Denise Blickhan in conversation with Boris Magrini
Boris Magrini: Denise, you are currently showing your work MEDUSA Cycle 2022 at HEK. It’s a body of work that you have been developing for a couple of years now. I am curious for you to tell us what is to see in the exhibition for our public that hasn’t been able to visit yet.
Denise Blickhan: I am a multimedia artist, so you when you visit you’ll see different forms of media blended together. There’s a large photographic print on the floor fused with a pole as well as screens showing a variety of independent video works and video documentation. There are also large photo printed objects displayed around the space. The whole aesthetic of the MEDUSA Cycle 2022 is centred around my face and my body. I am depicting and trying to create an ego-centric cosmos, that reflects our social media culture and the power of images, to be broad.
BM: In quite a lot of your videos you use filters. This has become a kind of trope in our digital culture on Instagram and TikTok. How important is the culture around social networks in your work and how do you describe your relationship to this culture?
DB: Very ambiguous. My initial feeling about social media is not a good one. I also think it can be very dangerous to the individual and also to society. I initially went on social media as research for my performances, because the topic of this work is so much about the power of the gaze and of images. Today, in social media culture there’s an interesting shift. We are producing ourselves as images, we are treating ourselves as images. This is a very powerful and fundamental thing. There have been multiple studies on this, that social media is not that good psychologically speaking for many individuals.
BM: This brings us to discuss a bit more deeply the content of your work. You have created this ego-centric universe, which is addressing stereotypes of the female body by playing and exploring different roles, especially those that are expected of women. Can you tell us more about this and how you select the roles that you perform in the work?
DB: I try to work with archetypes that are relevant to me. Though, at the same time it’s not a biography. I try to find where my personal story is relevant to contemporary society. Then I dive into this archetype. I don’t think social media is only a bad thing, there are some good aspects to it. But, I have this personal fear about the portrayal of the female image or roles. Especially, with their links to history and how present these are still today. My work is putting all of this into question.
BM: This is something that really struck me when I first saw your performance, it’s very powerful when you’re on stage. You have a really charismatic presence, but it is also clear that you are discussing these stereotypes through your acting. Can you tell us about a couple of the roles you play?
DB: I play the Child and the Goddess, which you can hear in the installation soundscape and in the performance. Then there is also the Madonna, the holy woman, and the Whore, thematisising the Madonna-Whore complex. Then there is also the Beauty and the Monster. These are the most prevalent.
BM: Text appears to be quite important in your work, such as obey and destroy and I am because I am gazed upon. There is a bit of ambiguity in these statements, how does the text compliment the visual aspects of your work?
DB: There are different kind of texts, obey and destroy is very much monosyllabic, very short. It’s like a pop song lyric, open to much interpretation. I am because I am gazed upon refers more to the conceptual background about the power of images. It is important to me to include them because without the words I’m not sure the other conceptual levels will be communicated.
BM: You study Philosophy and Visual Science in Vienna and Fine Arts in Weimar. How important is philosophy for you and are there contemporary philosophers that informed your work?
DB: From contemporary philosophy there is nothing actually. The philosophers that have influenced me the most are Plato and Kant. I would also like to add a non-philosopher who is very important to me in this context: Carl Gustav Jung. His theory has influenced me a lot on conceptualising my work.
BM: So, you are also very interested in psychology, how the mind functions and the archetypes since you refer to Jung?
DB: Yes, but Jung is more than just the archetypes. He did these whole cultural studies. It’s a broad field and I’m interested in this link to society, people and those generic pictures that exist everywhere. They are intriguing theories.
BM: How long do you plan to keep working on the MEDUSA Cycle? Do you see other roles coming in and expanding further?
DB: I think I will stay with this topic for quite some time. It feels like a huge dark extra-terrestrial rock floating in space and with each performance I am just putting a small spotlight on a microscopic field on this huge rock. There are still many spots to look at. I work a lot with female images because I am a woman, but the central topic is how we submit willingly under images and so it’s pretty open to other gender stereotypes.
BM: Are there other works and cycles that you are working on right now?
DB: I want to stay with MEDUSA until it feels finished. I am exploring the power and impact of digital aesthetics on the female. We have so many young girls who go to surgeons with their digitally beautified selfies to look like their selfie ego. The people that use social media get younger and younger. Kids and children are growing up with these aesthetics, like huge eyes, small nose, big lips – this infantilising and simultaneously sexualising aesthetic of the female face. We also have this same topic with regard to the body with the breasts and the middle areas, for example. I want to dive deeper because I think it’s a very huge and important topic that needs to be explored through art more.
BM: Thank you Denise for this discussion, your presence and your work. I want to remind the public that your work is on display at HEK until the 1st of January 2023 as part of the «Performing Traces- Regionale 23».