The exact meaning of the square plaster and wire objects lying on the floor is not immediately obvious. There are three in total, and another hangs from a nearby wall like an empty sack. Their surfaces are uneven, furrowed, with what might be the marks of hands or other body parts. I am tempted to touch them – carefully, though, as they appear fragile. But what do they mean? The title given to each of these works, Exhaled (all works 2017), is no help.
These pieces, presented in the first room of Clages, Cologne, must have something to do with the human body, not least because they are faced by large, hung screenprints that resemble body-prints but are in fact drawings. Each of the two canvases (My Mate and Another Primate) show a naked woman rendered in black lines, her hands raised above her head, spinning on her own vertical axis. Triumphant, like a goddess, she seems to be dancing around the plaster trophies strewn beneath her.
An additional white plaster sack hangs in a separate room. This one, Inhaled, seems to be full, with two bulges visible in the lower area. Buttocks, perhaps? On the floor, neatly aligned, are two plaster spheres. Balls. At last, I get it: the sacks hanging on the wall are scrotums. In the first room they are without air, empty and slack. Lain at the feet of the naked dancer, they are like sacrifices: powerless, perhaps conquered. In the second room, they are loaded, bursting with potency. But this doesn’t seem apt, for this exhibition, entitled ‘Stereo Balls’, has a tragic quality to it.
Somehow, these works recall those of certain women artists of the 1970s – Ulrike Rosenbach and Carolee Schneemann, for example. At that time, women artists (the first generation to self-identify as feminists) were putting their own bodies and the battle of the sexes at the forefront of their work. Their works were earnest, accusatory, and aggressive, set in direct opposition to the discrimination that was rife within the art world and in society in general. Humour took a backseat. The situation was too serious for that. To remain calm and composed was a tall order: as a woman, one was much too involved.
It is surely no coincidence that Stricker chose to revisit this brazen aesthetic today, when the question of women’s role in art seems to be topical once again. The past few years have seen a spate of large-scale exhibitions centring on historical feminist positions and, after many years, young women artists are openly declaring their commitment to the feminist cause. But while Stricker invokes many of these first generation artists, her work differs from theirs in a fundamental way – and this difference is key. Stricker’s 21st-century statement comes cloaked in a calm humour. She addresses the sexual tensions, games and dependencies between man and woman, but does so playfully, with relaxed wit: here the dancing naked woman and the out-of-breath man, there the man with his virility.
On the floor of a third room lies the titular Stereo Balls: eight plaster spheres (six small, two large), arranged like a group of billiard balls and equipped with piezoelectric buzzers that play sounds recorded by Stricker in the exhibition space – grouped gonads turned resonators. On a neighbouring wall hangs another screenprint titled We Are the Stereo. With its scratchy lines set against a vivid red background, it shows an erect penis and a man’s hands reaching for a vagina. These coupled works are indicative of Stricker’s exhibition as a whole: in part humorous and relaxed, while also illustrating that – fortunately – the relationship between man and woman is still fraught with tension.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell
Main image: Monika Stricker, 'Stereo Balls', 2017, mixed media, sound installation, dimensions variable. Courtesy: Clages, Cologne