Christiane Fichtner

Archivtexte Archivtext Februar 2006
      ¬ Anna Sophie Howoldt, Berlin
      ¬ Translation Michelle Miles, Freiburg
      ¬ Staged Identity

      ¬ deutsch ::: english


The biographies of the artist Christiane Fichtner are like the pages of an index listing the possible turns her life could have taken. The word 'biography' comes from the Greek word bios for 'life' and gráphein for 'to write', 'describe', 'inscribe' or 'illustrate'. It refers to the act of expressing life in written form: the documentation of the chronology of encounters, achievements and experiences. When we read a biography, an image of the person develops and forms in our minds. This exhibit offers us nine versions of one life in writing and appearance. The texts and the accompanying life-size portraits complement each other in the message they convey. The biographies are written either as tables or as short narratives. They all begin somewhere else – the place of birth: Tübingen, Reykjavik, Essen, Milford Haven, a small nameless town, Paderborn – and represent the different lives of the artist.

Along with the fact that Christiane Fichtner is an artist today, the only other reliable constant in all of the biographies is the date of birth. These constants are also the only binding details and necessary requirements the artist gave the authors. It is not the artist herself who writes the biographies, indulging in the play of possibilities and masquerades of an invented past. Instead, the artist asked others to create a biography for her and to write it down. Costume and fashion designers then developed the matching clothes to give the biographies contour.

In the final step, Christiane Fichtner slips into the costume and role of her fictitious identity, and her portrait is taken by different photographers, who portray her according to their own interpretation. The artist becomes an actor of the identity created for her. She exchanges her own role for a new role of herself. In her costume made of pictorial and written elements, the artist performs nine different identities, striking a pose that matches the imagined. She imitates the invented identity and uses it as if it were her real self. Each new biography that was written specifically for her covers the old one and seems to become her "own". The identity performances come to represent the tension between how we perceive ourselves and how we are perceived by others. How do we describe an artist? How do we see her, or imagine her to be?

Since Giorgio Vasari (1568 The Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects), artists' biographies have been written and viewed as being relevant for the perception of art works. Who is the artist? When was she born? Where did she live and go to school? In such personal details and in the artist's biography can be found the traces that appear necessary for the rational understanding of her work. In this sense, the artworks play with the expectations of the viewer, who looks for connections between the artwork and the artist's biography. This series of portraits shows just how different the image developing out of the few bits of information about the artist can be. Doubt about the significance of biographical data becomes apparent. It is the images we form of people in our minds, and not "real" identity, that is the artist's main interest.

This series shows a searching for the vague, latent pictures in our imagination. Was it possible that the biographers were influenced by such ideas they have in their minds about the myth of the artist? We do find the repeated motifs of travel, change and movement in the biographies – a straight, onward-leading path is lacking. The résumés are characterized by breaks, the need for freedom, unconventional decisions and contrastive behavior. Study travels are classic examples of the education and development canon. Breaking with tradition - looking for exhilaration – unconventionality – being an outsider are all part of a pattern of existence that has been associated with being an artist since modernism.

The alignment and repetition of the portraits encourage viewers to draw comparisons. In the photographs there is one person, who is always someone else. Through the clothing, styling, poses, gestures and facial expressions, the artist transforms into another self in front of the camera. Some of the clothing is either a giveaway for where she is from, or it looks like it belongs to a decade in the late 20th century, or it is haute couture. The costumes in general lean toward unconventional and individual ways of dressing, and a distinct style can be seen in many of the fashion attributes.

The portrait taken in front of the studio backdrop with African motifs presents Christiane Fichtner as an artist living in London and occasionally working as a fashion and portrait photographer. The skirt suit she is wearing has vertical stripes on a black background, a high neck and a straight, close cut, emphasizing her upright, disciplined posture. The distinct sense of strictness is countered by an opulent hair style that shows signs of having been braided. This is a hint of at artist's fascination for the braiding techniques of Kenyan women. The red hair and the puffed wrap of the scarf remind us of the style associated with the British designer Vivienne Westwood. The attire gives us a sense of strictness and strength of will, but also of extravagance and a sensitive personality.

Another portrait shows a completely different Christiane Fichtner. Instead of standing in front of an artificial picture of nature this time, she is crouching in a tree. Each individual element of her outfit symbolizes personal memories. The pants, which are the same as those worn in the Indian city of Ashram, are a reminder of her trip to India. The biking shoes and reflector bands hint at a possible bike trip in the near future. Topping off the casual sports attire, she is wearing striking red earrings and a lady-like hat; accessories with their own stories and memories that have special meaning for the wearer. The clothes she is wearing are "materialized memories", woven with souvenirs of the past.

