56 reasons not to go out at night.
The work of Deborah Sengl.
We can all seem like angels adorned as villains with wall paper for body armor. Most of
us cut and paste our way though life with 16 battleship shades of lipstick to go with the
welts in the practice of self-breeding luxury and the chase for amusement. Even those
hired to protect us come off as style council equipped with Gucci camouflage with an
itchy finger to let loose a torrent of hostility and administer a new line of angst. This could
be the preface of an otherwise normal evening out on the town capped off with a
obligatory binge at a convenient Wüstelstand, (imbiss) after drinks galore and bad sex
leaving us asking what is that smell and how did things get this bad?
The fundamental angle of Deborah Sengl’s work is that she is obviously totally disgusted
with this carnivore culture and finds it rather critical that we cannot see how we ourselves
are being devoured by the absence of pause and reflection. Make no mistake about it, this
town likes its’ meat and the “power systems” that insures its permanence. But if Ms Sengl
has anything to do with it, it may prove a shrude tactic to awake each hour during ones
sleep to ensure one hasn’t been Frankensteined into an effigy with sadistic characteristics
which would serve as warning that what we play at and not only consume may be what
preys upon us.
And if there’s any doubt, than I invite you to take the U-bahn, (subway) after the Wuk,
Fluk and or the Flex, (clubs) and try to deflect the self effacing indications from your
nightlife comrades who according to the acute dexterous portrayals of Ms Sengl’s “body
of work”, camouflage themselves with the skin of their natural, (feared), enemy which in
all likely hood may be as docile as boredom. I do not want to meet this one when I think I’
m feeling confident. It is clear; Frau Sengl is not a “Party” girl in any usage of the term.
Plates: 1 thru 11, “Camouflaging ourselves in with the skin of our natural,
Plates: 12 thru 16, “Self-Breeding
Dis- and En-: Deborah Sengl's Delinquants' Profiles
Fairy tale stuff
We enter the magical square set between the cardinal points of Man and Animal,
Disguise and Breeding. Deborah Sengl's works measure the coordinates and
crossovers of each of these terms. Her most recent paintings of "Dogs as
Companions, Protectors and Searchers" refer to archaic sources. At first glance they
seem to illustrate some fable. The animal heads put on human figures expand the
individual characters into a tale by means of the short-circuit between professions and
animal assistants. Dogs appear to be watchful and sensitive, they embody the service
professions in a particular way. They not only serve as watchdogs, but also as dogs
for the blind, as rescue, search, sniff dogs, and even as pet and ornamental dogs.
Their images are a seamlessly connected to those of the "Animal lovers" (2003-2004).
Only a few animals have been domesticized within times of recorded history: apart
from the dog there are the cow and the silk-worm. The domestication of other species
has been given up again: that of gazelle and hyena in ancient Egypt, of the genet and
the adder which by the Romans and during the Middle Ages was used against rodants.
The domestication of wild animals for research purposes, like that of the silver fox
(Vulpes vulpes) far off in Siberia, has shown that a certain type of behaviour and
identical formal characteristics will appear spontaneously (after about 35 generations),
for instance lopped ears which (apart from elephants) do no more appear in nature
than white spots on the forehead and a round type of face that is sympathetic and
appears cuddly to Man (baby pattern). These characteristics are not inbred but
develope independently once animals are selected that appear "tameable" because they
show less aggressive behaviour against Man. Behaviourists go so far as to interprete
the cognitive abilities resulting from this experiment as a casual by-product, as
"ornament" even of Man. People will always find a way of seeing life as nonsensical
rather than as the expression of a superior order.
In ancient cultures it went without saying that animals and men were mixed up with each other. Christianity has preserved little of this. Medieval bible
illustrations show scenes from the vision of Ezechiel: "... and in the corners, pasturing on blue ground, the four eschatological animals: the cock, the
eagle, the oxen and the lion ... The miniaturist has shown the crowned heads of the Just not with a male, but with an unmistakably animal face. The
three figures on the right show the beak of the eagle, the red head of the oxen and the lion's head of the eschatological animals, and the otherf two of
the Just are grotesque likenesses: the one of an ass, the other of the silhouette of a panther. The two musicians have animals' heads as well ..."
