Considering the body as a carrier of symbols and subjectivity over history.
The first thing one sees, walking up to Mariechen Danz’s first floor studio in a for- mer factory complex in Kreuzberg, is a well- muscled young chap posing upside down in a window frame in the stairwell. “oh, I see you’ve met the acrobats,” Mariechen greets me. She is many things – a latter-day anthropologist, a performance artist, singer with unMAP and above all, an effusive, erudite Dublin girl with oodles of charm and some enviably complicated strappy sandals.
Her studio is bursting at the seams: one wall is covered with a blackboard featuring chalk drawings of skulls and hands, a rack crammed with performance costumes separates a bed from the remainder of the room, a schoolroom anatomy model perches on the desk. “I’m living in my studio at the moment”. She has been here, she says, ever since moving to Berlin in 1998.
Through her performances, installations and sculptures, Danz investigates the themes of knowledge and knowledge transferral, of hierarchies and forgotten histories. To her, these are narratives and ways of depicting the world that have been overwritten, such as the language glyphs of Mesoamerican cultures. The artists used images of fragmented body parts to communicate geographical relationships and situations between people. Umbilical cords linking figures signify a relationship of food provision, she explains. Central to her work is the investigation of documenting or communicating knowledge outside Western canonical histories, which were used by societies (such as the Mesoamericans) for thousands of years but have been disregarded. “They’ve been destroyed or described as ‘primitive’ or as ‘other’, but they are worth think- ing about in different ways. To me the body is the first and only thing that we have, and there are so many different cultures, and time periods that physically use the body, and that’s where I have to go to find out why. Why was the body fragmented and used in maps?” she asks.
She introduces me to the objects inhabiting her warehouse studio in a rapid, rhythmic, lilting patter. “That’s the Statue of Gesticulation,” she says, showing me a large, stumpy, grey statue covered in hands. “I use my pieces again and again, until I’ve worked out what I want to do with them. In the performance ‘un-un-learning’, he didn’t communicate with me, so I knew I had to do something with him again.
She is currently part of a group-show at the Kunsthaus Bregenz, where she is showing alongside Isa Genzken and Hans Haacke, among others. “I’m showing coins with earth pedestals, imprinted with the anatomy of a heart, and a skull. The heart was to think about emotions – they [the Bregenz curators] came to me with an idea for the show, ‘liebe ist kälter als das Kapital’ [love is Colder than Capital] and our conversation was about the manipulation and the level at which our subjectivity and our value system is now an emotional one. It’s an emotional economy, and our emotions are manipulated,” she says.
The costumes all have the same shape, a dumpy, large torsoed version of a human body. “The body shape is based on flaying skins. It made the most sense for me, thinking about the body as a carrier of symbols, a carrier of subjectivity over history, they’re called “Common Carrier Case,” she says. one of the costumes consists of woven tubes of satin, glistening in blood red and skin tones. “They represent guts, and the costume was part of a performance. I was thinking about the hierarchy of the body and the brain as the place of knowledge and perception and digestion. I’ve been working on the history of anatomy for years”.
Then she turns back to her costumes and figures, lost in thought.
Text by Jeni Fulton