It is important for the concept of this artwork that the process of its development is broken up and that the perspectives and interpretations of different people mix and overlap to create a multifaceted spectrum of imaginary identities for the artist Christiane Fichtner. The authors, costume designers and photographers are allowed to have an influence on the artist's work. The artist uses the perception, perspective and design of each person involved as a tool for working on the materials – which is her identity. The process is triggered by the artist, who is fully aware that she will not have full control over how it develops. In her double role as director and leading actress, the artist produces, acts out, and becomes part of the product itself, all in one.

What at first appears to be a paradox in reality reflects the social interaction that defines our image and the image we have of ourselves. Self-perception occurs through reflecting on how others perceive us. When interacting socially, the anticipation of and consideration for the other's perspective has a forming, or even deforming, effect on people. Whether or not traces from the artist's real life are mixed in with the life of the fictitious doppelgänger-existence remains a mystery to the viewer. We can no longer find the line separating reality from fiction, for the image created by Christiane Fichtner is so realistic that it can be easily mistaken for reality. What is and will remain uncertain is who she is, which image "equals" the artist, because who she is has been invented and still is present in our minds.

In its leading up to this important question, the artist's play with the possibility of acquiring several identities becomes an artistic strategy. The identities are fabricated, the biographies fictitious – a contradiction that is part of the artist's tactics. The artist appears to be putting herself on display in the portraits, but instead they are portraits of role play – and her own role is fiction. The self-identical portrait is an effective optical illusion, again and again. The dates, facts and photographs are assumed to have an immanent element of truth. A person is verified through the picture and document, they are proof of identity. The biography and the visualization of the person in the portrait would appear as fact if we didn't know about the game of mimicry being played. The picture and description of the artist's life are no longer unique because they have been manipulated and copied, and can therefore no longer claim to be authentic. We are no longer certain of having "one" biography. Biography no longer appears static, or set, instead it seems almost arbitrary, always depending on the perspective taken. There isn't just one truth – many truths are allowed and the idea of one true and correct variation discarded. The acting out and the replication of identity stands for the denouncement of the assumption that the ego is an indivisible unit (see Matthias Mühling: Selbst, Inszeniert. Hamburg 2004, p. 9).

The artist consequently takes over "her own" biography by actually appropriating the life histories. Through her external identity, Christiane Fichtner is able to change into another Christiane Fichtner for a short time. The fictitious doppelgängers impose themselves on the public image of her real existence. She uses another identity to experiment with reality and explore reactions and consequences. We are immediately reminded of the original when looking at the deception, our awareness is heightened. Our attention is stimulated by the illusion. The acting out of different roles and working with self-portraits is a typical pattern used by artists to portray themselves. The series of picture portraits reminds us of other artworks, such as the portrait series by the American artist Cindy Sherman, or Sophie Call, who had herself followed. Cindy Sherman is known for her self-portraits, in which she usually stages a prominent picture of a person as a paradigm for everyday role-playing and role-changing. At the core of their work, in their transformations and observational studies, all of these artists are concerned with the question of the portrayal and description of the female artist - with themselves as artists. There is something shared in the approach and formal aesthetics of these works, yet there is also something completely different. Cindy Sherman's portraits should always be seen in the context of the art world, as adaptations of "model images".

Christiane Fichtner has her own style that gives the impression that she is testing the fine line between reality and fiction. The portraits invite us to reflect on our own identity. As portraits of fictitious roles, the biographies are a disguised form of self-representation. By utilizing the perception of others to portray herself in her artworks, the artist incorporates a form of fictitious self-representation and of self-portraits that reflects self-perception via the perspective of others. The artist herself becomes the surface for projecting an imagined picture of her fictitious portrait. Therefore, facets of projection, fantasy, role image, the self and the other are mixed together in the biographies. The imaginary portraits cannot be located within the definition of one genre; instead performance, portraits of role playing, self-portraits, the portrait as a genre and conceptual art are all mixed together in one complex collage.

The artworks have the character of an aesthetic study of possible forms and variations on the biography of the artist Christiane Fichtner, born in 1974. The exhibit presents the first series of biographies. The nine artworks presented here have been completed since 2004. The tenth is currently being developed, and there are others planned - the project will continue. The life stories and identities will increase and become a collection of different "life concepts" of the artist Christiane Fichtner. Eventually, the collection will form an archive. This working strategy may be found in all of Christiane Fichtner's artworks. Instead of a singular and defined point of view, it is the multitude of perspectives, the various questions, and the different facets of an object that characterize her artistic work. The series Biography opens up a number of references and levels. Questions asked may go unanswered, but the answer might already be in the asking. Questioning is a strategy of understanding, and within the artworks' suggested diversity and potential for change, we may already find an answer to the question of identity.



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