SOULLESS SKIN
Sarah Margnetti starring Kiki Kogelnik Season Opening: Friday, 8th September 2017, 6pm
9 Sep – 21 Oct 2017

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Receiving her BA from ECAL in Lausanne and her Masters from HEAD in
Geneva, Sarah Margnetti (*1983 in Monthey, lives and works in Brussels and
Lausanne) went on to get a technical training at The Van der Kelen-Logelain
Institute in Brussels, one of the first schools dedicated to the study of decorative
painting. Founded in 1882, it’s also one of the few places where art education
is not about free expression, but about learning one strict, ancient discipline.
Mastering the technique of trompe l’oeil, Margnetti has developed a virtuous
painting style that combines optical illusions and abstract motives. For SALTS,
the artist filled the two exhibition spaces with intricate, painterly landscapes
covering all the walls. In the context of this exhibition, Margnetti, together with
the curators, selected some drawings, paintings and sculptures of the late
Austrian Pop artist Kiki Kogelnik (1935-1997, lived and worked in New York and
Vienna), with whom she shares a similar formal and conceptual vocabulary,
despite the half century that separates them.

Sarah Margnetti worked on a series of wall paintings, putting together an elusive
narrative that explores the fragmentation of the human body and the sensorial
and cultural potential of certain materials. Initially invited to realise the exhibition
alone, it was later decided to grow the project into a conceptual and visual
conversation between her and Kiki Kogelnik. When further researching her
formal vocabulary, Margnetti grew fascinated with Kogelnik’s particular depiction
of the body; herself always only representing it in disconnected parts, either
while out-of-scale; concealed behind curtains, When You Feel Spiritually Aligned
as Shit (Alienated Legs) 2017; or simply in schematic, monochromatic cut-outs,
Take it to the Streets (Alienated Hand) 2017.

A peer of Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and Sam Francis, Kogelnik has often
been associated with the American Pop Art movement, with whom she shared
a similar language and attitude while living and working in New York. Barely
concerned to celebrate the apex of consumerism, she instead appropriated
the codes of Pop Art in order to produce a mere critique of it. Both Kogelnik
and Margnetti’s colourful, artificial disembodied figures reveal a concern
with the commodification of the feminine body, and the alienating anonymity
brought by progress; from the triumph of mass production in the 1950s to the
new technological turn of the 2000s. This is particularly explicit in a series of
drawings Kogelnik made between 1969-70, in which the female figure—often
headless—is reduced to hanging limbs, Untitled (Hangings) 1970, a skirt, Mini
Skirt 1970, or turned into electric appliances, Things to Pull-in; Push, both 1969-
70.

Remarkably, Margnetti’s choice to use the medium of painting solely in time
and context-specific projects dooms her production to disappear with the end
of each exhibition. Avoiding the classical tools of the (male) painter, she aims to
emphasize the importance of creating a direct connexion to the “now”, to what
is lived, and ultimately to life itself (hers, but also the one of others). Perched
on ladders for hours a day, during a month-long work session, for SOULLESS
SKIN she involved her entire body in the making of the murals. During these
intensive periods of production the artist renders herself to the work, in an act of
resistance towards the pace and maddening potential of the current social and
political climate. This concern for bridging art and life is also visible in both of
the artists’ recurring use of the motif of the hand—their own—, which symbolises
the power of making and adds an autobiographic dimension to the works.

Margnetti’s signature use of yellow refers to the original colour of an emoticon.
Made of punctuation marks, this digital equivalent of an emotion allows for a wordless communication, and is arguably devoid of any actual sentiments.
50 years earlier, Kogelnik’s use of vinyl to depict human skin was meant
to symbolise an artificial being, one that is stripped off a soul by massconsumerism.
With similar strategies, both artists attempt to negotiating the
feminist identity and the social transformation induced by Modernity.

Though trained in producing trompe l’oeil, —a hyperreal style of painting
ultimately meant to deceive perception—Margnetti’s wood and marble surfaces,
The Most tendered Organ 2017; Four Noses on Wood 2017, deliberately fail
to render the impression of the materials they’re emulating. This controlled
failure allows a progression from concrete meaning to an abstract rendering
of emotions, where the signifier shifts away from the signified. Mystical, warm,
healing, masculine, the symbolic aura of Margnetti’s wood surfaces contrasts
strongly with the cold, solid, and feminine quality of her marble backgrounds. In
like manner, motives and materials were picked by Kogelnik for their symbolic
value, as carriers of cultural and historical content. Once overlapping and
superimposed Margnetti and Kogelnik’s work create an entirely new perspective
that further speculates on the cultural potential of materials, and its importance
in the definition of identity in relation to time and History.

So what shall we understand from such a formal and conceptual closeness,
50 years apart? Though Margnetti and Kogelnik have never met, nor ever
coincided, their practices cross paths on an astonishingly amount of levels.
Most notably, their work bring an original contribution to the feminist discourse,
bridging the second- and third-wave, while measuring the role and use of the
female body and the ever shifting consequences of progress.

SALTS would like to thank Swisslos-Fonds Basel-Landschaft, Fondation Nestlé
pour l’Art, Migros Kulturprozent, Roldenfund Stiftung and the Swiss Arts Council
Pro Helvetia for the generous support.

This exhibition would not be possible without the generous support of the Kiki
Kogelnik Foundation.

Sarah Margnetti would like to thank Nastasia Meyrat for her help.

Photos: Gunnar Meier Photography