Lisa Schmidt-Herzog

EVA & ADELE are known for their friendliness. Their smiles have become a fixed component of their trademark and anyone who talks with them is astonished by their attentiveness and interest. It almost seems as if you were among friends. But their friendliness is not to be confused with friendship. To Hannah Arendt the relationship between friends is a blueprint for true community, and thus genuine political action.2 In encounters with the artist pair, however, who on the one hand are so ready to engage in dialogue and on the other are so radically withdrawn, the question arises as to whether friendliness is not used rather more as a basic principle of association – precisely because meetings between people are possible even though they are not friends. For there is a distance between EVA & ADELE and the public. Individual people remain individuals, and thus in a certain sense alone. At the same time, it is only when they are alone that they can draw closer together, for example through a friendly gesture. The two works series CUM and time traveller, on view in KEEP THE ROSY WING STRONG, allow us to experience this certain movement between the individual and the other, in which closeness and distance – friendliness and solitude – presuppose each other like day and night.

July 2021. I came to Athens alone. Hellas – the place where EVA & ADELE started working on their first joint project of the same name in 1989. Athens is a city I have never visited before. Traveling alone is a curious undertaking. While it reveals to me my own fears, I also feel dependent on something, which Bertolt Brecht called – confident as he was – the “friendliness of the world”. I am sitting in the restaurant Όξo Νoύ in Exarchia, have been given a raki on the house because I have ordered an impressive number of dishes, and I am reading Brecht’s “Legend of the Creation of the Book Tao Te Ching on Lao Tzu’s Road into Emigration”. EVA & ADELE sent me the poem, and now an old text is travelling along in my luggage while a new one is in the process of creation. Without at first being aware of it, I have already become part of the CUM project.3 After all, it is important that its conception does not lie in the hands of the artists alone, rather it is the result of constant interaction. When Arendt says that truth exists only in twos, then on a trip undertaken alone with a poem in my bag the question arises as to whether and how a different twoness cannot be imagined even in absentia.

The role of the public

The Latin “cum” (eng. “with”, germ. “mit”) is an inconspicuous word. But it means something fundamental. It is only because of the “mit” in “Miteinander” or in “Mitwelt” that these concepts have something to do with bringing together. The first steps in the creation of the work series CUM, which was exhibited in Hannover’s Sprengel Museum in 1997 and whose radical expansion is presented in Munich’s Nicole Gnesa Galerie in 2021, may well have been inconspicuous.4 The large conceptual work includes a massive collection of Polaroids, to be sure, on which EVA & ADELE are pictured with or without public as well as an extensive graphic and painterly œuvre patterned after these photographs. But CUM had already been brought to life long before brush and crayon ever touched paper, and it extends far beyond the point when the exhibition KEEP THE ROSY WING STRONG closes its doors. After all, the project begins with a fundamental communication between the artists and their “Mitwelt”, which does not stop at the boundaries of a cohesive, material work.

Anyone who wants to take a picture of EVA & ADELE has to approach them and ask permission. In response, the two always ask the same favour of their vis-a-vis. They also want to preserve the photographic document, and ask that they be sent a print. Using a term like “print” reminds one that the work (of) EVA & ADELE5 changes with the times, for it manifests the transition from analogue to digital photography. From the beginning of their career, the “hermaphrodite twins” allowed to be photographed only on the condition that a second Poloroid be given to them immediately. Today the Polaroid has given way to the smartphone photo that is sent to the artists’ e-mail address. What has not changed is the requirement that the picture include the setting and the photographer’s signature. When EVA & ADELE create drawings and paintings from the snapshots (the so-called blow-ups), they are tagged with the iconic “heart-heads” stamp. This not only identifies them as part of the work series but also lets later viewers know where and by whom the picture was taken.

It may seem paradoxical that an oeuvre that appears to be so self-referential (the artists’ faces are the undisputed focus of their entire picture world, after all), relies to such a degree on communicative dialogue. This specific public, which is created by their audience, doesn’t comprise merely passive viewers; rather they leave their traces behind. This is apparent from the way the artists speak of their encounters, their conversations, the receipt of their photos. They frequently recall the people’s names, their professions and specific anecdotes, and later share these with others (if they fit to be shared). Just as the “heart-heads” stamp preserves the initials of the participants, so the conversation preserves their stories. The material and immaterial qualities of the work are inseparable. The fact that Brecht and Lao Tzu travelled with me to Athens has such a prehistory. For the poem was sent to EVA & ADELE by a sinologist who in doing so drew a parallel between Lao Tzu’s teaching and their artistic work. There is no work without such dialogue partners and the impetus they provide. CUM was and is created only cum publicum.

