Blaukraut und Tiere

Johanna Wagner

Apr 6th - May 17th, 2024
Opening / Apr 5th, 7PM

Johanna Wagner is a visual artist and works with film, photography, performance and installation. Her interest in theatrical stage sets, which brought her to art, is reflected in her diverse practice. Wagner‘s photography series often consist of self-portraits, which she takes with a self-timer and bright flash. The artist usually adorns herself with accessories and thus tells stories about current interests: At the moment, these mainly revolve around the theme of the garden - on a poetic level, but also on an ecological and botanical one.

Wagner‘s solo exhibition „Blaukraut und Tiere“ brings together photography, installation and performance. The starting point of her artistic work is the exploration of the animal and plant world in the artist‘s allotment garden on the outskirts of Karlsruhe. With her observations, Wagner delves deep into staging considerations and scientific research: The results resemble a root network of red threads.

Wagner herself appears as a plant in some of her works - the costume just enough to be recognized as such and to maintain the appearance of the staging. For example, the artist covers parts of her body with leaves and sometimes a piece of double-sided adhesive tape, which Wagner used to attach them, still peeks out. It adheres to the motto: as much as necessary, as little as possible. After all, it is not about a truthful transformation into, say, a pointed cabbage: rather, the focus is on the implied hybridization. She puts herself in the role of the flora and fauna of her allotment garden and playfully imagines what it would be like to be part of it. The scenes are recognizable as highly staged due to a bright flash and the professional photo backdrop and are reminiscent of a stage situation. Conceptually, Wagner uses the means of ironic self-dramatization - a humorous empathy with the plant. The result is not a moral impetus, but a neutral observation of events and a simple appreciation of the beauty of the pointed cabbage leaves. In addition to the portraits, the photograms of the leaves perforated by insects also bear witness to this. The vegetables portrayed come from the harvests of the artist‘s own garden.

In another series, Wagner shows stills from video recordings that she took with a so-called wildlife camera in her garden at the edge of the forest. The camera reacts to an integrated motion detector and starts filming when it is activated. The artist „analogizes“ the resulting digital video stills to a certain extent by producing a negative and then photographing it in her photo lab. Various animals can be seen in the photographs - Wagner himself also appears between the animal portraits taken by the wildlife camera. In the absence of humans, badgers, deer, foxes and buzzards dare to come very close to the garden fence and each use the same hole in the fence as a passageway. Analogous to the supposed privacy of an allotment garden, which is the symbol of German petty bourgeoisie, the animals seem to go unnoticed. The camera eye and now the visitors to the exhibition observe them in their supposedly unobserved everyday lives. Although the camera is a secret spectator and the artist‘s fleeting self-portrait suggests an arbitrary shot, the photographs appear staged. The people portrayed all look as if they are characters in a play. Involuntarily and already driven by the ironic undertone in Wagner‘s artistic practice, a projection of human behavior onto the animals sets in.

The installation „Ollas und Mauerwespen Kokons“ tells the story of a coincidental symbiosis and synchronicity between the animal and human worlds: at the center is the so-called Oriental Wall Wasp, which settles near humans in order to use their materials for the construction of its brood cells. Wagner discovered the photographed wasp cocoons in her studio and suspects that her clay also served as material for the wall wasps. The artist had previously formed the jars on display from the same clay - and then noticed the striking resemblance to the cocoons.

You could say that Johanna Wagner is interested in different types of portraits - always with a focus on different symbioses. Her practice ranges from professional staging to random photography. The artist herself is always part of her works and opens up an unexpectedly humorous view of the art-historical theme of the garden, which is often portrayed as a romanticized place of longing. In her interpretation, the garden is full of undiscovered stories and events that the artist wants to track down in order to find out more about the symbiosis of people, animals and plants and their habitats.

Text: Louisa Behr