From October 12th 2018 until January 12th 2019, the National Gallery of Arts has brought together the exhibition “Collages and Editions” by German artist Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt. The exhibition was curated by Sven Spieker, while its design was realized by Johanna Meyer-Grohbrüegge. Visual poetry and mail art are the areas around which the artist tends to act. In order to give life to this kind of art, typewriters come to the rescue, an unusual tool used to produce art. With such tool, the artist created scripts and drawings at the same time.
Given her profession (typist), but also conditioned by the historical circumstances when she was artistically active (70s, GDR), naturally she started to work in a way which was cold, distant and not easy to break down. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt came out with the idea that this kind of art was no longer needed.
The exhibition is based on two main directions of her creativity: collages and editions. The first are paper based works that intertwine writing with figures, combining type-writings with images and shreds torn from magazines and newspapers, along with reproductions of her early white paintings. Collages are also created through the combination between zincography, carton and aquarell. The editions in the exhibition are a reflection of the variety of artist’s typewriting works, starting from letters that visualize the meaning of a word to the works where letters and other punctuation marks are used, first of all because of the graphical features (and not meaningful) that they have. The transformation of standard letters into a dynamic wave, the set of symbols and different schemes give this work an architectural and special character.
The geometric language of the exhibition, as well as the limited use of numbers, seems to reflect the oppression of society from the dictatorship of the time. The artist does not hide the truth that she felt limited by the strict supervision of the regime under which he lived. To reinforce this idea comes the prevailing use of gray in the exhibition, used on the display cases where the works stand. The display cases (24 in total) are also distinguished by the various geometric shapes under which they are created and all recreate one of the images produced by the artist herself. Part of the exhibition are also 51 different works (reproductions of mail artwork collaborations) presented through the slides, produced by the gallery “ChertLüdde” (2016, Berlin), and an interview with the artist, produced by Lutz Wohlrab (2016).
The artist herself, in 1971, describes the visual-linguistic expression of thoughts, senses, intentions, etc., through the typewriting machine, a contemporary example of artistic activity. She thinks that the advantage of this way of expression lies in pursuing an idea or anxiety, even when you are not thinking of art or even if you have not studied art, adding that this type of production involves an extraordinary game.
* Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt was born in 1932 in Wurzen, Germany. She trained in business management and typewriting. After moving to the GDR, in 1971 she started working as an independent artist. She was involved in mail art and after her first personal exhibition in Warsaw, she became part of the Official Artists Association. In the 1970s and 1990s she created what he called “machine writings”, and in 1981 she produced the first collages based on machine writings . After the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989), Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt ends her career as an artist.
* Sven Spieker teaches at Comparative Literature Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He specializes in modern and contemporary art and literature, influencing Russia and Central Europe. His books and articles have been published in German, Korean, Russian, Swedish, Polish and English. Spieker is the founding editor of “ARTMargins Print” and a member of the editorial team that leads “ARTMargins Online”.
* Johanna Meyer-Grohbruge is a German architect who lives and works in Berlin. After graduating from ETH Zurich (Zurich, Switzerland), she worked for a period of 5 years for SANAA in Tokyo. In 2010 she co-founded “June14 Meyer-Grohbrügge & Chermayeff” with Sam Chermayeff (www.june-14.com). Since 2015 she works on projects in her name. Johanna teaches at “DIA Dessau”. Earlier, he taught at “Washington University St Louis” and “Columbia GSAPP”.