This evocation of a miniature from a Hebrew bible of the 13th century is the point of departure of Giorgio Agamben's famous treatise on Man and
Animal. One of its basic arguments is the conclusion that all attempts to dissociate Man and Animal or to define intermediate stages of evolution must
fail because the identity of Man himself is shown to be fragmentary. The division between Man and animal, he says, is repeated in the inner life of Man
himself. This uncomfortable idea explains why comparative behaviourists have such difficulties in defining borders between Man and animal. If we do
not know who and what we are, then all feelings of superiority in the face of unhuman creatures are without sense. This should be the reasoning
behind the protection of animals, not an undifferentiated value attributed to all lifeforms. Apes do not get any wiser for having their name linked to
Sengl not only puts animal heads on human figures in a way that compares to the vision of Ezechiel, as in her "Dogs as Companions, Protectors and
Searchers", but she combines different animals as well, even animals and plants. For her, animals are not attributes of humans and of their professions,
but the at times even autonomous material of her experiments. The criterium for this fusion is no desire of harmony, no nostalgia of Paradise where all
beings get along with each other miraculously, but on the contrary the fight for survival and the fact of exploitation. Two principles determine her
intuitions. First of all the food chain of delinquents and victims which she defines as "Disenguisement", secondly the utility of domesticized assistants.
The function of humans is symbolized by the corresponding dog's head, as it is read in the paintings' titles: "The policeman - for his protection -
disenguises his animal companion" or "The blind man - for his protection - disenguises his animal companion". Even when Man does train and educate
|Plates: 17 thru 19, “Oriontarnungen”.
|he is helpless without them, which is why they borrow him their
abilities, their power, their face.
Dis- or disen-
"Camouflage" like "avantgarde" is a military term. When the
camouflage is penetrated, the disguise is recognized, there is
danger. The spy that is discovered can no longer work in secret.
But there is another possibility. It may happen that the disguise is
meant to be visible as such. Sengl, accordingly, early on in her
studies at the academy, has introduced an obscure term of her own
to design her works: Ertarnung, an English equivalent of which
could be the equally idiosyncratic term disenguisement, to indicate
the opposite of the dangerous event of Enttarnung, i.e. the unveiling
of a disguise. The prefix Er- relates to the beginning of an action.
The beginning of camouflage is paradoxically rendered visible, i.e.
suspended by itself. In the titles of paintings like "The damsel bug -
as predator - disenguises its desired prey" (2002) or "The wolf - as
predator - disenguises its desired prey" (2003), the disenguisement
itself of course is unveiled. This is not just the well-known pattern
of delinquent and victim exchanging places. In this labyrinth, the
logical and psychological consequences must yet be determined.
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We become eye-witnesses of a process of focussing, of interpretation behind the scenes of a cabinet of mirrors. In this theatre of relationships the artist
unveils the beginning of secrecy by the prefix "Er-" or "disen-", exposing the secret to the danger of being revealed on the spot. In principle, there is no
difference between "Ent-" or "dis-" and "Er-" or "disen-", as far as beginning and end of camouflage are concerned. The reason is that in these representations
the animals themselves are subjected to this incomprehensible process. Reading a title like "The sheep - as victim - disenguises her [sic!] feared persecutor"
(2000), we find that an animal disguises itself by the skin of the predator-delinquent, disenguising itself in the role of the delinquent as well as it reveals itself to
be disturbed in its identity. This role-play is the source of the potential of errors of these images. The opposites are no longer immediately recognizable, since it
may inversely be stated: "The lioness - as predatress - disenguises her desired prey" (2003). Delinquents disenguise themselves not in the role of the victim,
but they disguise themselves, until they are involuntarily discovered, whereupon their prey takes flight.
