Really Grotesque - Grotesquely Real

I am a visual artist coming from the tradition of figurative painting, but my interest goes far beyond the outward appearance of the human body.  I am curious about how our body-based reality is shaped by social conventions, taboos and our own perception or paranoia. I explore prevailing cultural images, associations, and roles, and try to point out the origins of these cultural standards, which over time evolved into a seemingly 'natural' image of what is real.


Two illustrated books became important for my artistic development early on. The one, a simple photo album of my family, showing myself as a child, aroused my interest in investigating how that every day stories vividly illustrated by the photographs turned into a founding tale of the family that served as a guideline for the next generation. As a student of painting I was as a young, single mother in a similar situation as my own mother 20 years ago. The photographs chosen for the albums primarily showed joyous or sublime moments of life and consistently eliminated grief and pain. I couldn’t help struggling with a collision of remembering between the subjective, ephemeral fragments of my own memories of (painful) moments, which I relived raising my own daughter and the official happy family testimonies that imposed themselves over my fleeting memories and subliminally idealized the history of our family.


The other was a 1936 textbook of war surgery intended to prepare the aspiring Aryan physician for the emergency care of German soldiers on the battlefield. The discrepancy between its scientifically precise graphic illustrations of the wounds presented and the reality of a human body that wounded like that, turns into a bloody mass is radical. Pain, fear and death that accompany these grotesque wounds are hidden, cannot and shall not be shown. This Hereafter of a physical reality reminded me of the images of the saints' legends in the churches of my Bavarian homeland. In these pictures too, the torture and suffering of the saints are shown as vividly as drastically. However, the saints endure the torments depicted in detail, with a strangely expressionless face, as if they were already in the otherworldly kingdom of spiritual consecration, untouched by physical torment or our body-based reality.


Both illustrated books confronted me with the question of the relationship between role model, image and reality. This is reflected in my work, in which I sample images from already existing motifs from all areas of visual production, be it from the world of art, anatomical illustrations, logos or advertisement. My method of painting on a pair of acrylic glass plates, which are then positioned on top of each other to form the entire painting, emphasises this collage principle. I draw with pens that are primarily used for technical drawings. They allow for controlled, precise lines. My kind of working tries to reveal no irregularities that can be read as an affective sensation about my ambivalent world of motifs. I present whatever may appear absurd or offensive as matter-of-factly as possible.


In addition to violence, sexuality and the grotesque, the game is omnipresent in my work. We consider grotesque what overstrains our 'reasonable' world views. Grotesque is the weird and unbelievable - all that can be terrifying, but also incredibly funny. The Russian philosopher and literary theorist Michail Bachtin speaks of a 'grotesque realism' that puts the marginalized back into the center of events: "Classical realism represents reality as it should be according to the norms of a cultural order, the grotesque realism shows reality as it exists despite this order." He locates the grotesque within the spirit of carnival, which distorts and defuses all that is terrible by the peoples’ triumphant laughter. The more absolute social ideas of order are, the more sensitive they are to laughter, irony and satire. Using comic to deal with the dark zones of life, I challenge the ‘ideal’ in order to do justice to the complexity of humans and their psychic turmoil.

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© Cornelia Renz