With works by Aambulanz-Kollektiv:
Michel Castaignet, Kathrin Landa, Florence Obrecht, Axel Pahlavi, Alexej Tchernyi, Alex Tennigkeit und Wu Zhi
Curated by Katharina Schilling
„I found it hard, it’s hard to find. Oh well, whatever, never mind.“ With these lyrics Kurt Cobain described the search for identity of adolescents and young adults in the early 1990s. A theme that also artistically preoccupies the members of the Aambulanz collective, Michel Castaignet, Kathrin Landa, Florence Obrecht, Axel Pahlavi, Alexej Tchernyi, Alex Tennigkeit and Wu Zhi.
The Aambulanz collective was founded in 2020, in the first year of the still ongoing Corona pandemic, to make a statement against the isolation and dreariness of the new artists‘ everyday life. Bound by friendship and collegiality, they seek to initiate exhibition projects and encourage each other in their individual art making, which never has to be artistically subordinate to the collective. The fact that most of the artists in the collective are painters played a minor role in the founding idea. The collaboration includes both the joint exhibition of their personal works and the production of joint artworks in a division-of-labour process.
All members of the Aambulanz collective share a common interest in human beings. Their inner life, their place in society, their visions, their doubts and (failed) hopes, as well as a preference for the figurative and representational, for the exploration of the counterpart in the portrait, for the artistic examination of one’s own person in the self-portrait. A fundamental fascination of the group for capturing fragile states of mind is palpable. The desire to unite the oscillation between different feelings in a portrait. The portraits are intricately composed and combine old master painting techniques with the photorealism of new media. Viewers may discover iconographic elements of the biblical story in the works as well as references to pop cultural phenomena of our time.
Another unifying element of the internationally composed Aambulanz collective is that they all experienced their formative teenage years in the late 1980s and earlier 1990s. A time when MTV was founded, US-American series and movies became popular, neon colors succeeded and Kurt Cobain became the face of the grunge movement. It was a time when the last young people grew up without the constant use of computers and cell phones.
For the exhibition „Back to the Future“, just like teenager Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett L. „Doc“ Brown in the legendary fiction film trilogy of the same name, „Back to the Future,“ the collective’s members embark on a journey through time that takes them to both the past and the future.
As in the first part of the film trilogy, the artists first beam themselves back about 30 years for the collective work created for the exhibition at Kunstverein Markdorf and confront the visitors with an installation of teenage self-portraits. Shy, gentle, self-confident, they look at the viewers head-on or in three-quarter profile, gazing at the ground or fixing their opposite with their chin up. We meet seven young people who still have the majority of their lives ahead of them, who are curious about what may yet come. In terms of exhibition dramaturgy, this installation acts as a kind of prologue, as a preface that tunes in to the theme of the exhibition – adolescence, growing up. In addition, all the artists of the collective show children’s and youth portraits that have been created in recent years.
Michel Castaignet (*1971) mostly uses discovered photographic templates from which he composes his paintings. For two of the works shown here, the artificial intelligence Dall-e provided the template for what his teenage years in the 1990s might have looked like. This resulted in the paintings of a sad girl and a rave party scene.
In her works, Kathrin Landa (*1980) concentrates primarily on modeling the faces of the portrayed girls and boys through refined play of light with great craftsmanship. In front of mostly monochrome backgrounds, she stages her models with an expressive gaze, often depicting them with animals, following the tradition of saint symbolism.
Florence Obrecht (*1976) combines tradition and modernity in her portraits of children and young adults in an extremely exciting and idiosyncratic way. Executed in the manner of the old masters, with a fondness for floral decoration and adapting famous images from art history, in her paintings we encounter people in neon-colored sneakers, sportswear, Lidl shorts and hula hoops as accessories of the 80s.
Axel Pahlavi (*1975) exemplarily captures in his black-and-white painting of a young man sitting on an armchair the heaviness and disorientation of the teenage years through his gaze and posture. Pahlavi often uses the figure of the clown to depict the sadness behind the heavily made-up faces. Pahlavi’s paintings usually evade concrete spatial location and can be read like dream sequences in which blurred areas alternate with figurative-realist elements.
Alexei Tchernyi (*1976) is the only non-painting artist of the Aambulanz collective. Instead of a brush, he uses various scalpel-like tools to work on the paper layers of a sheet in such a way that a relief barely visible to the naked eye emerges. Held in front of a light source, however, the thinner layers of paper become more luminous and stand out against the thicker and thus darker ones. The result is a chiaroscuro reminiscent of Rembrandt, which masterfully illuminates the finely modeled faces.
Alex Tennigkeit (*1976) presents the large-format painting of a boy with visibly running blood vessels, who connects with the baroque-like staged blood-red fireball as the sun god Helios. The „Ninjago“ shorts and the Pokémon placed at his feet complement the cosmic image to a personally coded symbol. In other depictions of young women shown in the exhibition, she deals with the selfie culture in social media as well as with foreign and self-perception.
The children and adolescents depicted by Wu Zhi (*1972) appear androgynous in classical poses in three-quarter profile with hands placed on top of each other and historical-looking headdresses, as attractive angels, masked, as allegories or Rückenfigur. Her classical painting technique, which is particularly evident in the modeling of the faces, the elaboration of light reflections and cast shadows as well as in the execution as tondi, meets modern representational elements.
Frequently, the models of the artists of the Aambulanz collective are their own children and the adolescents whose future the members of the collective are most concerned about. But it is noticeable in the portraits that it is not only about the mere depiction of certain people. How are children today? What does it feel like to be a teenager today? What is the effect of the omnipresence of photography and being photographed? Was it really a more carefree time 30 years ago? The exhibition asks big questions and shows great pictures – the answers are yet to come.