In Raphaela Vogel’s video installation Prokon (2014), shown at her end-of-year presentation at Frankfurt’s Städelschule that year, a hay bale grab hung down from the ceiling, clenching a video projector in its teeth; from this projector a video shining onto the wall showed the artist in her studio in a duel with a drone.
The drone’s high-pitched sound – somewhere between insect’s hum and robot beep – underscores the video’s dramatic and psychologically charged setting, which provokes in Vogel moments of panic and catharsis. These states, in turn, suggest Vogel’s urge more generally to confront, appropriate and finally break out of institutionalized spaces (not surprising, in the context of art school). Just a year later, a condensed version of Prokon appeared in Vogel’s first institutional solo exhibition at the Bonner Kunstverein. The title of the show: ‘Raphaela and the Large Kunstverein’.
At once post-apocalyptic and chthonic, Vogel’s work attempts to construct spaces for inquiry and appropriation: settings where drones become actors, goatskins bear an image (Untitled, 2013–15) and where the video projector itself becomes anthropomorphic. Vogel is the protagonist of her videos: both subject and object of observation. For example, thanks to the drones used, and controlled remotely, Vogel creates multi-perspectival scenes where they are presented as both subjects and objects of observation, both seen and seeing.
Vogel’s works are driven by a tense tug-of-war between control and the loss of it. The title of Mogst mi du ned mog i di (2014) – after a line from a song by the Alpine rocker Hubert von Goisern (‘If you don’t like me, I like you’) – itself suggests such a push-and-pull. The (sexist) song here functions like a declaration of war to a protagonist who uses a camera and drone to film the backdrop of an alpine lake and a marble quarry in Carrara. The use of a drone leads to a particularly tight interweaving of perspectives: first, the drone bears a pushy male gaze; but then there is the female protagonist who makes the viewer see herself only by means of this gaze.
Vogel – the recipient of last year’s Columbus Prize for Contemporary Art, she will realize a project in the Motorenhalle in Dresden next summer – eschews linear narrative in such videos. Rather, hers is a play of technical tricks, such as the hectic montage of clips, broken up and refracted again and again. Meaning arises through a play of associations, while video and space are linked via materials and sets that sprawl from the videos outward into the spaces themselves. In turn, the shadows of objects in the installation loom and interfere with the video projection.
For her most recent exhibition, ‘I Give You A Constitution’, which opened in February 2016, Vogel used every single room of BQ, Berlin, including the gallery’s archives and office, installing a video in each of the four rooms. The central work of the exhibition, Prophecy (2016), was a darkened main room where a distorted version of the song Prophecy (2004) by the metal band Soulfly created an overwrought emotional soundscape. Projector and speakers hung on a Dixi urinal, which acted as a kind of base structure from which the two projections were thrown on plastic curtains and attached onto steel stage elements. In the video, Vogel is seen in a sandy landscape like the protagonists of the Soulfly music video, holding a white cloth in the wind, while the drone nosedives.
Vogel counteracted this epic, high-tech set in the next room, which was turned into an intimate, almost mystical space. At the center was a mermaid sculpture (She Shah, 2016), whose body is constructed from a water pipe and from which four tubes protrude. On the walls hung abstract painted animal hides that formed funnels. The relic-like objects (e.g. Raphaela, 2015) become participants in a ritual scene. Vogel here deconstructs the gender politics of clichéd spaces where men meet – such as urinals or shisha cafes.
The urge for expansion on the one hand and the desire for isolation on the other are the conflicts combatively heightened by Vogel, or accepted with a deliberate timidity by the artist. In the end, her goal is to position herself amid these oppositions, not least in emotive scenes in which she attempts to overcome the agony of their very constriction. Vogel’s work is a rendering of space into a physical act: a duel, if you will, in which the artist always competes against herself.
Translated by Pablo Larios