Raphaela Vogel Berlinische Galerie / Berlin by

by March 12, 2019

How much control do we really have over who sees us, how, and when? Known for her video sculptures, which probe at the relationship between our bodies, space, and technology, Vogel performs for the camera, using drones and improvised selfie sticks to become her own voyeur — self-fetishizing. Of course, we too watch: all eyes are on Vogel. At the Berlinische Gallerie, the artist’s first institutional solo exhibition in Germany’s capital (where she also lives and works), she is oracle, onlooker, and the observed. Therefore as a subject, she is simultaneously in control of the gaze and self-determining, but also dependent. These positions interchange as Vogel poses the question: Who’s watching whom?

Walking through an arch symbolically decorated in a Chinese style with dragon and bird, the viewer emerges into a different aesthetic register: a metal skeleton or church-like cage with screen as altar. Chunky, open-palmed metal hands frame the room. It feels Brutalist. A video opens with Vogel reclining upon a circular bed, colorful pillows and duvets bunched around. The artist began her career as a painter (interested in pigment’s relationship with space, action, and happening), and a painterly approach to color and composition are evident early on in this film; green, blue, and red tones coalesce and turn together as Vogel films using a silver pole. She keeps eye contact, the room slowly spins; it’s sort of sexy, like a webcam. Elsewhere Vogel reconfigures footage from the video For 10 Years Later (2017): she stands in a subterranean tunnel as sorcerer, reeling in the camera with a fishing line; plays her own ass like a drum to rhythmic music; thrashes about in another bed, plastic swan-wand in hand, doubled as a symmetrical two-headed being; and surrenders, marked by the shadow of an ominous flying drone.

Surveillance and the limits of trespass are overarching themes. Via social media, we invite people to watch our daily lives, our intimate moments. We crave the dialectic of self-reinforcement: I see you watching me, therefore I am. Vogel paints this contemporary experience underscored by a menacing message: you think you’re in control, but there’s something else going on in the shadows.

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Louisa Elderton