01 September 2021

Kiki Kogelnik: "The Cyborgs Are Irreverent"

"The Cyborgs are irreverent." - Donna Harraway, The Cyborg Manifesto, 1985.

"Art comes from artificial." - Kiki Kogelnik

Kogelnik's figures are often bent, broken, or damaged in some way but not Superwoman.

It is an oversight  that smacks of injustice as well as forgetfulness that Kiki Kogelnik is not better known in North America.  Although Kogelnik was born in Bleiburg, Austria and studied art the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, after a visit to New York City in 1961, she determined to move there, settling in downtown Manhattan, two blocks from the Chelsea Hotel, a favorite haunt of writers and artists.   She could not but compare the lively and vivid art world of New York with te drabness of post-War Europe. The middle child and only girl of an accountant and a teacher, Kogelnik's given name was Sigrid but her older brother Herwig nicknamed her and it stuck. 

Downtwn Manhattan was home to emerging Pop artists Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenberg, and Larry Rivers; as a European Kogelnik was more skeptical of  mechanization's impact on culture. Yet the idea of cyborgs, beings both organic and biomechanic hovers around many of Kogelnik's works, rendering them sui generis.  In Americans' infatuation with space exploration she perceived an adolescent phallic fixation and with all things commercial. "I'm not involved with Coca Cola.

Her big, bright canvases were made at a time when Kogelnik was also tracing human figures on paper and then transferring the cutouts to colored vinyl.  Her yellow Robert Rauschenberg, for example, was exhibited on a gallery wall neatly folded on a metal hanger. She re-purposed the Pop Art vocabulary throughout her career. Kogelnik reasoned that identity is constructed from fragments through her experience of a female body in a world of images in the fashion press, leading for her to the question and meaning of masks, returning at last to an original fragmented identity. 

Kogelnik made her first ceramic pieces in 1974 at the urging of Renate Fuhry, a potter she knew in Vienna. With her initial training in applied arts, Kogelnik had no prejudice against ceramics, a common view at that time. Although she never learned to turn pottery on the wheel, she  put stencils to use in making slab ceramics, a technique by which the potter uses a rolling pin to flatten a mound of clay - hence the term slab pottery. Using a knife to cut around her stenciled shapes, Kogelnik would coat them with a variety of colorful glazes. the resulting pieces are more like masks than portraits. 

A few thoughts on cyborgs and Donna Harraway: The term cyborg originated in science fiction as  a paradigm for the confusion of boundaries between the organic and the mechanical.  It has been used in the domain of science for storytelling rather than with the usual claims of rigor and objectivity.

Visit Kiki Kogelnik Foundation, New York & Los Angeles.

1. Kiki Kogelnik - Superwoman, 1973, oil and acrylic on canvas, national museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC.
2. - 3. - 4. - Kiki Kogelnik - slab ceramic pieces, photographs courtesy of Mostyn Galley, Llandono, Wales.


Rouchswalwe said...

This is a fun post! I'm currently reading the book about the Monk and the Robot entitled, "A Psalm for the Wild-Built" ... it's quite interesting so far and I think these works of art would make excellent cover illustrations!

Jane said...

Rouchswalwe, the book sounds good. You had said you were going to write about the books you read during the lockdown. Looking forward to that.
If Kiki Kogelnik had moved to Paris instead of to New York, the French would have claimed her. They make much of the fact that the American painter Joan Mitchell lived in France for several tears.

Rouchswalwe said...

Ach! Yes, thank you for the reminder, Jane! I'll have more time in a few weeks when things here settle down. I've got the list ready, I simply need to add the comments.
Oui! The French know quality when they see/experience it, so I have no doubt they'd have claimed Kiki Kogelnik.

Jane said...

Rouchswalwe, when I have tried recently to make comments on your website they don't appear. Has something changed on your settings?