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Annette Pfnorr (2006)

Cultural Damages

You certainly could call Kristina Girke a story-teller. There are, besides the main scenes, assorted subordinated scenes, which, in their pompousness, remind us of lavish theatre productions. Often placed at the edge of the canvas as miniatures, small groups of figures or sections of landscapes establish strange relations with the main motif („Strategieberatung“; „Strategy Meeting“). This can be a human figure, a tree or a waterfall. The works are not always easily to read, and not in any case unequivocal. People, animals, architectural quotations or ornaments suddenly find themselves in an unusual and unknown context. They have to get along with each other and sustain themselves. This may, from time to time, result in an overlapping of different levels, an impression caused not only by the base coat colours, applied in several layers. Sometimes less important pictoral elements appear to be larger than the important ones. The former, however, are scetchy, the latter rendered in great detail. The main motif isn’t easy to determine as it hidden behind overlapping, large motifs, which appear like gaze curtains hanging in front of each other, letting the others shine through („Der Hirte“; „The Shepherd“). And the question is: What ist the centre of what is happening in the picture? Is there anything like it at all? Are not all pictorial elements equal as only the sum of it all creates a whole?


Many works do show a centre and the title may help. But at a closer look your attention drifts to the lower right corner or the upper half then, again, down further to the left and so on. Looking at Kristina Girke’s paintings, our gaze is not fixed, but constantly scanning the surface, just like a traveller who still has not seen and understood all and keeps on thrieving for more.


The artist comprises her latest works, along with the titles, under a main theme. She calls them „Kulturschäden“ („Cultural Damages“). The contradiction between the generally positively perceived culture and the negative value of damage enter a multi-faceted relationship full of associative power. Culture, in this context, can be understood under the aspects of art, politics, industry, craft and agriculture. With all possibilities of interpretation it will inevitably represent itself as something man-made, serving education, entertainment, human relations or the cultivation of land. A development, considered requires positively, a lot of creativity and braveness, but which, in the contradicting case, may be looked at critically, misunderstood, and refused. Therefore the words „culture“ and „damage“ enter a close relationship, beyond Girke’s pun.


Land can be cultivated. There is agriculture sustaining man or parks are built in order that everybody can find distraction and enjoy their leisure time. Both however, entail a necessary intervention into nature, which may also have unforeseen consequences. The aerial view of cultivated land shows a cut and skinned and therefore thoroughly flayed surface. On the other hand, a focused attention to nature by cutting trees and so forth his often indispensable in cultivation. But culture can, to the same degree, be damaged beyond repair through neglect, wrong decisions, wars and destruction. The transitions may be fluent, though.


Kristina Girke likes to relate her works iconographical to past centuries, thus juxtaposing the old and the traditional with contemporary aspects. By doing so, she creates very individual pictorial structures. It also evokes an aspect of time which does not make it any easier to find one’s way through the events within.


Looking at old paintings today, one often sees brittle and cracked layers of colour on canvas. This also has been an inspiration fort the artist in her latest works. The cracked surfaces, of century’s old painted works are marked by time and have led Kristina Girke to integrate such elements in her canvases („Kraftprotz“; „Muscle Man“). She places a further layer of colour on top of the previous one like a healing ointment. Cracks are partly covered and the beauty of an ornament comes through. These are then joined by further graphic elements, thinly layered, sprayed or painted: stars, balls or details reminiscent of flying objects („Die Besucher“; „The Visitors“). Sometimes there are optical illusions and the viewer’s gaze looks for something stable („Der Sucher“; „The Seeker“). Which layer is where? Is the element protruding from or backing into the canvas?


Just like the term „cultural damages“ incorporates a contradiction, Kristina Girke will create in her works a tension between damaged areas with scraped-off layers of colour and the clarity and beauty of, say, a figure or an ornament. This ornament will then not only serve as a decoration, but will also furnish the framework for the imagery („Kraftprotz“; „Muscle Man“ / „Prophet im Nebel“; „Prophet in the Fog“). Colourful lines can be associated with sound waves and reminds of music. Further they have an equalising and tender effect („Der Reisende“; „The Traveller“), much in contrast to the damaged surface.


Thinly sprayed layers of colour, which is not unusual in the artist’s style, correspond to the way of drawing and painting the motifs. The human figures are predominantly kept in tones of grey and white and therefore are reminiscent to the prepatorial drawings to scale on cardboard, as it was done in 15th Century Italian painting for monumental paintings and frescos. Shadowlike figures, from time to time, supplement pictorial action. Every motif, though, is complete in itself and therefore expresses a strong impression. After a more extensive look at the image, it becomes clear that really there is not any main or subordinate scene, but rather the components of the image, being the cause of each other, and having the same value. The fact that one is big and colourful and the other small and in monochrome, will only set free associations to overlapping film sequences, which again evokes an aspect of time. A film will render a sequence of actions, but a painting is fixed to a certain point in time. Kristina Girke’s works can withstand this contradiction beautifully well.


Elements in perspective make a clear-cut perception difficult. Here, too, we think we are wanderers between the centuries. And so there is not any other choice left but to study the work further in order to reveal the secrets of Kristina Girke’s paintings at some point.


 © Annette Pfnorr, 2006

Translation: Gerhard Charles Rump

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