Bad Visual Systems: Ruth Buchanan, Judith Hopf, Marianne Wex


Adam Art Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand, 2. 10. – 22. 12. 2016

BAD VISUAL SYSTEMS is a major new exhibition by Berlin-based, New Zealand-born artist Ruth Buchanan. It occupies the entire Adam Art Gallery and also features works by two fellow artists, Judith Hopf and Marianne Wex both of whom live in Germany. The title of the exhibition draws on the idea first articulated by feminist theorist, Donna Haraway that “self-identity is a bad visual system”. Buchanan is drawn to this notion as it succinctly articulates her sense that there are powerful forces vested in architecture, art, language, society and the manifold organisational and structural systems that take place within them, that affect how the human subject behaves and interferes with how they know themselves. She has self-consciously chosen to work with two other women artists of different generations, to position her thinking within a feminist history and discourse.

For this exhibition Buchanan has blurred the roles of artist, curator, and designer, playing all three to create a fully immersive installation with objects, materials, display systems, screens, images, and words. These occupy the space ambivalently, playing off the architecture and doubling as the familiar furniture of exhibition making. The show engages the viewer actively with built-in response mechanisms including an audience-activated soundtrack that serves as audio-guide; videos that spring to life with human contact, and room dividers that rearrange familiar spaces and disrupt existing way-finding.

Buchanan’s process is research intensive. She has spent time in the building learning its physical characteristics and also its history. She has also actively participated in the revival of interest in Let’s Take Back Our Space, the photographic project by Marianne Wex—excerpts of which are included in this exhibition—that has been called “one of the great unsung works of 1970s’ feminist history and cultural analysis”, in its compilation of thousands of images of men’s and women’s differing body language designed to analyse the unconscious ways in which the patriarchy literally occupies more space. And her selection of films and sculptures by Judith Hopf is the result of a deep engagement with that artist’s deadpan practice. This exhibition is a profoundly thoughtful and physically impressive occupation of the Adam Art Gallery.

Adam Art Gallery gratefully acknowledges the support of Creative New Zealand Toi Aotearoa, Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen Institute for Foreign Cultural Affairs (ifa), Jan Warburton Trust, Resene Paints Ltd, and Victoria University of Wellington.

Artist biographies

RUTH BUCHANAN was born in 1980 in New Plymouth and later grew up in Wellington, where her family is now based. She completed a BFA at the Elam School of Fine Arts at The University of Auckland in 2002 and an MA in Fine Art from the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam in 2007. BAD VISUAL SYSTEMSis the latest in a string of solo exhibitions and major commissions she has undertaken in Europe, New Zealand, Asia and Australia. In each, she creates situations she describes as “meetings with meaning”, where the systems utilised in the production of culture—display formats, collection protocols, museum structures—are interrogated, and exhibition and graphic design is re-appropriated as a means to manage the viewer’s experience. These include the 11th Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju (2016); The actual and its document, Govett Brewster Gallery/ Len Lye Centre, New Plymouth (2016), 24 Hour Body, Hopkinson Mossman at Frieze Art Fair, London (2015), Or, a camera Or, a building Or, a screen, Kunstverein Harburger Bahnhof, Hamburg (2015), Or, a building, Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe (2015), Several Attentions—Lying Freely Part III, The Showroom, London (2009). Buchanan lives and works in Berlin and is represented by Hopkinson Mossman, Auckland.

JUDITH HOPF was born in Berlin in 1969. Her irreverent attitude to art making belies her serious purpose: to address how society, through its institutions and systems, operates to enforce normative behaviour. For this exhibition, Hopf is represented by three film works that typify her practice. Also included are her untitled concrete ‘serpents’, which have teeth made from tiny paper triangles made from her work emails that derive from her thinking about the precarity of labour under present conditions. Hopf teaches at the Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main, currently one of the most influential art academies in Europe. She has undertaken several solo projects throughout Europe and the USA in recent years including: More, Neue Galerie, Kassel (2015), Untitled (1-4), PRAXES Center for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2014), On Time, Maumaus Escola de Artes Visuais, Lisbon (2014), A Line May Lie, Kunsthalle Lingen Kunstverein, Lingen, curated by Meike Behm, and an exhibition at Secession, Vienna (2006). Selected group exhibitions include: Your Lazy Eye, LiMac – Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Lima, Madrid (2015), the Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool (2014), and dOCUMENTA 13, Kassel (2012). This is the first time she has exhibited in New Zealand. Hopf lives in Berlin. Her works are presented courtesy of Kaufmann Repetto, New York and Milan.

MARIANNE WEX was born in Hamburg in 1937, where she studied at the Hochschule für bildende Kunste. Though a student of painting, she turned to photographing men and women on the streets of the city. She sorted these into categories of body language until she had a vast typology that revealed the differences between men and women’s occupation of space through pose and gesture. To these she added found images from art history, advertising, politics and pornography to show the prevailing ways in which gendered bodies hold themselves. She presented these as a series of panels, first in 1977 in the Artists International 1877-1977 at Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst in Berlin and then in several exhibitions, including Bonner Kunstverein, Bonn (1979) and London’s Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in 1982. She also published her complete archive in book form in 1979 as Let’s Take Back Our Space: ‘Female’ and ‘Male’ Body Language as a Result of Patriarchal Structures. Since making this work, Wex withdrew from the art world to become a self-healer. Between 1983 and 1986 she lived in Wellington. She gives seminars on self-healing to small groups of women all around Europe, often drawing on what she felt she had learnt during the 1970s about the effects of comportment on women’s physical and mental health. In 2009 her project was rediscovered by Mike Sperlinger and presented at the Focal Point Gallery in Southend-on-Sea. Since then, Let’s Take Back Our Space has been presented in various venues, including Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe (2012, on screens designed by Ruth Buchanan and Andreas Muller), Yale Union Center for Contemporary Art, Portland (2012), Presentation House Gallery, Vancouver, (2013), La Galerie, Centre d’art contemporain, Noisy-Le-Sec (2013), Gasworks, London (2014), Autocenter, Space for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2014), Frauengesundheitszentrum Sirona e.V., Wiesbaden (2015), and now in Wellington. Wex now lives in Hoehr-Grenzhausen, Germany. All works by Marianne Wex are courtesy of the artist.