In a second series (from 1980), strangely complementary to the first in its focus on aurality, Genzken photographed the ears of friends in large-scale color close-ups. These metonymies of the ear, strangely echoing and displacing both Constructivist metonymies of the hand and the Surrealist metonymies of the foot, not only demarcated Genzken’s departure from her preoccupation with sinuous organic forms in her sculpture, but also responded to the increasingly reactionary resuscitation of photographic portraiture in the hands of her peers. Shifting the portrait genre to the physiognomic (and criminological) bodily detail of utter singularity, Genzken’s photographs pointed simultaneously to the infinite differentiation of subjectivity and to the determinism inherent in the mythical claim that subjectivity could in fact still be recorded in a photographic portrait.
In her most recent work, Genzken confronts one of the prime calamities of sculpture in the present: a terror that emerges from both the universal equivalence and exchangeability of all objects and materials and the simultaneous impossibility of imbuing any transgressive definition of sculpture with priorities or criteria of selection, of choice, let alone judgment (be it artisanal skills, choice of objects or materials, or the analytical intelligence to identify the specific structure of a contextualized readymade). To have the self succumb to the totalitarian order of objects brings the sculptor to the brink of psychosis, and Genzken’s new work seems to inhabit that position. However, since total submission to the terror of consumption is indeed the governing stratum of collective object relations, that psychotic state may well become the only position and practice the sculptor of the future can articulate.
First published in: Silvia Eiblmayr (Ed.): Isa Genzken. Exhibition Catalogue Galerie im Taxispalais, Innsbruck / Secession, Vienna, Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Cologne 2006.
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