Et is not uncommon for a marginal motif at the beginning of a work to turn out to be the common thread that – in retrospect – connects the aesthetic and the social in an ingenious way. One such work is that of Wiebke Siem, who, after studying art in Kiel and Hamburg for twelve years, tailored awkward costumes for her friends. Then there was an anti-fashion shoot in the green of the city in front of Gründerzeit facades.
Bruce Nauman and Cindy Sherman also started out as radical outsiders. It’s easy to overlook the fact that Siem’s artistic systematics are based on a self-experiment. This is created in her role as a seamstress and knitter, which she never gave up. The most recent work, “The Maximum Minimum”, which gives the exhibition its title, shows four life-size female maquettes, two of which represent monochrome felt dresses and the other two extremely coarse but correctly knitted wool dresses. Their timeless drabness is embellished with industry paraphernalia: giant buttons designed to look like masks and open necklaces strung from wooden spools of thread and large spools of thread. Their jewelry symbolizes the work mill they cannot escape.
If the figures had heads, they would be observing a well-lit display case sunk into the wall, in which spindly, colorful button figures are hanging, a dozen of them at once – a pastiche on the ethnological museum with its always too many objects, of which one often not even one really understands.
In Wiebke Siem’s self-experiment, she was always and will always be a native of the tribe of femininity. In this sense the whole work is masked. “The Counterfeiter” is the title of an installation (2008/2009) that shows a post-war living room in a state of advanced misappropriation. The table is cluttered with small pseudo-primitive anthropoids, while strange stick figures, whose bodies are assembled from recycled rolling pins, spoons and mortars, like disfigured Max Ernst sculptures, arms raised, cheering the insanity. Or they have just been arrested – for reasons related to the history of mentality.
Occasionally, Siem goes directly into the shock register. The immediate forerunner of the counterfeiter’s living room without borders is a kitchen, the four chairs in this version without upholstery, illuminated by an Arne Jacobsen-style lamp. However, this one is cast in orange synthetic resin, exhibited like a dress, under which a white glowing balloon is halfway hidden; the light – in this case – as the origin of the world. Flabby black foam arms and legs evoke the image of a hanged woman. But the work means: “There is nothing that is so bad that one cannot also gain something good from it”. The title is actually rendered in Polish, after a saying of Siem’s (actually German-speaking) mother, who came from Łodz.