Down by the Lake
The naked body has always been an object of art. For a long time, however, it did not stand for itself, but pointed to something else – to myth, for example, or to religion.
But modernity got the body to be nothing but the body: Manets “Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe” shows us the naked woman as the naked woman. The truth of that person reveals itself in the unhiddenness of her body: that alone is her, nothing else is; and that is just her, no one else is. This body is in and of itself: it is not mythical, not biblical, not Aphrodite, not Mary Magdalene. It is the very own, most exclusive body of this Mademoiselle who has breakfast there. In this body we see an individual, being unique and undivided.
Gesine Kikol’s picture cycle of the same name relates to that “Breakfast in the Open“. Following Manet, the Düsseldorf artist lays the naked female body in the landscape, but she comes – no wonder! – to completely different insights than once the Frenchman. At first we are fascinated by sheer quantity: about a dozen women take part in Kikol’s breakfast (by the way: unlike Manet, Gesine Kikol does not think that the presence of men is necessary to make the picknick a success). We are further surprised: though numerous, the women are of uniform appearance. Basically, we see one single woman who is varied in position and pose (with regard to the latter, by the way: It seems like we have seen all these positions somewhere else before … but where? Titian? Modigliani? Lucian Freud?).
„L’herbe“, the scenery itself, dissolves in abstraction. Only in the most recent pictures of this cycle an actual landscape becomes tangible: Here Kikol’s women have reached Finland, a country that the artist has often visited and that she regards highly. Here, “Down by the Lake“ and around that lonesome Mökki, she might have found something that suits her as landscape.
It is striking that those women who now live in Finland do not have that certain quality that was so terribly important to Manet: individuality. Apparently they have left behind the modern idea that everyone should be entirely special. Kikol goes so far as to sometimes omit our most important distinguishing feature: the face. So Kikol’s compositions have a strange, unanimous cheerfulness: Are these women still human beings, thrown into destiny? Or aren’t they maybe rather like … rabbits in the meadow?
These anthropomorphic rabbits are carefree of all the burden of existence, they are not compelled to recognize themselves as individual beings, separated from one another by abysses. Even the requisites of vanitas which Kikol spreads around do not scare. They are too conciliatory of that. Transience? So what? No problem, say the rabbits, we are one with everything: We will be there even when we aren’t anymore. There is no tomorrow, there is only this one, infinite day.
But what is left for us to do, apart from being fascinated viewers of this world? Does the artist challenge us to overcome out individualities, surmount our fears of life and death? Shall we become rabbits? This is tempting. Gesine Kikol’s naked women do not seem to be doing bad. They are suggestive. So now? Do we want to enter the picture? Can we?
Martin Berke, Düsseldorf, 2019