Exhibition opening: Friday, 2 May 2014, 18:00 – 22:00
Exhibiton: until 12 July 2014
extended to August 9
Special opening times Berlin Gallery Weekend 2014: Saturday and Sunday 11:00 – 18:00

Assessing the Gaze

Which attributes render a woman dangerous? Does an armed woman in a world traditionally governed by male hero figures possess the same degree of dangerousness as an armed man? Do the same insignia of power and assertiveness of the opposite sex also apply to women? With her series “Women Are Different From Men” and “The Eight Most Wanted Women”, Brigitte Zieger presents two panoramas of dangerous female figures, which will be on show at the Heinz-Martin Weigand Gallery from May 2nd, 2014 onwards.

It is female soldiers, revolutionaries, cowgirls and amazons, whom Brigitte Zieger depicts in her series “Women Are Different From Men” (2011-). They all carry colts, revolvers or rifles and can make decisions regarding life or death with their weapons. If they are loaded, that is. Because, really, does that female soldier not actually appear a bit lost in her heavy combat uniform, do the elderly housewives not seem rather absurd in their dogged attempts at focusing on a target far away from the observer? The only thing that his loaded is the pin-ups made to look sexy who, provocatively, invite the viewer to look as far down their cleavage as the muzzle of their weapons. Granting the photographic examples collated by Brigitte Zieger and turned into prints already show us an image a far cry from the “dangerous” woman, the artist exaggerates this impression further by her use of colours. All the portraits have been reworked using eye shadow whose colour determines the colour design of the prints. Glitter is used as an ironic highlight, signifying the graciously feminine and seductively sparkly aspect of a female cliché.

The series “The Eight Most Wanted Women” from 2012 references Andy Warhol’s “The Thirteen Most Wanted Men” from 1964. Warhol had blown up mug shots of male criminals on the FBI’s most wanted list using silkscreen prints. However, whereas here the printing technique, as well as the coarse mesh of the screens, carries the dehumanisation of those wanted persons to extremes, Brigitte Zieger all but reverses the process: The mug shots of the women intended to be sentenced are carefully executed drawings whose feminine presence is brought to the fore or rather exaggerated through the use of gently iridescent eye shadow and sparkling glitter. Although not necessarily flattering, the policy photographs of the wanted women show faces, which may appear at times attractive, romantic, provocative. Boosted by these cosmetic ‘adornments’, the depiction of the dangerous female criminals are reinterpreted as traditional portraits of women. In doing so, do they lose their explosive nature? Is this how they are relieved of their power as individuals who pose a threat to society? Either way: These women were extremely sought-after by the FBI.

Incidentally: Over the years there were only eight women the almost 500 criminals wanted by the FBI; the first was Ruth Eiseman in 1968, accused of abduction. After her came women like Angela Davis, Katherine Power, Susan Saxe and Donna Willmott who were wanted due to politically motivated offences – fighting for the rights of America’s African-American population or protesting against the Vietnam War.
Is the viewer of Brigitte Zieger’s series really confronting a line of dangerous women? Or, quite the contrary, does the gaze of the viewer, the ‘male gaze’ onto the traditional image of women, not actually function as a means of intimidation?In the traditional world of ideas shaped by heroic actions of men, a woman with a gun simply does not seem as threatening.

The deictic act of the “dangerous woman” does not afford the viewer any peace of mind. However, the outcome is never moralising. What makes Brigitte Zieger’s works so powerful is that she cultivates this ambivalence. The game is changed through the perversion of systems which it calls into action and deconstructs. Consequently, the feminism which it is based on does not exist thanks to a binary, male opposition but rather thanks to the analysis of the systems of power, the acceptance of the role allocation into those who are ruling and those who are being ruled. To this end Zieger has selected the motifs and means of waging wars. Her banners floating in the summer sky bear messages (Détournement, 2010) which are dragged by helicopters or planes which, for their part, were involved in battles (between regular forces or terrorists).
The portentous use of the one contrasts with the entertaining intended use of the other, while the messages, which have been drawn from famous works by Mario Merz, Valie Export or Wolf Vostell, are transformed by the militarily maritime way in which they are staged. I Am Still Alive, an idiomatic turn of phrase by On Kawara, conveys a completely different perspective when being dragged by a helicopter. Its interpretation is up to the beholder. Even though the “Passionaria” takes a pistol from her slip and points it at the viewer, her motivation remains ambiguous. Be it punishment or revenge, it is down to the beholder to consider himself a victim or, in case of doubt, to rule in favour of the attacker, to afford her the right of defending herself.

Text: Regina Bärthel
Translation: Alison Shamrock