Hortensia Mi Kafchin. Death Is Not a Piece of Cake

15 Feb 2020 – 11 Apr 2020

Regular hours

11:00 – 18:00
11:00 – 18:00
11:00 – 18:00
11:00 – 18:00
11:00 – 18:00

Save Event: Hortensia Mi Kafchin. Death Is Not a Piece of Cake4

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Galerie Judin

Berlin, Germany

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2015 was an important water­shed in the life and work of Hort­ensia Mi Kafchin (*1986 in Galați, Roma­nia).


 It was the year the artist, who grew up in a male body with the name Mihuț Boșcu Kafchin, declared her trans­sexu­al­ity and began the lengthy pro­cess of tran­si­tion­ing. First, she short­ened her name to the gen­der-neu­tral Mi Kafchin. Then in 2019 she chose her new female forename, borrowed from the Roma­nian poet Hort­ensia Papa­dat-Bengescu (1876—1955).

The chal­leng­ing steps in this tran­si­tion came along­side a change in her artis­tic practice. Kafchin, who had been exper­i­ment­ing with differ­ent mate­r­i­als for some years and exe­cuted most of her paint­ings on unusual sup­ports, grad­u­ally turned to the tra­di­tional canvas, while her palette became markedly brighter. In 2016 and 2017 a flurry of small formats reflected the emo­tional rollercoaster that the artist was expe­r­i­enc­ing at the time. Since then, the paint­ings have grown in size and intensi­fied in color, and in them Kafchin has addressed the many-faceted ques­tions and hopes that have accompa­nied her self-real­iza­tion. She impres­sively builds bridges between the tra­di­tional and the con­tem­po­rary: In terms of technique and com­po­si­tion, these paint­ings could hardly be more clas­sical, but their themes and urgency are hard to match for con­tem­po­rary rel­evance. These works tell compelling sto­ries, demon­s­trat­ing just how pow­erful and rel­evant fig­u­ra­tive paint­ing can be in our times.

With the four larger paint­ings in this exhi­bi­tion, her sec­ond at Galerie Judin, Kafchin symbol­ically pays trib­ute to her recent per­sonal devel­op­ment. The pre­lude is Social Anxi­ety. It is a self-por­trait, with the artist con­ceal­ing her face whilst trying to escap­ing from an aggres­sive flock of winged eye­balls. Flee­ing is futile, how­ever: Clouds coa­lesce into gap­ing, grimac­ing faces and darken the sky, her body has been sev­ered in the mid­dle by a fly­ing sawblade—and the next step leads down into the abyss. This is Kafchin’s mer­ci­less resumé of the last few years. The first major steps of her tran­si­tion had not led to the longed-for freedom and light­heart­ed­ness. She was par­alyzed by a feel­ing of not liv­ing up to her own expecta­tions or those of other people. In the paint­ing Ana Aslan, Kafchin again addresses this dark side of her self-lib­er­a­tion. It describes the dou­ble fear of hav­ing missed out on her own youth and now, as a “sec­ond youth” emerges, find­ing her­self ambushed and held back by age­ing. Kafchin tackles this dilemma in the form of a mod­ern myth. The face sus­pended in space is that of the Roma­nian doctor Ana Aslan who, in the 1970s, caused an interna­tional sen­sa­tion with a ther­apy designed to slow down the age­ing pro­cess. Many celebri­ties under­took the pilgrim­age to her institute in Bucharest, among them Salvador Dalí, Mar­lene Diet­rich, Indira Gandhi, and Mao Zedong. Kafchin por­trays Aslan as a bringer of light who sees off the per­son­i­fica­tion of death trying to enter top right. The Blood Count­ess I is a more dras­tic interpreta­tion of this long­ing for eternal youth. It depicts the Hungar­ian count­ess Elis­a­beth Báthory, who was con­demned to death as a ser­ial mur­derer in 1611 and became the stuff of leg­ends. Báthory was said to have lured a dozen young girls into her cas­tle, tor­tured them to death, and taken a bath in their blood in order to remain eternally young.

After these two ambiva­lent works, in which Kafchin addresses her hopes and fears about her sec­ond youth in equal measure, the last of these large pie­ces fea­tures a bearer of hope in the shape of a bold and eye-catch­ing ani­mal. Elaga­balus’ Lover por­trays the for­mer slave Hie­rocles, who as a char­i­o­teer in the Cir­cus Maximus won the atten­tion and the heart of the Roman emperor Elaga­bal—prob­a­bly the first trans­gen­der per­son ever to head a state. Hie­rocles became the lover and favorite of the incom­pe­tent emperor. Their liai­son wrote history: An allegedly “per­verse” sexu­al­ity dovetailed with polit­ical power to symbol­ize deca­dence in Late Rome. Kafchin under­mines this narra­tive by plac­ing a rainbow-col­ored horse burst­ing with energy and joie de vivre between the char­i­o­teer and the mon­arch on the tri­bune. It reminds us of the famous por­trait of the racehorse Whis­tlejacket (ca. 1762) by George Stubbs, one of the mas­ter­pie­ces in London’s National Gallery. This rep­re­senta­tion of a strong crea­ture unre­strained by civ­i­liza­tion’s pressures became an icon of British Romanticism. Kafchin has cre­ated a twenty-first-century counterpart: Her splen­did rainbow horse is brimming over with pride, queer self-asser­tion, and emancipa­tion. It eas­ily dom­inates the great stage of the Cir­cus Maximus. As an opti­mistic antipode to Social Anxi­ety this paint­ing completes the spectrum of Kafchin’s large formats. It is a kind of tal­is­man for the final step in Kafchin’s self-real­iza­tion, taking on the pub­lic and any mor­al­izing expres­sions of reac­tion­ary views.

Kafchin’s sensual updates of mytho­log­ical and histor­ical themes not only invite us to ques­tion habit­ual read­ings of the past and pre­sent. With these mon­u­mental paint­ings the artist has forged a new genre. Tra­di­tions of art history, narra­tives passed down the cen­turies, and progres­sive social demands conflu­ence in Kafchin’s idiosyn­cratic repertoire of motifs to take history paint­ing in a new direc­tion: Kafchin’s works are the foun­da­tions of Queer History Paint­ing.

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Hortensia Mi Kafchin


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