Unbenannte Seite

Thomas Wulffen

Writing Red

Last year, between the 2nd and the 22nd of September 1994, passengers at the Weinmeisterstraße underground station in Berlin’s Mitte district werer unneverd by a strange phenomenon in the public sphere. On the billboard spaces in the underground, where they normally found advertisements, they were suddenly surprised to see bright red surfaces in their place. There were no words or pictures, no catchy slogans or silly photos advertising products that we do not need; they saw instead the simple colour, a simple presence which appeared to refer to nothing other than itself. The billboards, covered with red papaer on either side of the tube station platform, were a work by Gunda Förster entitled > SEEING RED. On closer inspection, however, what appeared so simple and convincing revealed itself as a deeper reflection on the status of painting in our time. This ist true of Gunda Förster's other works as well. We take > SEEING RED as a starting point here because it unites significant aspects of Gunda Förster’s work which are only present as partial complexes in other works. Förster’s title is an indirect and ironic reference to the above-mentioned reflection. To be sure, the viewers really do see all of the surfaces as red, but those interested in decipbering their meaning also understand > SEEING RED metaphorically. Gunda Förster's works are an answer to the crisis in painting which does not express itself within the medium of painting alone.

The extent to which painting as a technique has penetrated into public space and left its traditional habitat behind is already demonstrated by the fact that the billboard frames, like paintings, are composed of canvas on stretchers. The material structure invites us to take them literally, which is what Gunda Förster has done. The dimensions of the work point much further, however. A central element here is the incorporation of the painted image into public space, in which pictures of this kind very rarely have a place. This refers to the fact that paintings are normally restricted to a very specific space, in which their effectiveness can unfold only to a limited extent. Malevich's »Red Square« is, on the one hand, a concrete backdrop for > SEEING RED which makes this contrast between the public space of the image and the museum space of the painting clear. On the other hand, Malevich's work refers to an art historical background which, as a result of personal experience, represents an important starting point for Gunda Förster's work: the »Red Square« was positioned in contrast to a customary hanging, in an corner of the exhibition room, and incorporated as a wall image the surroundings into the painting.

In other works Förster has also left the domain of art in order to reinvest the picture with meaning within it. Her works cannot, however, be identified unambiguously as »paintings«. Rather, they only refer to them. This becomes clear in the > FLAGS in front of the Hochschule der Künste in Hardenbergstraße. Here, only the square format and colouring refer to the accustomed painting on canvas, The flags moving in the wind, however, expand the image of painting into a dynamic sculpture which, determined through the material chosen by the artist, is even audible.
The image of the > FLAG, however, is also associated with the notion of power and prestige. Classical paintings was also an istrument for the self-presentation of potentates and a means for conveying prestige. In her > FLAGS works, Gunda Förster refers directly to this function and in so doing also poses the question of social reality of painting then and now.

This relationship to history is also apparent in her works with windows. The metaphor of the window is one of the central images in western painting. By surrounding the windows with > RED CURTAINS, Gunda Försters takes this metaphor literally and transforms an everyday situation into an image. This becomes particularly clear in the documentation of her work. (The documentation of the other works, which usually exist only temporarly, also illuminates the pictorial nature of these works.) Equally, the > velvet curtains bring about a transfomation of the room. Surface becomes space, and space surface. That such projections have a double meaning was demon-
strated in Förster's work for an exhibition series in recent painting in the Galerie Wohnmaschine. > There, a red surface was projected onto a red rectangle placed in a corner of the gallery. The surface became ever larger and appeared at the end to annul the material quality of the paint on the wall. This impression, however, occured in the eye of the viewer. Along the boundary between surface and space, along which Gund Förster’s works are situated, it is no longer clear where the object becomes an image or where the viewer constructs an image. Perhaps it would help to take the image at its word.

Catalogue text
Painting as Medium
Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, 1995