Jan-Philipp Fruehsorge

It was long said of the art of EVA & ADELE that they were joined to their works by a mimetic relationship, and that the distinctive, universally known appearance of the ubiquitously operating pair always had to be reflected in their images. In other words, they themselves were a work of art – and there were no works of art of their own creation in which they did not appear. Ever since their early video work ‘Hellas’ (1989), a documentary about their artistic self-realization, EVA & ADELE’s universe of images has revolved around the characters of EVA & ADELE themselves by constantly generating new ‘self-images’. They used Polaroids and other photographs as patterns for their drawings and paintings. However, although the general reception of their work mainly focused on their public performances and photos, and subsequently their resulting paintings, EVA & ADELE have always drawn. When asked what the medium of drawing meant to them, they replied that it was one of the most important parts of their artistic existence and production. For them, drawing is the centre of gravity; it is a place of self-assurance, questioning and experimentation. Drawing is both a visual accelerant and a retardant, a source of contemplation and an oasis of calm where they can be their normal selves. It’s the place where ideas are formulated, where questions of form are resolved, and where the circle that began with public appearances is completed. Yet drawing also has another function for EVA & ADELE. In a sense it’s also an indispensable planning tool for their everyday activities by helping them to structure the sartorial style used in their performances. The meticulous costume plans in graphite and red crayon containing detailed instructions concerning dresses, underwear, jewellery and accessories is something akin to the musical score of each of their performances, since it’s another way of documenting and archiving them alongside photography. These costume plans have a similar function to sculptural drawings and in some examples possess the same quality, too. They record a journey, form an artistic itinerary, and are a constant travel companion. “Especially when we’re travelling, drawing is for us a way of withdrawing from the public eye and also a means to fathom the ‘foreign parts’ inside us by exploring the foreign parts we see around us.”1 Elsewhere we learn: “We draw in order to protect ourselves, but also to find out where we are, and to create a home for ourselves when we’re away from home.”2

EVA & ADELE’s extensive self-portraits were first celebrated by exhibitions at the Sprengel Museum in 1997 and the Nordic Watercolour Museum in 2003. This aspect of EVA & ADELE’s work was also tackled at displays at Salzburg Museum of Modern Art and the Lentos Museum of Modern Art in Linz in 2008 – yet on these occasions there was something different from before. ‘Performative Installation 208’ on a wall 12 metres long combined the familiar self-portraits with works which didn’t contain likenesses of EVA & ADELE: instead, the 208 small drawings framed with lace borders played with vanitas symbols, art history, and fetish and pornographic culture. This flurry of colour3 was something of a ‘Danse Macabre’, a life of extravagance and debauchery encountering an army of skulls, although the memento mori couldn’t be taken too seriously since it was far too quirky, playful and complicit in its ‘lacy underwear’.

Some of the drawings now gathered at Marta Herford, especially the series of drawings ‘Nebelglanz’ (Silver Haze) and ‘Kaktusblüte’ (Cactus Blossom), seem to be reaching out for new horizons, yet also to be scratching at residual motifs which may stem from the early days of their joint work and have accumulated in the sediments of memory.

Notwithstanding the sheer opulence and blaze of shrill pink generally prevailing, these new drawings and collages are an astonishing act of artistic asceticism. EVA & ADELE’s renunciation of their own imago, the proven mantra of the double face, comes as a surprise and is a bold move. EVA & ADELE are changing from conceptual performers who, although they have always produced images and objects, always referred to their own iconic ‘brand’, into seemingly conventional producers. By pulling the safe ground of established iconography from beneath their feet, suddenly they are simply making ‘just’ art like everybody else. Like everybody else? Whereas in their self-portraits based on photographs they tried out different attitudes and styles, 4 whereas courageously they dug up kitsch and trash with their bare hands and jumped double-headstrong into the resulting hole, the stencil-like twin-self also acted as a shield, as conceptual Teflon on which criticism was condemned to roll off like water off a duck’s back. In the drawings not based on photographs, they appear almost naked, exposed and very vulnerable.