The purposelessness of Lao Tzu’s teaching

In the poem we read that while on his journey, Lao Tzu is stopped by a customs official who is not a wise man himself, but who seems to recognise wisdom when he encounters it. For he invites the old master to be his guest for a while, and during this time Lao Tzu writes what would later become the most important text in Taoism. In a brief commentary on Brecht’s poem, his friend Walter Benjamin points to the extraordinary role of friendliness in Brecht’s narrative.6 It becomes apparent that it permeates every line, when we think of how unexpected the customs official’s invitation and Lao Tzu’s acceptance actually are. After all, he is an old man, and if “evil was again on the rise” in the country, it would be rather reasonable for him to save his energy uncompromisingly at the close of his life. It is not improbable to assume that his journey into emigration might be his last one. But even though the old man could leave his fellow “Mitwelt” to their own devices from now on, he does not turn his back on them. Instead, he allows himself to be diverted from his path for a time, so as to be able to write down the book’s 81 aphorisms, which his groom would present to the official after seven days.

But how does Lao Tzu profit from this? The man says that he is “only” a customs official, and such he will likely remain. “It was no victor who approached him there,” no spiritual companion, no acolyte, no aspiring pupil full of potential, in whom the wise man’s knowledge would be properly preserved. One might ask oneself whether Lao Tzu was not casting pearls before swine. In fact, it is questionable whether the whole undertaking was even profitable for him. Yet from a comment by his groom, we learn that the reward for writing the Tao Te Ching could not be measured in terms of financial, material, or any other objectified compensation. Lao Tzu has no valuables to declare, for: “He has taught.” And for the teacher this was enough; the ultimate result of his teaching is unknown. Those who teach can never hope for unambiguous results from what they have taught: the founding of a school of thought, the training of brilliant minds who will later refer to the wisdom of their teacher with thanks.7 Precisely because all this remains uncertain, it is the radical purposelessness of the teaching that makes it an end in itself. The comparison between the teaching of Lao Tzu and the work (of) EVA & ADELE must not be taken so literally that we make the latter into spiritual masters. But if Lao Tzu’s efforts do not consist in preparing his pupils for a clearly defined result, then it is not too far-fetched to think that there is a similarity between teaching and friendliness, since both lack any ulterior purpose.

Change against self-historicisation

Like teaching and friendliness, EVA & ADELE’s artistic process withstands any expectation of specific results. In their studio they transfer the photos sent to them into their own artistic medium, turning the people in the pictures into figures on canvas and handmade paper. And sometimes they don’t – for the decision as to whether and how such a transfer takes place lies solely with the artists, and given the mass of photos, the majority necessarily have to remain in the archive without being transferred into a blow-up. One could suspect that the shots that make it into the artistic work picture events that are especially closely associated with the art world, such as, for example, gallery openings, museum visits or public performances. In fact , these have no precedence over everyday motifs, and so a Grossziethen farmstead finds its way into CUM and time traveller, just like Chicago’s O’Hare Airport or downtown Kassel (not during documenta, mind you).

For EVA & ADELE, the creative aspect of the selection and translation process takes precedence over a picture’s particular documentary value. The photographs are not capable of preserving original situations on film, nor are the paintings and drawings simple reproductions of the photographs. Hence, talking about “translating” content from one medium to another can then only be meaningful, if it happens with the full awareness that strictly speaking there is no such thing as translation. The philosopher Bernhard Waldenfels therefore suggests that the paradox of creative expression lies in the fact that it has to be thought of as “translation without original text.” For “what is expressed cannot be understood as anything but expressive activity itself.” Analogously, with an eye to painting, he speaks of a “representation without original image, in which something comes into the picture that cannot be understood as anything other than in the picture.”8 This clearly applies to the drawings and paintings of EVA & ADELE as well, even though these are based on original images insofar that they are preceded by photographs. But regardless of whether it is a transfer into another language or another medium, the process of translation alters the content of what is transferred. EVA & ADELE say: “The picture itself is working.”

