Katrin Plavčak

Political portraiture and sci-fi ciphers

LegalAliens_CMYK.jpg

Legal Aliens, 2010, Öl auf Baumwolle, 2.5 × 2.5 m (Courtesy für alle Bilder: Galerie Mezzanin, Vienna)

Legal Aliens, 2010, oil on cotton, 2.5 × 2.5 m (courtesy for all images: Galerie Mezzanin, Vienna)

Science fiction rarely deals with the future itself. Instead, the genre usually trades in encoded reflections of the present. In her paintings, Katrin Plavčak regularly draws from the sci-fi cipher of seemingly empty space and the fantasies projected onto it. Space travel and colonization are common points of focus on her canvases – hybrid technology, both human and extraterrestrial – while well-known figures from film, art, comics, the Internet and other media often serve as the paintings’ protagonists.

Legal Aliens (2010), for example, depicts a rendezvous among television’s most famous extraterrestrial, ALF, the Star Wars robot R2-D2, afrofuturist jazz musician Sun Ra (who appears with an alien face), Abdul Ahad Momand (the first Afghan cosmonaut in orbit), and a number of dinosaurs, fantasy creatures, and otherworldly beings. One of these extraterrestrials is wearing a Mexican sombrero, and the background of the image includes the container from Christoph Schlingensief’s project Ausländer raus! (Foreigners out!), which took place in Vienna in 2000. It’s not too much of a stretch to read the piece as grappling with immigration policies and social exclusion, and how we might move past these issues.

Plavčak consistently expands the space of her painting with installations that include sculptures, video, music and dance. In the installation Family Temple 1 (2010), for example, Legal Aliens was complemented by the video Family Temple One Versus the Female Architect: Orgon Rock (2010), in which a warped human figure struggles against a group of meteorites: ‘All space is our habitation, we are the critical mass’, sing the meteorites in high-pitched voices.

Whistleblower_CMYK.jpg

Whistleblower (Bradley Manning), 2013, Öl auf Leinwand, 60 × 50 cm

Whistleblower (Bradley Manning), 2013, oil on canvas, 60 × 50 cm

Whereas Legal Aliens harnesses the imagery of science fiction to address political topics, the group portrait Gelebte Demokratie (Lived Democracy, 2011) is rather more concrete. In the painting, Plavčak brings together a series of real scuffles that took place in various parliaments – a panorama of disorder right in the heart of democracy, where disputes are supposed to be settled with words. Or the artist turns to portraiture to depict individual figures from the political events of the day, like a string of recent whistleblowers, for example: there’s a faceless Julian Assange (Wikileaks, 2011), a deformed, cubist Bradley Manning (Whistleblower, Bradley Manning, 2013) and Edward Snowden with a shrunken head (Snowden, 2013). On top of the portraits, which are usually based on photographs, Plavčak often transposes abstract elements like grids, nets and other geometric forms. In a portrait of the imprisoned Chinese writer and civil rights activist Liu Xiaobo, for example, the grid represents prison bars (Liu Xiaobo 3rd Version, 2012). Current political events also assume a surreal form in Die Arabische Liga beobachtet die Lage in Syrien (The Arab League is observing the situation in Syria, 2012). In her pictorial surveys, Plavčak brings together events actually quite removed from one another and presents them concurrently on a single canvas. The space of painting in her work is a place of encounter between various events and people; sometimes they’re united by common concerns, sometimes simply by certain similarities.

PaintingHistoryRevisited_CMYK.jpg

Painting History Revisited, 2012, Öl auf Baumwolle, 1.7 × 2.5 m

Painting History Revisited, 2012, oil on cotton, 1.7 × 2.5 m

For Plavčak, painting is above all an art historical topic. The artist – a member of the feminist group ff – advocates a histo-riography of art from a feminine perspective (especially in painting, where such a viewpoint is anything but a given) and seeks to direct attention toward the work of female artists, who’ve long failed to receive the recognition they deserve. One large format work by Plavčak (with an appropriately direct title), Painting History Revisited (2012), brings together a number of female painters (Rosa Bonheur, Angelika Kauffmann, and Lavinia Fontana, among others) in one group portrait.

In a catalogue text, Jutta Koether comments on Plavčak’s work: ‘it creates a space that looks at you and in which you should behave.’ Plavčak might often show a cartoonish and playful streak with the individual elements, people, and events that she includes in her work, but the concrete sociopolitical conditions of this space remain all too real.
Translated by Jesse Coburn

Issue 12

First published in Issue 12

Dec 2013 - Feb 2014

Most Read

Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018