked beauty of the forgotten and discarded.
According to Grafe, the found pieces that he includes in sculptures like Bastet also reminded him of his visit to the catacombs at Naples’ Fontanelle Cemetery. At this cemetery, relatives leave tokens for their loved ones among the piles of skulls and collections of bones: bus tickets, cookies, Barbie dolls. The cemetery has the feel of a flea market.
A great deal of Grafe’s works engages with loss, mourning, powerlessness, or fugacity. In fact, the handbag used in Bastet once belonged to the aunt of a best friend who died of Alzheimer’s, a person he was quite fond of. One of his ink drawings is also dedicated to his mother, who also died of dementia. The proximity between things experienced by the artist himself, his own biography and the work itself, is unmistakable. But at the same time, there is an artistic attitude that, almost Buddhist like, steps back from life and examines it like wool, found objects, or copied magazine images as artistic material. Grafe’s works are very deep, but never pathetic or psychologizing. They are soaked in the knowledge of art history and pop culture, the poetry of Edith Sitwell, the surrealism of Meret Oppenheimer and the Italian horror films of Mario Bava, like Black Sunday (1960). 
​Like Gundersen’s works, Grafe’s works also reach far back into his childhood and the culture of the 1970s, the time of patchouli incense, Palestinian scarves, and William Friedkin’s horror film The Exorcist (1973). He uses jute as the basic material for his knitted coats because it evokes “the sweet, social democratic feel of the 1970s.” There is something shamanistic about Gundersen’s knitted sculptures. They recall the Native American movement of these years, Patti Smith’s song “Ghost Dance” (1978). But just like gender, spirituality can also have a performative aspect. Reversing the title of Thomas Brasch’s 1977 book of short stories Vor den Vätern sterben die Söhne (The Sons Die Before the Fathers), an East Berlin swan song to the GDR and to patriarchal society, Urknallmutter can be interpreted as a swan song to myths of maternity. 
After the mothers the sons are the next to die: but not without managing the neuroses and depressions that were given them along the way. On Tore Magne Gundersen’s watercolors and gouaches, one sees faces and bodies that rot in the landscape and at the same time form a landscape; the hills and vegetation are formed of noses and body parts. The ego dies, its humus brings up new life. The return home does not lead to mother earth, but to oneself. Just as Grafe’s Opiumqueen and his cat goddess Bastet have something of the cabaret charm of a Sally Bowles, Gundersen’s works are also full of camp allusions to glamour, design, and fashion. But it would also be easy to imagine his coats hanging over the fireplaces on the concrete wall of a mid-century home. The mother is show person, drag queen, hippie goddess. Especially because the artists stage the spiritual like a performance, because they reject the strict rules of yin and yang, birth and death, the idea of an authentic life, do not hide their helplessness and their neuroses, the white goddess with the many names can descend into their art, the Urknallmutter who always wanted her sons to become artists.

Oliver Koerner von Gustorf

Translation from German to English Dr. Brian Currid