Notes to Self
Desire and doubt, lust and frustration, joy and anxiety, the professional and personal ambitions of being an artist and a woman are the main drives behind Halina Kliem’s work, whether it is two- or three-dimensional, image- or text-based. The stories that are told are often fragmentary, they unfold in front of our eyes, allowing leaps and corrections, trials and variations. Working with photography, film, video, sound, neon, found object assemblage, silkscreen, and writing, often in series, the artist stages moments of serendipity infused with a shot of melancholy. Her Still Life assemblages often shift between the three-dimensional, sculptural object and the photographic depiction of it. Just like the historic genre of still life painting, they seem like contemporary memento mori, capturing the moment after the party, when the drinks are finished and leftovers encounter the light of a new day: faux sang-stained cocktail glasses, squashed beverage cans, a rose in a plastic bottle. Despite their suggested narrative and semi-accidental appearance, the digitally assembled photographs and works on film, often employing double exposure and montage, are sensual compositions of colors, shapes, and light, at times dazzling as if wrapped in tinted cellophane.
The formal aspect of composition appears even more refined in the three-dimensional still lives assembled from neglected or household objects, which are carefully arranged and balanced like delicate flower bouquets: an oversized key ring with a pair of purple gloves around which a green phone-charger cable is draped, and an empty packet of airwave chewing gum placed upon; a tripod holding palm leaves combined with a black energy drink can and half a lime. In other of these sculptural settings, Halina Kliem uses plaster casts – of beverage cans, bottles or glasses – next to the ready-made objects, adds a layer of gold, pastel color or deco foil, to conflate the shifting realities of the found and the artificial. When these “still lives” are photographed in carefully staged variations of lighting, printed in chromogenic print on uncoated paper and framed, they may be hung on the wall or as well become part of yet another three-dimensional arrangement. The working process is fluid, going back and forth between the object and its image.
Another body of work consists of set-like installations that combine profane materials, photocopied images or texts and sound/video around themes of dance, theater, and performance. Often inspired by historical anecdotes such as the short affair of Auguste Rodin and the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky as his model, or Bertold Brecht’s encounter with the Peking Opera, these narratives become twisted with autobiographical moments, reflecting on questions about the reciprocal attraction of dance and sculpture, of impulsive expression versus abstract form in avant-garde theater, and in more general terms, on the interplay of felt emotion and performance, desire and seduction.
Halina Kliem’s loose way of storytelling is influenced by the “diary films” of Jonas Mekas, Jenny Holzer’s use of words and text, the stagings of Frances Stark, or the “writing about writing” of James Baldwin. Her scribbled or type-written text works and text-based videos mimic the form of private journals and deal with questions of authenticity, artistic ideation, and the everyday condition of “being”. Catchy slogans like “Free&Easy, Aufstand (revolt)”, “Scheiss auf Selbstreflexion (Fuck Self-reflection)”, or the profane “Gasag bezahlen (pay the gas bill)” are hand-drawn and then silkscreened on signal colors as blown-up “Notes to Self”. In the moving image works, the text appears to be typed in real time in front of a monochrome background, a bit like text messaging, sometimes going back to induce changes and corrections. They provide glimpses into intimate thoughts, fears, and the everyday struggles of an artist’s or freelancer’s life: inner battles with self-organization and time-management, reminders to pay bills and keep deadlines, financial and technical obstructions, the need to stay focused and be productive, the welcome distraction of going to others’ openings, the fear of missing out, complicated relationships, the often-agonizing working process. Much of this sounds too familiar, while some lines remain obscure and mysterious. Halina Kliem leaves us in doubt if it is actually her own voice and her personal struggles that we get to witness, or if the sources of the texts are sampled, second-hand variations of artistic clichés. They might be both.
Eva Scharrer, 2019