Annette Kelm | ANNETTE KELM
Auswärtiges Amt, Berlin, Germany | 18.9.2019–30.4.2020
ANNETTE KELM

18 SEPTEMBER 2019 – 30 APRIL 2020
AUSWÄRTIGES AMT, BERLIN, GERMANY

What you see at first sight when you are face to face with Annette Kelm’s photographs are exquisitely balanced, aesthetically satisfying arrangements of objects and figures, colours and patterns, spaces and forms. Motifs range from mundane objects of daily use and portraits to vistas of buildings and architecture. The thing they have in common is a visual language that treats each object, be it ever so small or seemingly commonplace such as an old, unfashionable vase, as equal. Some objects will be likely to remind you of your own past, where your parents or maybe your grandparents sported in their homea similar flower bouquet or the same type of wicker chair. Kelm’s photographsare likely to evoke a sense of familiarity and personal involvement. This is aided by the formats she chooses, which are usually not much taller or widert han one metre, thus putting no strain on our sense of proportion. However,what appear to be notes of familiarity remain only hints and do not allow a sense of nostalgia to assert itself. In their precision and the distancingof the motifs the photographs take their cue from studio and PR photography: the motifs are aligned to the centre, uniformly illuminated and the saturated colours are rendered in razor-sharp definition. This sober, but by no means indifferent perspective reveals them to be representational images in a cultural historical context. Questions of taste and aesthetics therefore lead to questions concerning the social and societal construction of reality.

A case in point for Kelm’s interest in cultural-historical questions is her“Vitrine zur Geschichte der Frauenbewegung in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin”, 2013, which is placed on display here at the Auswärtiges Amt. The title itself gives away all we need to know aboutthe photograph’s location and subject: the work depicts a showcase of the type routinely to be found in museums all over Germany. It is supposed to tell the story of the women’s movement. Its contents, apart from a few small objects, mostly publications, are a pair of pink dungarees. That the history of the women’s movement might have merited more space than can be offered by a showcase that can be taken in in one glance is made quite clear. In a subsequent series, two works of which are on display here as well, the artist lifts the pink dungarees out of context as a symbol of the 1970s women’s movement and photographs them in isolation against a white backdrop. As the titles indicate, the dungarees alternate between the modes “Standard”, with straight trouser legs,“Kicking Leg”, with one leg bent, “Jump“, with both legs above the ground, and “Relaxed“, with legs crossed. Kelm thus energizes the dungarees and elevates them to a living symbol of a movement which demands our attention and must not be reduced to the status of a showcase relic condemned to solitary silence. 

Kelm questions in her works the possibilities and modes of representation. The rooms of the Auswärtiges Amt, too, are imbued with a representative function. The presentation of Annette Kelm’s photographs in these ‘official’ rooms therefore achieves an especially stimulating reciprocal effect. The works set up a dialogue that allows us to see the furniture and interior design not only in formal-aesthetic categories but as repositories of culture and history constitutive of meaning. The works were selected for the Auswärtiges Amt with a view to reflecting this. To revert briefly once more to the topic of arrangement: in Annette Kelm’s work, arrangement is shown to be not only a device of pictorial composition, but a synopsis of social and cultural history.

Text: Kristina Schrei