Stefan Trinks: Dealer of Realities – Anna Lena Straube´s New Picture Cycle “Renaissance 8”
“I just built that in LA!” On his ninetieth birthday, architect Frank O. Gehry stood in front of Giovanni Bellini’s “The Feast of the Gods” and pointed to a section of forest in the painting, with satyrs and other figures of mythology encamped in front of it. Half a millennium later, we encounter Bellini’s personnel again in the new picture cycle “Renaissance 8” by Anna Lena Straube, already announcing in the title with the standing infinity-8, quite in the sense of Nietzsche, a “eternal return of the same old”, as Renaissance means rebirth. Familiar images circulate through the centuries; it is only the artists who are others through whom the necessary images paint themselves again and again. Thus, the maenads and satyrs of a Bellini and Mantegna circulate in her Neorenaissance paintings, or the blue wind god Zephir from Botticelli’s “Primavera” hangs in a tree. Straube’s protagonists celebrate a basic form of the Renaissance and antiquity, the “Thiasos” as an orgiastic and oblivious round dance of Dionysus and his followers. These hypnotic dances were “performances” and the twelve-part cycle of “Renaissance 8” is about such performances as the inner reason for the pictures. As in the paradoxes of the Renaissance – demigods, satyrs, and so-called “wild men” animate normal people to do un-ordinary things and thereby let them grow far beyond themselves – Straube’s performers are also strongly differentiated in character.
Unlike Botticelli’s precisely balanced ideal compositions, however, Straube hands over the composition to the uncontrollable energy of a literally motley crew: she gives the gaggle of friends and strangers free rein to roam and conquer a Berlin park, with the one condition that they are all dressed non-everyday and beautifully in flowing fabrics as Warburgian pathos formulas, and that they don’t talk to each other, but react to each other exclusively in a physically attentive way. From the flood of images shot in the process, she selects the most suspenseful and picturesque ones. While Botticelli’s “Primavera”, with its basic mood of a golden age through the “buon governo” of the Medici, had a political statement, the political aspect of Straube’s “Renaissance” is rather its freedom: each figure has sought its own place in the picture, and despite all the differences between the performers, new ties and groups are always forming. Metaphorically, this reflects the artist’s basic conviction that even the most heterogeneous people can come together “conspiratorially”, i.e. “animated” in Latin, while maintaining their differences.
“Time becomes space here” Nietzsche writes, and in Straube’s backgrounds moving spaces from the most diverse styles and times unfold, swirls of ornaments form time tunnels. In “M” the iconic silhouette of the twin towers of Berlin’s pleasure palace “Peacock Island” emerges. In “P,” the dreamlike stucco pendentives of the Alhambra in Granada fan out. In half of the pictures, however, it is the rococo rooms in Berlin’s Charlottenburg Palace that provide the background foil, previously photographed by Straube at an accentuated angle with many parallaxes. Several times the lines collapse in such a way that an unreal mood is created. In the picture “A”, for example, the already oversized crown of the architecture of the Charlottenburg Palace Chapel pushes itself forward in such a way that it seems as if it wants to overtake and crown the half-naked woman rushing towards us. Such surreally moving and stretched spaces are familiar from dreams. The paradox arises that the collaged figures in the foreground, despite their costumes and partial nudity, seem more real than the constructed spaces in the background. The satyr-like figures gain more authenticity the more dreamlike surreal the spaces behind and in front of them are, because in the foremost layer everything except the faces is covered by the artist’s typical drips. It rains color, as if in fantasy. With her, Nietzsche’s aphorism could be extended to “Time becomes a dream here“: the absolutely free, seemingly eternal coexistence perhaps only exists in the sphere of art, but with Straube it is perfect in form.
Image: Anna Lena Straube, H Renaissance 8, 2021, mixed media on canvas, 230 x 160 cm