The absence of the familiar twins logo in these drawings reveals another expressive gesture not acted out in the performances. Some drawings – graphite on laid paper – seem to have been executed with unabated furore. The ‘Kaktusblüte’ (Cactus Blossom) cycle was produced on the French Isle of Rhé, on Usedom and in Berlin. Erotic flora, botanical sex: much of it looks like a blend of humans and plants, like an Ovid illustration in which the drama of transformation has been purged and replaced by a bizarre humour. Not for nothing are cactus flowers hermaphroditic. Spines, flowers, hairs, tendrils, mouths, eyes. Nature as a mirror of the soul and the lower abdomen. Germination and sprouting are to be seen; enfolding, opening and penetration. And the skulls put in a reappearance, albeit this time without lace borders.

The drawings in the ‘Kaktusblüte’ (Cactus Blossom) series share a morbid, erotically grotesque imagery that humorously cushions the impact, yet can doubtless also be regarded as concealed (?) self-portraits. Interestingly, the cactus motif echoes historical precursors and leads back to a key figure of jet-black Romanticism and proto-surrealist vision: Odilon Redon. His ‘Cactus Man’, a charcoal drawing from 1881, shows a pained, melancholic figure who is also adorned with a crown of thorns. Such Christian pathos doesn’t go so well with EVA & ADELE’s glad tidings: “The smile as a work of FUTURING is intended to be an area which hasn’t been occupied by the traditional Christian story of suffering,” according to a recent interview with EVA & ADELE.5 Yet despite all the happiness displayed, there is always an air of despondency and complex emotional architecture underlying EVA & ADELE’s FUTURING project.

A word appears in the ‘Kaktusblüte’ (Cactus Blossom) drawings which later became the title of a separate series of pictures: ‘Nebelglanz’ (Silver Haze). Like the ‘Kaktusblüte’ (Cactus Blossom), the drawings in this series were created at different places and over a protracted period. Lapping around the dark shiny graphite are areas of crumpled tinfoil. Partly a broken mirror, partly a relief-like structure, they turn the drawings into not so much collages as sculptural and graphic dialogues. This play of materials is augmented by finds from the costume bin in coloured leather. There are echoes of figurative elements, although more reduced than in the ‘Kaktusblüte’ (Cactus Blossom) drawings. The drawings have a calmer form, with some featuring an almost classical design.

Beyond all the gender debates and self-referential discourse, the term ‘Nebelglanz’ (Silver Haze) goes back even further than Redon. Found so inspiring by Jorge Luis Borges because it was such a wonderfully typical German compound word (‘Nebelglanz’), it comes from Goethe’s famous poem ‘To the Moon’ (the latter version from 1789):

Push and vale are filled by thee With a silver haze, And my soul thou hast set free With thy soothing rays.

And thy gentle beams descend Kindly where I go, Like the mild eye of a friend On my joy and woe.

Echoes of the times gone by Tremble through my heart, ‘Twixt delight and grief I ply, Evermore apart.

Dearest river, flow, oh flow! Joy cannot abide. Play and kisses vanished so, Faithfulness beside.

Once – oh, could I but forget! – It was mine: the rare! And it is a torture yet Memories to bear.

River, flow the vale along, Without rest or ease, Murmur, whisper to my song Gentle melodies!

Swelling in the winter night With thy roaring flood, Bubbling in the spring’s delight Over leaf and bud!

