On the stage of life

Julia Garimorth

When Oscar Wilde claimed that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life,”1 he was postulating that the world could not be grasped or even completely constituted if it were not aided by art. Because art opens our eyes. It is through art alone that we learn to see something else, to become more sensitive or receptive to phenomena hidden behind appearances, which we eventually learn to look at differently.2

To create their EVA & ADELE works, the two artists draw on their own lives (“Art imitates Life”). They met in 1989 and have lived together ever since. In 2011, they married as a same-sex couple, a marriage possible only because EVA’s transsexuality had been officially recognised.

Shortly after they met, in 1991, the artists decided to create the EVA & ADELE concept, through which they have since represented themselves publicly. And as they confide, it is this artistic action that has drawn them closer in their private lives. It was the production of Hellas (1989/2001/2007), a video installation composed of seven simultaneous projections evoking their very first meeting and illustrating their gradual evolution towards an increasingly fusional sexual identity, that intensified their emotional bond (“Life imitates Art”).

The artistic concept of EVA & ADELE consists of daily performative acts in which life and art mix. The two artists play on sexual difference – or lack of differentiation – using our society’s behavioural and dress codes. Always identically dressed, always surprising and ultra-feminine in their glitter makeup and yet with their heads shaven like men, they take their “EVA & ADELE” work to the widest public, as much in the selective world of art (at exhibition openings) as in the most mundane situations: at the supermarket, in the underground and on the street. Their artwork is not “shut away” in museums and art centres, where the public have to go to see it, nor “reserved” for a minority of initiates, but fits very naturally into everybody’s everyday life. It is this invention and presentation of themselves that make each EVA & ADELE  appearance a living work of art, quite simply because EVA & ADELE’s life itself has incorporated art.

“Wherever we are is museum,” EVA & ADELE nonchalantly replied to a museum director afraid of having missed an important exhibition opening which, according to him, they were just leaving. This quote has since become the artists’ motto. EVA & ADELE’s museum does indeed extend to all public spaces. The exhibition space in which they deploy their work is thus infinite. Not only does it follow the artists’ every movement but, above all, it extends even further in the minds of their “visitor/viewers.”

Because when the artists stage their EVA & ADELE work, it always calls us and our own reality into question. EVA & ADELE sensitise us to the spectacle of the life we experience daily but which, unlike them, we do not bother to question. We all consciously or unconsciously follow behaviour patterns in order to eliminate surprise from our daily lives. Our gestures, current interests and aesthetic preferences are socially manufactured, and are always reinforced by the habits and routine of our continual first-hand participation in the world. These patterns are not created by us but are often imposed since early childhood. And it is they that define what a woman or a man is supposed to desire.3

When confronted with the EVA & ADELE work of art, we are prompted to question these pre-constituted frameworks. It is the “Art of nature/Nature of art” dichotomy (on one of the Goldenes Manifest stamps, 1992‒1997) that guides EVA & ADELE in their constant effort to free themselves from preconceived ideas and stereotypes, from what prevents them from grasping reality as it could be. EVA & ADELE thus force us to question ourselves, our own desires, with the utmost sincerity.

The EVA & ADELE approach is a process of sensitisation. Through their own portraits the two artists are holding a mirror in front of us. It is no coincidence that the self-portrait plays such an important role in their work. Polaroid Diary, composed of 1,500 self-portraits taken with a Polaroid camera (pre-selfie selfies taken with a screenless Polaroid camera) and mounted on a fifteen metre-long panel, is one of the very first works dealing with the EVA & ADELE identity. From 1991 until Polaroid ceased production in 2005, the artists ritually photographed themselves daily, always in the same pose.

For both artists, these self-portraits served as a diary, also enabling them to strengthen their image of themselves and define the self-representation that would become their trademark. For them, it was rather like that final look at oneself in the mirror before going out and confronting the world – a vital self-examination since the intervention mode they had chosen would produce emotionally charged situations. At the beginning of their career, EVA & ADELE lived in a gay district of Berlin, in which their image triggered intense reactions, either of sympathy and support or rejection and aggression.

The dissemination of EVA & ADELE’s photographic image is extended via drawing and writing. In 1991 the artists created their pink, heart-shaped logo with their heads inside it, and a series of statements that became their slogans: “Wherever we are is museum,” “The beginning after the end of art,” “Over the boundaries of gender,” “Futuring” and “Coming out of the future.” In 1992 the artists produced a series of stamps bearing these slogans, which they printed on postcards to be handed out during their performances. Between 1992 and 2014, there were more than 50,000 of these postcards in circulation. The slogans themselves were used again in the Goldenes Manifest, a set of twelve plaques covered with gold leaf: the slogans are a synthesis of their work, which gold, guarantor of enduring value, thus immortalises.

When the circulation of their image does not involve the artists in person, it becomes autonomous via the media and social media – unless, that is, it is overtaken by the artists themselves. In the Mediaplastic series, it is precisely these image-dissemination mechanisms that EVA & ADELE are questioning: “For us, the dissemination of our image is a work in itself. The Mediaplastic paintings, as a visualisation, historicization and disclosure of a moment of public communication, can be regarded as a performance or as a living work of art.”4 EVA & ADELE consciously use the media as art mediums, just like an exhibition space, and extend them. The media photographically reproduce an original artwork by EVA & ADELE, and the artists then take this reproduction and transform it into an original work via the traditional media of drawing and painting.

EVA & ADELE say they come from the future, a future where the new lifestyles and genres they are anticipating would be obvious. Be that as it may, as an artistic concept and attitude to life, “FUTURING” is completely anchored in the present and categorically excludes any reference to the two artists’ previous personal history. The catalogues of their various events/exhibitions contain no biographical information other than their chest, waist and hip measurements, as specified on fashion model agency cards. The only exceptions to this are a few works called “biographical sculptures” and comprising elements referring to the two artists’ lives, such as the Biographische Skulptur n°  2, the B-EA 5800 camping car (1999/2006) in which they travelled, and ADELE’s bicycle, Biographische Skulptur n°  7 (1993/2006).

It is always a new version of the world that art leaves behind it. Through art, EVA & ADELE have rediscovered and reinvented their lives. And in doing so they are prompting us to discover and reinvent our own.

1 Oscar Wilde, “The Decay of Lying,” in: Intentions, 1891

2 Wilde notes that although London had been shrouded in fog for centuries, its beauty was appreciated only because “poets and painters have taught the loveliness of such effects... They did not exist until Art had invented them,” in Oscar Wilde, ibid.

3 Cf. Jacek Kochanowski, “A Dream of the Infinite,” in EVA & ADELE, The Artist = A Work of Art, exh. cat., MOCAK, Krakow, 2012, p.  68

4 Cf. EVA & ADELE Geschlossene Gesellschaft, exh. cat. Galerie Michael Schultz, Berlin, 2004