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Ute Rakobs

Rubbish icons

WITHERED NATURE, RUSTING METAL OR WORN-OUT TEXTILES ARE THE THEMES PICKED BY PAINTER UTE RAKOB: THE MEANING AND ESSENCE OF BOTH FRAGMENTS AND OBJECTS ARE AT THE HEART OF HER STUDY.

Ute Rakob

To a certain extent, her work is reminiscent of vanitas in history of art, yet it also takes a critical stand on today’s world, a work of meta-painting and ambiguity in the second modern period. The artist transforms pieces from her archive in searingly beautiful allegories of remembrance. The random pieces are plucked off the street in the near vicinity of her Tuscan atelier.

Garbage from our culture of excess at the edge of civilisation comprises centuries-old glass and ceramic shards, weathered sheet metal, plastic parts from the 20thcentury, and bizarre bits of corroded steel and burnt wood. The past contained within these long-discarded pieces of life is turned into exquisite moments and ‘frozen’ for eternity intoher pictures. The artist discovers visible traces of fire, fat, and rust which hark back to the fire lit to cook the previous owner’s prey, above three stone slabs of a cooking corner in Tuscany.

The vital creative act allows Rakob to withstand death.

Instead of rushing carelessly by them, she transformed her discovery into the triptych Altare degli Animali (Animal altar) during the summers of 2011/2012. Just like in Lascaux or Altamira, the unatoned hunt victims step out of the painting: birds, deer, or foxes just wait to be captured. The triple division is based on the early shaman belief of what the universe should look like and the Christian belief of a heaven, earth, and underworld. Traccia del fuocco (Fire traces), Regno dello Spirito (Spirit Kingdom) and Purgatorio (Purgatory) are complemented by a narrow predella: here the artist projects a video across its neutral earth tones. A slow loop depicting the skull of small animals photographed at the Museum of Natural Sciences in Vienna: a moving frieze. The vital creative act allows Rakob to withstand death, and reminds us of the cruelty of senseless death in our society; however, it also opens our eyes to another dimension, where smoke and peace mean more than material objects. The connection between painting and virtual pictures is unique in this variation, turning a sculptural element into an ephemeral one. Trompe-l’oeil art is elevated above science, thus justifying unatoned hunting as civilised: destroying nature cannot be nurtured.

In 2007, Rakob discovered the remains of a partly bleached red brocade curtain in a state of dissolution due to humidity and moths, carelessly thrown away on the grounds of a decrepit castle in Tuscany. She saved it and transposed it onto the oval painting Die große Wunde (The big wound). The years 2007/08 turned the collector and archivist into a theologist, because pictorial execution followed the careful collage work of the find, becoming a relic and aid on a wooden board. We could speak of a ‘theologie naturelle’ gravitating towards a ‘peinture spirituelle’ when observing the convergence on the oval picture across matte grey, similar to the layers of cloth in a pietà by Rogier van der Weydens. Rakob still creates baroque chaos to this very day. The ‘relic’ picked up from the kerbside is preserved in the atelier, a private artistic chamber of wonders, next to small animal skeletons.

In this museum of private objects, every find is set in front of the easel, placed into the limelight, often transformed into pairs of pictures and series. The long painting process embodies perfection, soulfulness and creativity, and enacts what the artist calls a ‘passion of things’ that turn the carelessly discarded objects into icons, commandments, maps, black suns or swings. Music is closely related to this process, especially Olivier Messiaen’s musical painting, bursting with Franciscan mystique and natural interplay of light; mystical lights, chromatic magic, and the chirps of birds create a parallel to Rakob’s contents. The attention to observing birds manifests itself in the large painting Nikes Schwinge (Nike’s wings). The tale of the wings of the Nike of Samothrace from 1998/99, with hopeful expectations of making mankind fly – yet the bent sheet metal and its kink hint to the fact that nike, victory, is not possible without being burnt or hurt.

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Dr.phil.mag.art, geb.21.9.1955 in Wien, Studium der Malerei und Grafik an der Angewandten, Kunstgeschichte, Archäologie und Byzantinistik an der Uni Wien. Dissertation 1987. Kunstwissenschaftlerin, Journalistin und Ausstellungskuratorin in Wien, München, Passau, Ulm, St. Pölten, Krems. Lehrtätigkeit an der Uni Wien, Akademie der bildenden Künste und seit 2007 am Max Reinhardt-Seminar, Wien. Art Critic Award 2007. Jury- und Beiratsmitglied für zahlreiche Institutionen und Museen. Seit 2009 im Aufsichtsrat des Kunsthistorischen Museums.

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