with curatorial support from Miriam Bettin
Jagoda Bednarsky and Felix Kultau are showing works together under the title PRETEND FRIEND, with some of these created especially for their two-person exhibition. The artists address gender roles and clichés in the media of painting (Bednarsky) and sculpture (Kultau).
In Jagoda Bednarksy’s case, this concerns the image of a wife and mother, materialized in her Shadowlandwork series in landscapes of rolling hills made up of breasts, in milk pumps, vaginas, depictions of flora and fauna, figures from Greek mythology. The title of the series is taken from the culture magazine “Shadowland”, first issued in New York in 1919 and bringing together contributions on visual art, film, dance and theatre as well as Art Deco illustrations, caricatures, photographs and poems.
Jagoda Bednarsky’s compositions bring together visual elements based on a large spectrum of source materials, with these individual components co-existing as equals in the pictorial world of her paintings. Her mode of constructing images rests on the visual structure of screen views and smartphone displays, which in some instances also appear in her paintings as such. In all of this, her paintings have a lightness of touch that both lends them authority and at the same time does justice to a contemporary perspective onto an at times male dominated discourse of painting. Bednarsky’s depictions are frequently rife with humor, irony and subtlety and caricature traditional role models and pictorial modes. They reach their climax in the large format work Shadowland (Artemis), which features a self-portrait of the artist as Artemis, goddess of the forest and birth, who here appears as a protector of women and children. This is juxtaposed with a portrait of a cockerel. In the oversized, frontal confrontation with the viewer it appears downright menacing. Yet beside the machismo symbolism of the theme found throughout art history, the way in which the animal is portrayed lends it a definite vaginal aspect. The otherwise hypermasculine cock becomes emancipated through transformation and lampoons the purported duality of the sexes. The artist puts herself in the picture alongside the rooster in the shape of a FaceTime portrait.
In contrast, the works on view by Felix Kultau create stereotypical images of masculinity: His light sculptures placed in the space employ concrete cast protein powder cans, chrome-plated steel poles and strip lights. They evoke associations of bodybuilding: in terms of shape they are reminiscent of gym equipment, as well as of physical constructions subjected to (self-)optimization.
Felix Kultau works primarily with cool, industrial and found material, emphasizing their fetish character through his interventions. In their perceived smoothness his materials nevertheless time and again exhibit traces of decay and vulnerability. His locker doors are a continuation of his work series on shipping container doors. In the exhibition they become part of the idea of the fitness studio, but in contrast to the demonstrative, large gestures of the chrome sculptures they instead express privacy and withdrawal, qualities that also stand allegorically for adolescence – our view of which is of course shaped by the genre of the Highschool movie.
Next to these works, viewers see themselves confronted with a solid wood sculpture that reflects the final outcome of male fantasies of power and violence: What we can appreciate in detail here is the trace of an application of force onto the wood beam. Felix Kultau’s sculptures seem at the same time fragile and brutal, they exude an inner conflict and fragmentation, much like that described by Klaus Theweleit in his notion of the “Fragmentkörper” (fragmented body). “This body, which I call the fragmented body, for example does not abide equality – whether this be equality with women, equality with children”. These deliberations stem from the author’s principal work “Male Fantasies”, first published in German language in 1977 (English language version 1987), which now, 40 years later, has been re-issued due to its unchanging, if not increased relevance to our times. The author sees the fear of a dissolution of the body as the root cause for the development of hierarchies, fascism, abuse of power and violence: “And this fragmented body attempts to solve its problems, which it is unable to integrate into its psyche, through violence. (…) This type wants society to be organized in a hierarchical way, with clear superior and inferior distinctions, and to know its position within this structure. And this type sees men, a certain kind of masculinity, to be superior in this construct.”
In Jagoda Bednarsky and Felix Kultau’s exhibition this duality of traditional gender roles is expressed – hypermasculinity and machismo vs. matriarchy and motherhood – and at the same time punctuated and irritated time and again. The two artists’ works complement, cite and comment on each other. They coexist in analogue and digital space, as though they were defending their own position in their interaction. As pretend friend (much like an “invisible friend”) they demonstrate their independence while simultaneously being stimulated by the knowledge of each other’s existence. The hierarchies are revoked, the battle of the sexes abates.
Let's stay friends, she said.
Due to the currently changed and aggravated circumstances as regards exhibiting and showing, we are also making PRETEND FRIEND accessible for our viewers in virtual space, on the website created for this context: www.pretendfriend.de
Text: Miriam Bettin
 Klaus Theweleit, “Die Angst vor der Körperauflösung. Klaus Theweleit im Gespräch mit Liane von Billerbeck” (Deutschlandfunk Kultur, November 01, 2019). URL: https://www.deutschlandfunkkultur.de/klaus-theweleit-ueber-maennerphantasien-die-angst-vor-der.1008.de.html?dram:article_id=462394 (last accessed April 04, 2020).