Text_Vanitas_English version

„Down by the Track“ 
Kultur Bahnhof Eller, Düsseldorf 
1 May – 12 June 2022

Gesine Kikol: „Vanitas_03“, 2022, Acrylic and ink on canvas, 140 x 100 cm

One could focus one’s attention on what Gesine Kikol has painted – but perhaps one should give priority to what she has not painted: Her painting „Vanitas_03“ offers no place, all that is depicted floats through void blackness. The things are unsubstantiated, almost quotations taken out of context, thrown into nothingness. Yes: Gesine Kikol shows us that the context of these quotations no longer exists.

What we see is first of all an impressive arsenal of symbols of death: Kikol’s birds are all quite dead, some of them prostrated by the hunter’s bullet, some of them otherwisely faded, sometimes already skeletal. Butterflies flit about like the souls of the dead. These are all elements of vanitas painting.

But in Kikol’s work they are torn from their context: We see no moral impetus („Realise your mortality and live virtuously so that you won’t get into trouble at the Last Judgement!“). Nor does Kikol rise herself above death with an artistic gesture of triumph („I am now making this dead bird better than nature could ever manage, thus rapturing it and myself into the immortality of art!“)

No: Gesine Kikol’s painterly gesture has a certain laconic quality. She presents death, the death to which we all return with the greatest self-understanding, as the last and therefore strongest of our possibilities: „I cannot look at a bouquet of blossoming flowers without seeing their withering,“ she says. „If I did not know what withering is, then I would not know what blossoming is.“

In the lower third of the picture we see all sorts of creatures in what used to be called a symplegma. This is only too plausible: without procreation there is no death. Seen in this light, the sexual act in its vanity is a necessary complement of the passing away. Moreover, when looking at Kikol’s copulating animals, there is no real sexual ecstasy: Her toads, for example, look rather melancholy, which may be because toads, no matter what they do, cannot look anything but melancholy, and this in turn may be the reason why Kikol has put them in the picture.

To avoid any misunderstandings, she has positioned the pair of moose right away on that enigmatic polyhedron we know from Albrecht Dürer’s „Melencolia I“. Finally, the bunnies are banging on Gustave Courbet’s „Origin of the World“ – „Origin of what world?“, one might ask. The one that throws itself into nothingness? That world of black-primed stinking morels?

Gesine Kikol refuses to answer here. She lays it all out for us, then leaves us alone – seeing what she has painted and seeing what she has not painted.

Martin Berke, 2022, translation by Gesine Kikol