Xenia Hausner – Some Hope

Xenia Hausner’s painting begins in photography. She interlaces the history and potential inherent in both these image media in a multi-faceted manner, implicitly bringing into her painting not only the principles of photography but consolidating elements of film as well. Hausner stages photos as a basis for painting. She produces and directs her photographic scenarios in her studio, using one or more characters. In some cases one gets the impression that her pictures are a part of the global stock of media images, for example, Kim Jong Un peering through a telescope at the border fence in “Look Left – Look Right”.

Hausner’s visual irony presupposes that diverse and institutionalized practices in photography have entered mainstream aesthetics so dominantly that they are no longer consciously perceived. The next step in her work process is to turn photographic raw material into painting. For that, she begins with a moment of resistance.  “I’ve got a photo that stimulates something contradictory in me. And this contradiction is what sets me in motion. I paint the contradiction to the photo. That is the decisive point.” At the beginning of the painting process, those techniques defined by photography or even film are brought to bear: the choice of a cut, the sense of the fragmentary, the actual montage, the drastic staging of light according to color and, related to that, the emphatic perspective that obscures the space and ultimately contributes to the intense individual atmospheric character of an image. Moreover, Hausner’s use of specific formats, better said, proportions, ranging practically from eight millimeter to cinemascope, is a part of her technical repertoire. Yet another is her formal relationship to the close-up which is a defining aspect in many of her pictures. A crucial element for Hausner is her use of psychological and even psychotic space as a venue for her figures – as if all motion and consequently all time had been halted. Hausner incorporates a dramaturgic tension, comparable to a fast forward process of film editing, in which everything seems to be squeezed in, as if another element in an irritatingly unknown plot is about to follow and solve the mystery. It doesn’t. Hausner creates and expedites this alienating feeling of deprivation by dramatizing her subjects via the instruments of painting: on the one hand, iconographically, by including additional formal elements, things or people whose presence hints at a virtual event; on the other, by compressing space, as already indicated, through composition and light and especially by skillfully accentuating color, turning it somehow into an agent of diverse sensations evoked in her pictures. And yet, the artist is constantly making her fascination visible – and here the specific dialectical relationship Hausner maintains between painting and photography is revealed: about “photography as the Other of art, as the desire of art of our times” (Rosalind Krauss).

Spectacle, the seductively narcissistic, fetishistic and voyeuristic which, since their invention, have turned photography and film into mass media, are not suppressed by Hausner. She constantly keeps them in mind. This enables her to keep her distance when it pleases her. Hausner displays mass media images as wishing machines, pulling the brakes on them all at once and demonstrating the illusory nature of these machines. She underscores this in the titles she gives her pictures – as if they were pop elements from an assembly line, reminiscent of something familiar while leaving everything open. In this way she confronts her viewers with their imaginary wishes. Pleasure and disappointment are both engraved into her pictures. To use her own words: “I don’t illustrate photos, I mess them up“.

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