Blessed is he who walks apart, Though no hate he bears, Holds a friend within his heart; And with him he shares

All that steals, by men unguessed, Or by men unknown, Through the maze of his own breast In the night alone.6

In these lines, an emphatic view of nature merges with a deeply felt ode to friendship. Perhaps this was the Romantic basis which inspired EVA & ADELE’s FUTURING project. The description of the Romantic body of thought over the centuries contains elements and motifs which can be easily related to EVA & ADELE’s artistic activities. The yearning for the restoration of a lost unity as well as remembrance of harmony and a former state of happiness stem from the Romantic consciousness.7 Like the rose-tinted view of times past, the ‘paradise lost’, the fiction of a future appears as a sphere in which all division seems to have been overcome. The utopian double-self becomes a longed-for vision of the epitome of life and love. EVA & ADELE’s concept of FUTURING hence appears to tie in with the ideals of the Romantics, whose “quest was intended to oppose the disenchanted world of secularization” – a triumph over the reality principle.8

As Paolo Bianchi wrote: “In this sense, the artistic character of EVA & ADELE is not so much a postmodern schizophrenic subject as a Romantic double.”9 In EVA & ADELE’s self-fiction and self-definition,10 this means a unity of souls comprising two bodies which transcends art and life, and which undermines and overcomes all gender boundaries and role constraints. The logo-like heart-shaped double portrait showing EVA & ADELE cheek to cheek acts as a distant echo of a type of image which on the one hand follows the traditional depiction of ‘charity and justice’,11 yet also quotes Overbeck’s painting of ‘Italia and Germania’ (also friendship) – an icon of Romantic painting.12

As highly professional protagonists of the art world, EVA & ADELE operate with great consistency, yet also always very pragmatically and flexibly. Despite all their loyalty to themselves, they refuse to commit themselves to a permanent aesthetic style or gesture. Just as they pursue a ‘Romantic project’, they think nothing of tackling a ‘pop project’. It is in this mode of duality that the framework develops in which performance, Mediaplastic, and also drawing – EVA & ADELE’s private means of retreat and reflection – can be productive in relation to each other. Once again, it was Goethe who coined the term ‘double life’, originally for the painter Mantegna, whose works he believed embodied the indissoluble dichotomy of antiquity and nature, ideal and reality. Regarding EVA & ADELE’s watercolours, Andreas Schalhorn once remarked that they were poised between truth and theatricality, between role-play and authenticity.13 In fact they lead a double life, maybe even more than one, in which the different discourses, be it gender, Romanticism, pop, nature or art, become entwined and in turn generate new questions. And in these processes, drawing is always the navigation system which finds the right detours, no matter how inconvenient they are.

1 Zeitmaschine. Interview mit Nina Kirsch. In: Rosa Rot. Catalogue, Museum der Moderne, Salzburg; Lentos Kunstmuseum, Linz, 2008, p. 94.
2 Ihr macht FUTURING. EVA & ADELE im Gespräch mit Meinrad Maria Grewenig. In: FUTURING. Catalogue, Weltkulturerbe Völklinger Hütte. Europäisches Zentrum für Kunst und Industriekultur, Völklingen, 2012, p. 21.
3 Rosa Rot. 2008, p. 95.
4 Andreas Schalhorn: Einheit in der Vielfalt – Selbstbildnis und Aquarellmalerei bei EVA &ADELE. In: Day by Day Painting. Catalogue, Nordiska Akvarellmuseet, Skärhamn, 2003, p. 30.
5 FUTURING. 2012, p. 22.
6 http://www.bartleby.com/177/31.html, retrieved on 21 January 2013.
7 Peter Klaus Schuster: In Search of Paradise Lost. Runge, Marc, Beuys. In: The Romantic Spirit in German Art 1790–1990. Catalogue, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh; Hayward Gallery, London, 1994, p. 62.
8 Rüdiger Safranski: Romantik. Eine deutsche Affäre. Munich, 2007, p. 13.
9 Paolo Bianchi: Kunst als Erfindung des Lebens. In: CUM. Catalogue, Sprengel Museum, Hanover, 1997, p. 24.
10 Rosa Rot. 2008, p. 94.
11 e.g. Rosalba Carriera, 18th century, illustration. In: Eva und die Zukunft. Das Bild der Frau seit der Französischen Revolution. Catalogue, Hamburger Kunsthalle, 1986, p. 257.
12 See Overbeck’s ‘Italia and Germania’ painted in 1811/12, ibid., p. 362.
13 See Note 4.