And precisely because it does so, the pencil and brush lines do not hold to a faithful imitation of nature. In a way, CUM and time traveller are reminiscent of the sketches in a film script or a wordless graphic novel. At times the black-white contours are as sharp as though engraved, while at others they nearly fade away. At times the people become a faceless mass disappearing behind watercoloured spotlight illumination; at times, a horse becomes the subject of the picture. The creative autonomy of the translation process becomes perfectly clear in the exhibition KEEP THE ROSY WING STRONG. For originally the works produced in 1998 were stored in their archive, but once Eva had produced enough convincing work, in 2008 the artists began to revise the works on paper and finally in 2018 to paint the canvases. Adele was initially sceptical, uncertain whether the historical material would not be inadmissably distorted by the renewed intervention. Yet in Munich it is clear that this insecurity soon gave way to a merciless love of experimentation. The works once limited to graphite and blue ink now take up the artistic development of the last few years, in which EVA & ADELE have become progressively more colourful, expressive and abstract. Both historical and aesthetic distortion are now displayed as constitutive structural elements in the Nicole Gnesa Galerie. The works on view should not be seen as documentation of a self-contained, historical material. They picture a continuing change, which cannot always be documented. Thus, the new translation of CUM and time traveller would be at one and the same time an expressive of a temptation and a refusal to historicise themselves.

What do we desire in an image? Or: FUTURING instead of OTHERING

The images are often reminiscent of chance vacation photos. Photographers were usually motivated to take them because they were so struck by the pair’s twin-like appearance, their perfectly composed costumes, their carefully shaved heads, and their constant smiles. But not every photo is the result of a chance encounter between strangers, somewhere in passing or between a rest area and Broadway. People sometimes travel to an advertised event because they finally want to meet EVA & ADELE in person:

“Dear Eva and Adele,

It was an absolute pleasure and honour to meet you at your exhibition last month. Thank you for your time, kindness and years of major inspiration. I discovered one of your postcards in New York City in 1998 and have had it on my bedroom wall ever since. You have been the guiding stars of my own gender journey.”

These lines, for example, were written by Joie, a young American woman who in 2018 boarded a plane headed for Berlin in order to see the show L’Amour du Risque (me Collectors Room). The photo she took with EVA & ADELE was doubtlessly so valuable to her not because they were successful figures in contemporary art but because it finally documented the emotional bond she had felt with them. The photo attests to a communication that had begun long before the three exchanged a word. People who take a picture with or of them are not necessarily interested in art – or what is traditionally held to be art. Sometimes it is this other dimension that means much more to them – and precisely for that reason it becomes art as understood by EVA & ADELE.

But the flip side of such a desire for the image is that it is not always communication that is sought. People also reach for their cameras out of sheer curiosity; simple love of spectacle makes them want to have a record of the weird duo. Since they are obviously interested in documenting the pair as objects rather than human beings, a genuine encounter between the two parties is unlikely. The friendliness extended to EVA & ADELE in such cases is then something difficult to bear, for it stems directly from a delight in fetishising them. Mounted on the refrigerator back home, such souvenir snapshots represent a quintessential example of “othering.” To be sure, when the artists suspect such a motivation behind the request for a picture they could refuse. But they don’t. Even when a first glance tells them that it will not lead to a genuine encounter, they accede to the stranger’s request. Brecht has his Lao Tzu teach “that in movement, harmless water conquers the hardest stone over time. You see, the stone submits.” And Benjamin adds: “Anyone who wishes to subdue hardness should not pass up any opportunity to be friendly.”9 EVA & ADELE believe that their photographed smiles accomplish more than a refusal, which would always result in the fact that 1. there would be no image, and thus 2. it could not travel through time.

