Country Love

German born artist Pia Dehne has a zeal for taking cultural artifacts from her past and transforming them into work that is relevant and fresh.

poster for Pia Dehne

Pia Dehne "Country Life"

at Blackston
in the Lower East Side area
This event has ended - (2008-04-24 - 2008-05-31)

In Interviews by Isabel Kirsch 2008-04-26 print

German born artist Pia Dehne has a zeal for taking cultural artifacts from her past and transforming them into work that is relevant and fresh. For her “Naked City” show in 2004 at Deitch Galleries, she recreated the Jimi Hendrix Experience Electric Lady Land album cover with assorted ladies from the New York bohemia world. In September 2006 she revived the bicycle race visual from the Queen Jazz album in a live performance including 40 women in nude suits on racing bikes. In “Country Life,” Dehne presents several large-scale oil paintings and mixed media pieces recreated from images found in modern American hunting magazines, images that address our culture’s obsession with high tech military and design. One week before the opening I interviewed the artist during a visit to her studio in the East Village.
Reconstruction of Roxy Music's album 'Country Life'
Pia, you are currently preparing a new show titled “Country Life.” In past projects you re-created the art work from iconic and controversial album covers. Is your new project also related to a specific album?

Yes, it relates to the Roxy Music album Country Life from 1974.

This time it seems to be a little bit different as the show doesn’t include any representational image of the actual cover. The core of your show is a couple of very technical, very intricate camouflage paintings depicting modern hunters in the forest. If you don’t know the contextual background, you don’t understand how these two things are related. Could you explain?

Album U.S. version Well, one thing leads to another… I had been playing with the idea of recreating Country Life for a while and during the initial development process I noticed something very interesting: The European version of the album shows two women dressed in nothing but transparent lingerie in front of some green bushes. It turned out that the U.S. version was censored, and eliminated the women altogether. So the U.S. cover only showed the bushes and the title, which is incredibly boring! In the second release they did show the women but their bodies are partly covered with some weird brown paper bag material.

This project is about the disappearance of the female bodies. Suddenly I became more interested in the idea of the invisible than in the figurative. And that led me to realize this association with camouflage and mimicry (which are biological terms), of objects disappearing into nature. Nature uses these frauds to defend itself. People however use these tricks for other means, oftentimes in aggressive and destructive ways like for the military and hunting.

Personally speaking, creating illusions, Trompe D’oeil, gender switching, masquerade, etc., are all forms that play a great part in my life and art.

How has this idea manifested in your other work?

It’s funny because I actually only noticed this after the fact. When I look at my work it’s always been about things disappearing, things dissolving into color, into non-form, or emptiness. There has always been this process of entering the unknown, this shift of consciousness. It’s been developing like that from any chosen starting point, it could be a photo for example, and then I would gradually let go of the concept. With “Country Life” it’s different because the camouflage has become the actual concept. I am painting these aggressive hunters in the woods and they are disappearing. They are virtually undetectable in their surroundings, dissolving into organic, natural forms of pure color. This evokes the idea of the existence of nature, the reality of it. Nature intelligently utilizes camouflage to protect itself. Human beings emulate this trick of nature to kill or to destroy nature and each other.
 'Blue Hunter' Oil on canvas (2008) 48 x 174 in.
So how does this camouflage concept play in with the “bicycle girls”?

For the performance of the Queen album cover, I developed nude suits for all the 40 women to wear. The nude suits were created because we were not allowed to be naked in public, so we were naked on bicycles, but at the same time dressed. It was a masquerade, an act of camouflage to fit into the environment, into the city of New York.

Looking back at the series of work you have created, how did you come to choose these specific albums? Are they connected?

Those albums are all from a long time ago and what they have in common is that they left a strong imprint on my mind. Roxy Music was one of the first albums I bought, the Queen Jazz album came with the Bicycle Girls’ poster, and my sister had it hanging on her bedroom wall. I always marveled at these images as a teenager wondering, who are these women? That’s wild! One thing I didn’t realize until much later though is the fact that all the album artwork I have been referring to was censored in the U.S., so that’s another thing they have in common.

The process of re-creation using images that have been a subject of attraction in my life is the source of inspiration for my paintings. Bringing these images into the present moment creates a reference to the here and now, to today’s society. And this opens new questions like: What is different? Where are we at these days? Are we liberated yet?

Tell me a little bit about the work process on the hunter paintings?

The paintings are based on a photograph which I grabbed from a hunting supply store. The process was very exciting but also very cumbersome and it required me to be painstakingly focused. I spent a lot of time very close to blown up pieces of the composition. Working on just a fragment of the whole made it very abstract; just delicate brush strokes of colors and forms. Only in the very end it melts into something with an actual shape. In the process I experienced this “in between” stage, which is like breaking into another reality, into the unknown.

Apart from the oil paintings, what else can we see at the gallery?

Over the time I also made some collages, collage paintings using fabric, and different materials and I will probably mix in one or two if these paintings. I also did some collage paper work and I will show the recreation of the Country Life album which was the starting point for this project.

Isabel Kirsch

Isabel Kirsch. Isabel has been writing for various pop culture publications since the early 90s. She has published around 40 science fiction short stories in the Berlin-based magazine, Style 100. She later moved into the non-fiction realm of art and culture. She has co-edited two art books with street artists WK Interact (New York) and Jaybo aka Monk (Berlin/Paris). A New York resident since 1999, Isabel loves to stumble upon new and exciting, or touching artifacts in the city. Whether it's mutilated billboards or a fine art exhibition, she feels it's worth sharing if it punctures her habitual mental patterns. » See other writings

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