Texts / Reviews
Dr. Barbara Engelbach
Ute Behrend – Märchen
Exhibition on the occasion of the Toyota-Fotokunstpreises / Toyota-Photography-Art-Award 2004
Fairytales are more than children’s stories... They display fundamental truths and wisdom. If there is a collective unconscious then fairytales are surely firmly anchored within it, and whoever is prepared to get involved in them can find them everywhere, knowing fully well that all will always end well.
Cologne-based artist Ute Behrend, born in 1961 in Berlin, has received the biennial Toyota Prize for Photography. She was able to convince the jury with her artist’s books, Girls, Some Boys and Other Cookies, published by Scalo and now Fairytales, appearing with Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König.
"Fairytales" is also the title of her presentation at the Museum Ludwig, for which Ute Behrend has made a selection of ca.30 photographs from the series of the same name.
Whether it is the The Valiant Little Tailor, impressing his contemporaries because they interpret "Seven at one stroke!" to be referring to fully-grown men and not flies, or the princess in The Frog King getting over her feelings of disgust and giving the cold and slippy reptile a kiss – these well known fairytales are related to images that everyone recalls.
Often it is particularly the simple narrative structures of fairytales, conveying a sense of ‘deeper wisdom’, that is still occupying cultural philosophers, psychoanalysts and theologians today.
Such images, however, are not to be found in Ute Behrend’s book of FAIRYTALES. Her photorgaphs do not illustrate fairytales, but the artist picks up fairytale themes to find and discover new images and to give them their own associative space.
The fairytale, Frog King, appears, for instance, as a hand with outstretched fingers, covered in glossy green-coloured slime (alt: a slippy mass of paint). This photograph is opposed with another, on which two girls can be seen, sporting princess dresses. One has its back turned to the camera, the other its face covered with her hands. Allusions to the fairytale are being conjoured-up, without the photographs letting themselves be merged in a linear narrative. Behrend often finds her motifs in the intimacy of the associated area of her family or circle of friends and less frequently the artist might ask strangers if they be photographed.
All photographs convey a directness- partly due to the subject’s steadfast gaze into the camera- that renders the question superfluous, whether these are staged or real situations.
Like her idols, e.g. Sally Mann, with whom she shares the interest in photographing children, or Diane Arbus, whose discoveries of the special in the profane and whose metamorphoses of the droll to the normal also can be found in Behrend’s photographs. She also shares the interest in finding the universal in the fleeting, and like all of these Ute Behrend also banks on the (powers of) evidence of the photographic image.
At the same time Ute Behrend has developed a position of her own, because of her consistency in working with pairs of images. Her rejection of the single image is distinct from rows of photographs or photographic sequences for which there could be a renewed selection or compilation at any time or in which photography approaches film.
Behrend has her pairs of images fixed and sticks to that arrangement in publications and exhibitions. As such the photographs are visual echoes of each other or counterparts: correspondences or contrasts, referred aspects of content and form are to be discovered. Visual powers of association that precede the language-systems are being encouraged. Thus Behrend enables an emotional sounding-board for her image pairs, without it being possible to verbalise how feelings of ‘being touched’ or of uneasiness are inherent in the photographs.
The tension in the relationship between recorded every-day situations on one hand, and the timeless narratives and fairytales to which Behrend refers to on the other, is being conserved in the associations that are called-up, as also a recognition that is informed by experience and memory and that escapes consciousness.
Dr. Barbara Engelbach, June 2005