But precisely these two features have a special function in the work (of) EVA & ADELE, for with them there is the improbable possibility that even after initial failure, and even in the absence of the participants, communication succeeds. One reply reads: “Before I spoke with you, I had completely rejected you. I am happy that you made me aware of my prejudices and my own superficiality. You are two fine souls.” Another anecdote relates that a young, well-dressed father once asked for a photo of EVA & ADELE with his little daughter, so he could order a blow-up. In this he was following an old family tradition of immortalising the children in painted portraits, but there were two aunts who every time they visited asked what on earth the two bald-headed people were doing in the picture. Simply the fact that it has now hung in the dining room for 23 years unchanged, establishes a reality viewers are forced to deal with whether they wish to or not. Its sheer existence changes something. Perhaps the two ladies have asked themselves why two bald-headed people can annoy them so; perhaps they have protested; perhaps at some point they have simply accepted this reality. To EVA & ADELE it is unnecessary that all viewers be like-minded people. More important is the durability of the image. After more than 30 years of travelling pictures, their response to every objectifying desire for an image is therefore: “futuring” instead of “othering.”

When two become one – or maybe not

It seems paradoxical that such a manoeuvre against a fetishising “othering” can only succeed when the others remain tagged as others – i.e. originally other. In Brecht’s poem “one learns that friendliness does not erase the distance between people but keeps it alive”,10 and this is what people experience who have themselves photographed with EVA & ADELE. Almost never does a stranger stand between the two in a photograph. If this happens, they at least hold hands, thereby signalling their quasi-monolithic bond, which remains unbroken by the intrusion of a foreign element (the public). The stranger has invited himself or herself, after all, and even if he or she is warmly received, this does not mean that he or she is allowed to dominate the photo. In the poem, Lao Tzu responds to the customs official’s invitation by staying with him a few days and devoting himself to the task he has set himself. But he does not make himself wholly available to his host. He withdraws from his grasp, just as he waives to grasp him. He has no messianic intent, at the same time he doesn’t let himself and his wisdom be exploited. “After the wise man had done such a great thing for the official, he has little more to do with him, and it is not he who presents him with the eighty-one chapters, but rather his groom.”11 That Lao Tzu is on friendly terms with his contemporaries is by no means directly expressed by whether he interacts with them or not. Brecht’s customs official has to accept the fact that he cannot exercise any influence, and that in the end his thirst for knowledge cannot be satisfied by Lao Tzu.

In the very same way EVA & ADELE’s audience has to accept that there are limits to their desire for images. For permission (regardless what for) is a precious gift – even if the recipient has previously requested it. Third parties can never interfere in such a way as to upset the artists’ visual unity. A friendly distance between the people is concomitant with the autonomy that EVA & ADELE preserve when they hold hands, when they decide which photos become blow-ups, and when they actually follow up on that decision.12 The works shown in Munich illustrate this quite clearly, for some of them have been extensively reworked. Not only are previous dark contours now overlaid with layers of bright colour; even whole figures have been overpainted and thereby blithely thrown out of the picture.

Yet, just as distance is preserved between EVA & ADELE and the public, a certain distance is also preserved between EVA and ADELE. It is a great misunderstanding to think that romantic love no longer allows any space between lovers because in their harmonious pairing there is no need for it. If partnership is imagined as a condition of blind, total understanding, conflicts and painful experiences are thus prophylactically shielded.13 The writer Undine Gruenter rebels against this when she writes: “Anyone who wishes love without pain has no desire for love itself,”14 and it must be acknowledged that this is doubtless true not only of romantic love. It is worth noting that over the course of their career, EVA & ADELE have been thought of not only as lovers; they have also been assigned other roles: twins, Doppelgänger, clones – all of them pairs of figures suggestive of an unio mystica, an absolute symbiosis.15 Yet EVA & ADELE do not avoid hurt. For despite all their visual identity they never merge into one. In fact, according to some reports, the two are becoming increasingly independent – and although theirs is a joint work, it is created by two autonomous artists. Just as every communion presumes at least two parties, it is such twoness, which presumes that each of the parties remain two: i.e. solitary. EVA & ADELE fuse neither with their public nor with each other.

The dogma of knowing someone

Viewers are therefore provided with a special experience of boundaries; boundaries are torn down and at the same time preserved. We do not know who or where they were before 1990 – the year in which they first appeared as a shared character on the stage of the art world .16 No biographical data such as birthplaces or where they studied reaches the public. We are offered nothing with which to pigeonhole who we have before us and what we are seeing: nothing that would presumably allow us to better get to know the people “behind” the makeup and the costumes. Yet what kind of knowing are we talking about if all we know about a person are their biographical data? In fact, this even implies that the quality of our knowing can be measured by the quantity of data available: whoever has the most information about a person would accordingly know them best. Yet to believe this is like attempting to somehow gain certainty about another person, even though they always elude such access. In texts about EVA & ADELE we frequently read that they present themselves as genderless, hermaphroditic, or “beyond” sexuality, but that ultimately one of the two is still anatomically and biologically a real woman, the other an equally real man – even though Eva admits to never having been “anything even close to a man.”17 Like biographical data, gender identity is used to make a person nonetheless knowable in his or her supposed unambiguousness.