In this arena, the non-term "disenguisement" helps the victims towards an illusion of delinquence which must be decrypted, i.e. revealed by the viewers to
make the artistic fusion at all comprehensible. In the animal kingdom, this phenomenon is non-existent, it is a human cover-up position which nonetheless
allows no escape to the victims. At the basis of this there is the repressed desire of those remaining innocent to perpetrate the deed. The victim has no chance
of disguise since the delinquents shall always find it, so that it must remain a victim in the attempt of a disenguisement, or rather, the wild deed is bound to
fail. The "disenguisement" is the illusionary hope of the victim to be able to victimize others for once. The delinquents do not tolerate this, which is why the
viewers of these works are faced by the task of differentiating their roles. This succeeds so long as the disenguisement is executed by addition - it is no longer
feasible once a mixture is achieved.
Sheep and wolf
The dog as helper of the shepherd has taken the place of the wild wolf. The wolf in the dog's skin is a circumscription in terms of evolution history of the
harmlessly useful breed. Today, a logical-functional explanation of the domestication of dogs is no longer sought. It is unknown how man and wolf got close
to each other. Man perhaps just wished to have companions for his children to play with. The use of breeding cicadas in ancient China may have been joy
about their "song". But man does many things in such a way as to make it impossible to explain everything.
Breeding dogs, in any case, their potential as delinquents is defused. Since weapons are produced, these hidden properties of domestic animals are no longer
useful. Sheep still bear respect to the shepherd's dog that disciplines them. Only sometimes does man remember the hard core: "The dogs transplant their
bellow into their facial expression, voracious and their tongues out, and in the dripping corner of their mouth the memory of the wolf" (Hugo Loetscher).
The wolf in the sheep's skin (or in the bed of Little Red Hood's grandmother) is a fairytale description of disguise. Once the predatory penetrates the surface,
the disguise is discovered. Metamorphosis between the animal species takes place slowly and terrifyingly.
Hybrid figures are disturbing since they shake our terms of understanding. On the other hand, any sudden insight can have a funny dimension.
On the homepage of Dohrendorf, a leading figure in his field, the following anecdote may be found:
A shepherd watches his sheep that are milling around in a meadow. Suddenly a yuppy passes by, jumps from his car and asks the shepherd:
"If I should guess how many sheep you have got, will you then give me one?" "Alright", says the shepherd.
The yuppie takes his notebook and cellphone, searches the internet, prints a report of 150 pages and says: "You own 1586 sheep." The shepherd: "That's
right." The yuppie takes a sheep.
The shepherd asks: "If I guess your profession, do I then get back my sheep?" "Yes, why not", says the yuppie.
"You are an economic consultant", declares the shepherd. "How come you know that?" the yuppie asks.
"Very simple", says the shepherd. "You come unbidden; you take a sheep for telling me what I already know; and you have no idea of what you're doing since
you took my dog."
By means of this anecdote, which apparently hits home, the economic consultant on his homepage self-ironically tries to meet eventual prejudices against his
profession. The evoked is supposed to break the reader's aversion to this profession and to make him a customer. The humour gets black where the yuppie is
shown not to see the difference between sheep and wolves. This can only happen when there is a corresponding disguise, therefore the situation is inscribed
"unveiling of a disguise". But what would "disenguisement" mean in this case? Wenn it does not happen where a wolf/dog disguises itself as a sheep, then the
opposite should be true: the sheep disguises itself as wolf-dog. In the foodchain, the victim takes over the role of the delinquent. Isn't this a disguise a strategy
for survival as well? The wolf in the sheep's skin wishes to hide his role as
delinquent, the sheep in the wolf's skin its role as victim. Both composite beings, offered to us by the artist, are only discovered by their reception. Their
designation is no semantic clarification, but it questions these roles. The delinquent plays the role of the victim to approach its prey more easily. But what is
the sense of the victim pretending to be the delinquent? This is a psychological, not a natural cover-up position. Evolution has not provided for such a solution.
|The New York Optimist