Home Architect Noemi Smolik on Margaret Raspe

Noemi Smolik on Margaret Raspe

by godlove4241
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“Why isn’t housekeeping a subject worthy of art?” When Margaret Raspé raised this issue in the early 1970s, she was ridiculed by her colleagues, and not just the men. The women also shook their heads. Family life and children, they believed, were only obstacles to the success of an artist’s career. Raspé was born in 1933 in what was then the German city of Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland). She studied art in Munich and Berlin but also trained as a seamstress. After getting divorced in the late 60s, she was suddenly a single mother raising three daughters. Cooking, washing dishes, cleaning and housework were a big part of her daily life – tasks she did automatically, without thinking. She had become a machine. To escape this robotic existence, she mounts a Super 8 camera on a hard hat and records the work of her hands. Looking at what she was doing from a new perspective allowed her not only to perceive it more consciously, but also to establish a measure of distance.

The resulting films opened this exhibition, “Automatique.” One, from 1971, shows its whipped cream and bears the title Der Sadist schlägt das eindeutig Unschuldige (The sadist defeats the unquestionably innocent). Another, Alle Tage wieder – let them swing! (Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow – Let Them Swing!), 1974, features Raspé’s hands performing one of life’s most mundane tasks: washing the dishes. Raspé’s penchant for the absurd – underlined by the absurdity of the title of this work – is palpable in all his work and allows him to shed light on the clash between the triviality of everyday life and the high aspirations of art.

The camera helmet also allowed Raspé to explore the ways in which his own body was a functional contraption. She was called a Frautomate or “woman automaton”. In 1979, she started using the camera helmet to study her process of making paintings. She makes large abstract line drawings on canvas, explorations not (as in Surrealism) of the unconscious or (as in Expressionism) of emotions, but of the physical automatism of painting.

This exhibit featured one of the canvases—Gelb, Rot and Blau together (Toward Yellow, Red and Blue), 1983 – with the film of the same title and the same year. To restore autonomy to the body, the antithesis of its automation, Raspé also paints the portraits of several individuals, covering them with a fabric on which she traces the flows of their physical energies in different colors. At this point, she had also begun to take an interest in the healing aspects of art. Three of these books, all titled Körpertucher (Body Cloths), 1993, were on display in the exhibition, hanging in the center of the first floor gallery, giving off an aura of magic.

The attempt to escape automated perception is a preoccupation in almost all of the artist’s works, be they films, performances, drawings or sound installations. In Fernsehfrühstück (Television Breakfast), 1994/2023, four small televisions are installed on a round table, each facing a chair. The screens of the monitors are masked by honeycomb sheets so that we see no image but only an abstract movement of light. This sustained effort to see things differently also made Raspé very early aware of the threats to the natural world. In his performance Wasser ist nicht mehr Wasser (Water is no longer water), 1990, she investigated the pollution of rivers. But who understood what she was doing at the time? Raspé was a pioneer in many ways – in her vigilance to the healing properties of art and the precariousness of natural life, not to mention presenting her work in her home in Berlin as an integral part of her creative practice. Curated by Anna Gritz, the exhibition was Raspé’s first full institutional retrospective, and it made people want to know more about this unconventional artist.

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.

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