On the other hand, “They are around, but unknown,” writes Ulrich Krempel. Their mere presence makes it clear how preserving one boundary oversteps another. For despite their withholding of all biographical data, these are not two fakes presenting themselves to the public, hiding their humanity behind the masks of their shared character before going home in the evening and stripping off their costumes. In art history makeup, costumes and jewellery have long been suspected of hiding an ominuous truth, that lies behind such material ornament. This idea takes on a special dimension with regard to the relationship between actors and the characters they play. In any case, here it is the body itself that becomes the material of the performance. EVA & ADELE raise the question as to whether they do not make what is supposedly hidden become one with the materiality they themselves represent. For how should their work be understood without their concrete, physical appearance, which includes not only their physical bodies but also the way it is costumed?

Behind closed doors, EVA & ADELE may well exchange their costumes for pink dressing gowns. Yet, their artistic work is no day job in which the clientele wouldn’t be any longer of interest after work. Precisely for that reason, the public they create, their audience, is not simply their clientele, and their performance continues around the clock. And just as Lao Tzu doesn’t need to have anything to do with his contemporaries in order to create a lasting effect on them, EVA & ADELE do not have to be known in order to enter into an original communication with others. Twoness, “Miteinander”, is possible even if one party does not know what the other looks like without makeup, or “in private” (as the tabloids would say). Whereas the artists definitely push the boundaries of social gender norms, there is no dissolution of all the boundaries between the familiar and the foreign, the internal and the external, between EVA, ADELE and the public. In that they rebel against the dogma of being known, they actively work against the illusion of merging into a single entity.

CUM: the truth of plurality

When Arendt describes friendship as a model on which genuine political association can be understood, she sets it apart from other forms of communion that could also be used as examples – above all the family. In her opinion, what holds the family together are such natural bonds as blood relationship. In this case, what binds individual members together is not their otherness, but rather that they are cut from the same cloth. Conversely, this means that all those who do not enjoy the privilege of sameness would be excluded from a community based on this model. If we ask ourselves which people and groups we feel solidarity with, i.e. with whom we enter into political association, it becomes clear that the dogma of knowing works much like the family exclusion logic. Both can prevent participation in the reality of those who do not belong to one’s own group – whether by way of a shared genetic material or because they know each other. It has happened that cis-heterosexual exhibition planners have refused to work with EVA & ADELE because as straight people they would have found it offensive to work on the issue of queer lifestyle. In this kind of thinking feelings of solidarity and community become qualities that are legitimate only among those who resemble each other and share identical experiences.

EVA & ADELE are not our friends. We generally insist that friends not only be available, but also known, members of our own group. Thus, friendship is tied to the tangible figure of the friend, whereas friendliness is an experience that can be thought of as being much more impersonal. When strangers are friendly with each other because friendliness is an end in itself, they do not have to know each other or belong to the same group. The shift of stress from friendship to friendliness becomes significant in view of the special tie between EVA & ADELE and the public. The different parties never make themselves fully available to each other. They venture into genuine encounters, but this does not mean that from this point on they will phone each other every Sunday. If friendliness maintains the distance between people, just as Benjamin say, this also means that its indications survive the moment in which they are present and visible. When people encounter each other, they do also part again to return to their solitude. They do not become one, but remember that the others always remain other, and precisely for that reason distance and communion between people are altogether possible. “Truth comes only in twos.” But friendliness and solitude teach us that here, the concept of “two,” implies all those constellations in which dialogue takes place – not only the friendly or romantic ones. Ultimately, “two” has to be understood as a metaphor here, for it is not only the countable two-ness that is meant, but the plurality among people per se. The work (of) EVA & ADELE shows us that the symbol for a shared “Miteinander” – a shared “Mitwelt” – is not the closely united pair. Instead, there is twoness only in diversity: cum EVA, cum ADELE, and cum publicum.

