Text by Dr. Dietmar Schuth, Heidelberg
For a number of years now, one of the outstanding features of Ute Vauk-Ogawa’s art is the frequent use of hemp as dominant material. The artist uses the natural fibre of the Cannabis plant, frequently dyed in bright colours and hardened by acrylic resin, to create three-dimensional objects, which range between concrete and abstract forms. In general, the used resin remains invisible, so the material retains its optic and haptic quality of textile or paper-like character.
“Red Fountains “ is the title of a wall installation, which seems to make these hemp fibres protrude the wall. Dyed intensively red, the fibres provoke associations of tasselled human hair, of animal trophies or scalps. A round white form keeps the fibres together like a ring disciplining a plait of hair. After closer examination and having read the title, one is reminded of a device used by plumbers to conceal a pipe-end into the wall. But here there is no pipe and so the red “liquid” gushes straight out of the wall. It troubles the imagination without offering any logical explanations. Apart from their esthetical effect, the “Red Fountains” are mysterious objects, which transport a hidden symbolic significance. In one of her exhibitions, the artist places these objects on the wall of a bathroom and a dormitory, thus combining associations of hair and blood to a menacing and erotic mystery.
The relationship of the material favoured by the artist to human matters becomes more distinct in her recent installations. Whereas associations to human blood and hair had formally only been one of many possible options, now the figurative human form is clearly perceptible. In the Installation “Dancing Men”, human figures seem to grow out of masses of sunny yellow hemp fibres, frozen to their anthropomorphous forms by the mentioned resin.
In a whole series of figures, the artist runs through the very differing possibilities of three-dimensional human images. She varies motives of rest and movement- makes the figures stand, kneel, sit, crouch down, crawl on all fours, or take dancelike positions. But although every single figure poses in a very individual way, none of them seems really free. Every dancer is connected to some hemp fibres, similar to the fluff of a young bird, or an ambilical cord. These figures seem to be only just created – as formerly narrated in the bible – out of a lump of clay, not yet fully completed or perfect. In this sense, the installation“ Dancing Men “, can be read as an allegory on life itself, which begins from amorphous material to seek individual form. If the time perspective is reversed, these figures can also be seen as metaphors for the mortality of life, which is retransformed to its original material by a desperate final dance: ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
The wall installation “Downwards” seems very similar to the “Dancers “, though the materials used here are wire, acrylic resin and pigments. The shining yellow figures have now left the solid ground. They are not dancing any longer, but falling into empty space. The motives of movement are more individual and hint the anatomically deformed disegnos of baroque ceiling paintings. Whereas the “Dancers “ somehow resemble gothic figures in a medieval fresco of a danse macabre, one can now think of a picture of the damned cast into hell, painted very dramatically by a Michelangelo or one of the succeeding baroque artists. One can also be reminded of the subject of the falling angels, rarely treated in art history, which signifies the punishment for the hubris of the formally very luminous Lucifer and his followers. Whereas the “dancers” still express some kind of hopeful beginning, the installation “Downwards” hints the end of all individuality, mortal fall and death.
The fourth installation of this exhibition“Voyagers” seems to be even more ominous. Black is the colour of death, and black are the hemp nets that the artist places like bonds around a human body. But this body is a cavity, similar to the plaster casts, which were once made of the victims of Pompeii, buried by the volcano eruption 79 A. C., where cavities in the hardened lava were cast out to make the bodies of the then suffocated people visible again.
If all three figurative installations are compared, the last one can be understood as a pessimistic parable on human existence. The hemp bonds seem to symbolize the force of circumstances of life, which gradually let humans mutate to humiliated crawling creatures. This could be aimed especially at the conformist – as here these figures are identical and could also be read as a social allegory. The sunny “Dancers” seem more hopeful. They seek individuality and are thus very near to the yellow light. But this individuality bears the danger of hubris, as shown in the second installation of Ute Vauk-Ogawa: Like Icarus in the Metamorphosis of Ovid, one can approach the sun too closely.