1 Hanna Arendt, Wahrheit gibt es nur zu zweien. Briefe an die Freunde, Munich 2013.

2 See Hanna Arendt, “Philosophy and Politics,” Social Research 57 (1990).

3 Even though the current exhibition KEEP THE ROSY WING STRONG suggests that the work has come to a conclusion with this show, clearly it lies in the nature of what Paolo Bianchi describes as a “life work of art,” that for work and life there are no fixed starting and end points aside from birth and death. Paolo Bianchi, “Lebenskunst: Gastarbeit zwischen Kunst und Leben”, in: Kunstforum International 142 (October–December 1998).

4 In Hannover all the works were sold following the show. The paintings and drawings exhibited in Munich were all created in 1998 in the style of the original CUM series, but they are now assigned to two different series of works: 19 canvases, some of which were shown in 2000 in the Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont (Paris) and reworked in 2018 (these are titled time traveller . . . ), and 19 gouaches, which were seen in 2008 at the Lentos Kunstmuseum Linz and were reworked in that same year (the work titles all read CUM . . .).

5 If Bianchi speaks of the “life work of art” that EVA & ADELE not only create but actually live, this aspect should be reflected in the following by the use of parentheses, for there is repeated reference to the “work (of) EVA & ADELE.”

6 Walter Benjamin, Versuche über Brecht, Frankfurt am Main 1967, p. 81.

7 It is condescending to assume that the customs official, despite his interest in things of the spirit, can no longer pursue a spiritual path and become a pupil. For what distinguishes the customs official who manifests a naive curiosity from a pupil who has not yet begun to study? What is required to become a pupil is that one is not yet a pupil.

8 Bernhard Waldenfels, “Bildhaftes Sehen. Merleau-Ponty auf den Spuren der Malerei”, in: Antje Kapust and Bernhard Waldenfels, eds., Kunst. Bild. Wahrnehmung. Blick. Merleau-Ponty zum Hundertsten, Munich 2010, p. 46.

9 Walter Benjamin, Versuche über Brecht, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1967, p. 83.

10 Ibid., p. 82.

11 Ibid.

12 Although the term “autonomy” is used here, it does not imply the classical notion of autonomy that aesthetic theory accords to the figure of the genius. The work (of) EVA & ADELE does not negate its ambience, but it is only by engaging in dialogue with it that it can adopt its own standpoint. Thus the artists also appear to be products of their time, for with an eye to the Berlin of the 1990s we can see a changed relationship between autonomy and the functions imposed on art. See Susanne Hauser and Judith Siegmund, Neuverhandlungen von Kunst: Diskurse und Praktiken seit 1990 am Beispiel Berlin, Bielefeld 2020.

13 See Frank Becker and Elke Reinhardt-Becker, “Semantiken der Liebe zwischen Kontinuität und Wandel – eine Skizze”, in: Frank Becker and Elke Reinhardt-Becker, eds., Liebesgeschichte(n). Identität und Diversität vom 18. bis zum 21. Jahrhundert. Frankfurt am Main and New York 2019, p. 34.

14 Undine Gruenter, Der Autor als Souffleur. Journal 1986–1992, Frankfurt am Main 1995, p. 47.

15 In their figural repertoire, EVA & ADELE at least reject being seen as a couple, which likewise stands in the tradition of such symbiotic imaginations: the relationship between mother and child also repeatedly evokes speculation about their quasi-metaphysical bond as unio mystica, yet the artists have never claimed such a narrative.

16 To be sure their wedding performance, which took place in 1991 during the Metropolis exhibition in Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau, is commonly considered the starting point of their career, but in fact their first joint appearance had taken place the previous year at the Venice Biennale. Quite unlike their later appearance, there they presented themselves in severely cut, black costumes. Berlin got to see them again in radiant white clothing, but since then their trademark pink has come to prevail.

17 Fritz von Klinggräff, “Sind Sie Nutte? EVA & ADELE charm Weimar, the city of culture”, in: taz, 14/15 August, 1999. Quoted from Sabine Kampmann. Gender Identity and Authorship. EVA & ADELE – Just about “over the boundaries of gender.” Online: http.://www.evaadele.com/texts/kampmann2deutsch.html (accessed 24 August 2021).