A≡A (IDENTITY)

Interactive Sculpture

Kristiane Kegelmann

2017

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Kristiane Kegelmann (born 1990 in Munich) followed her dream and moved in 2015 to Berlin after working as a confectioner for four years in the prestigious patisserie Demel in Vienna. In Berlin she first started to realize her exceptional sculptures, that take eat-art to a new level while creating interactive performances of various contexts. For us the artist created a performance based on the topic "true luxury focuses on the essentials", which was shown at an event at Kulturförderpunkt Berlin.

Rewrite the rules

Since time immemorial, we are told that we must not touch anything in the museum. This statement cannot generally be applied to modern art forms, but of course for the classics, the rule remains: Do not touch. So, for better or worse, we must heed the request - however tempting it may be to run your hand down the mirror like surface of a Jeff Koons sculpture or on Van Gogh’s opaque sunflower fields.  Too bad, since we are, actually, multi-sensual life forms with our realm of experience being a holistic one.  And this is where Kristiane Kegelmann steps in. The artist creates sculptures that contain edible elements as part of a performative installation.

​Me, myself and I

Kristiane Kegelmann created an interactive sculpture titled a ≡ a (identity) in accordance with Le Manoir’s true luxury focuses on the essentials philosophy. In it, the artist asks essential questions every one of us has asked themselves before: “Who am I, and how do I affect others?” The word “identity” is derived from the Latin word “Idem”, which translates into “the same”. Identity describes, in general the individual traits of a person that define the core of being human. In her work, the artist broaches the issue of the eternal wish to insert one’s own personality in one’s actions to the essence, and the fact that societal norms often prevent this from happening.

Cautious approach

Kristiane Kegelmann’s sculptures are peculiar because of their properties and their “art experience”. Her sculptures include edible elements that cannot be discerned as such at first glance. The artist playfully intertwines materials and surfaces, homogenizing edible and non-edible elements. The performative experience can be categorized into three sequential steps: 1. Observation: attempting to categorize it 2. Interaction: touch, eat, and consequently alter the piece 3. Perception of the altered piece with its missing pieces and scars. Through all of this, Kristiane Kegelmann understands to play with the unexpected and unconventional.

Art that dazels your senses

The sculpture does not invite the viewer explicitly to touch it. You can obtain information from provided documentation such as flyers or plaques. So at first we have a visual experience. The eye scans the sculpture, tries to evaluate which surface structures look like food – uncertainty kicks in: A shy glimpse at the other visitors, what are they doing, followed by a carefully running ones hands down the sculpture, trying to spot the edible elements, now replacing the visual experience with a haptic one, and then finally with taste. Some might hear their mom’s voice in the back of their mind: “Don’t play with your food.” But Kristiane Kegelmann can: she is an experienced confectioner, trained in such renowned places like the Demel in Salzburg. When manufacturing the edible elements in her work, she only uses high quality, natural, and organic ingredients, and prefers to focus on a small selection of elements. She doesn’t use any artificial flavors or sugar, but adds sweetness using honey or other natural sweeteners. Ms Kegelmann also likes to combine diverse components to create rather unusual tastes, reaching from sweet to salty, and sometimes both at the same time. As a result, the observer will be surprised not only visually but also in taste, as one would associate an expected taste with the dark chocolate confectionary she uses. This expectation, however, may not always be fulfilled.

Simbiosis of contrasts

Kristiane Kegelmann could not fulfill her artistic ambitions while following her old career as a traditional confectioner. Therefore, she decides to move to Berlin in 2015 where she begins to realize her extraordinary sculptures. Here she starts experimenting with a multitude of materials, such as concrete, wood or metal, and adapts the surface structure and colour grading of the edible elements to the adjacent material. As result, it is difficult to discern where the edible element starts and where it ends. Sometimes, the pralines can have a marbled structure, they shine like metal, or remind the viewer of concrete, sometimes their surface is smooth, sometimes broken up and porous. Ms Kegelmann’s art is oddly architectural; it exudes a sculptural aesthetic, with a strong connection to light and shadow. The edible and non-edible elements come together as a whole which can be actively experienced by the viewer. As a result, the viewer becomes an integral part of Kristiane Kegelmann’s work, which is completed in its meaning by the viewer themselves. At the same time the “artistic experience” requires a particular kind of emotional and perceptive attention. Where once food lay bare, now gapes an empty space. Only crumbs and the non-edible parts remain. The empty spaces are perceived and change the artwork – what’s left is a witness of a performative act which presents itself in the a ≡ a (identity) installation for Le Manoir as follows.

Blurry gaze

The artwork consists of a basin of metal, light, water, a mirror, and edible elements. From a metal basin on the floor, which is fitted with an oblong opening on the upper side, a ray of light shines onto a glass basin fitted to the ceiling. The glass basin is filled with water and is enclosed with a lid with a reflective underside. In the middle of the room between the glass and metal basins, rods with partially edible elements appear to float in the room. When grabbing one of the rods, the observer’s view is directed upwards, following the stream of light, where we are confronted by our mirrored self. As it passes the water our reflection is blurred and distorted. We see ourselves as if on another plane, which we cannot rationally grasp - who we are and how we reflect upon others cannot be tangibly identified. We feel uncertain, the metal basin on the floor reminds us of a coffin and confronts us with our own transience. 

In search of the real me

Especially in this day and age where conventional norms are put upon us like masks, the awareness of our own identity is a strong theme. As early in the 20th century, the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud already worked out the idea that a fully independent "self" cannot exist. Later, theorists such as the philosopher and philologist Judith Butler argued that an individual first has to be created by the society that surrounds it. According to Butler, an individual can only attain the status of a subject and a human, when submitting itself to social rules and norms, and fits in the arbitrarily predefined categories. New forms of identity can therefore only be attained by extending these categories and limitations.

Mirror, mirror…

Artists responded to this by trying out new concepts of identity, which expanded the scope of human existence. Mirror scenes already permeated antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the early modern art history, all the way to the modern and the present in order to address the image of the self. The literal symbolism of the mirror is the contemplation of the own reflection, its metaphorical meaning is wide and comprehensive. An additional level of perception is opened through it. The mirror allows the observer a glimpse back at themselves and their surroundings. In the works of contemporary artists there are manifold approaches to the mirror motif, such as Olafur Eliasson’s exhibition in Berlin (Innen Stadt Außen, 2010). In it, the viewer is confronted with their own reflection and contextualized with that of their surroundings in the most unusual places, even outside the museum.  Water, too, can function as a mirror. The first mirror was a smooth water surface – let us only think of the mythological figure of the Beautiful Narcissus who saw his own reflection in a spring, fell in love with it and when he tried to grab the other self, he drowned.

The self and its alienation

The motif of the mirror was the topic of many philosopher’s theory and psychologist’s essay. One of the most famous was written by French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. He introduced the term of the "mirror stage", also known as the "mirror phase", in 1935/36. With it, he describes the developmental psychology of an infant between the ages of 6 and 18 months.  The child discovers its body as a holistic unit and shape in its reflection, with which it begins to identify. The reflection enables the child to develop a self-image. Prior to this, it was attached to its surroundings, especially its mother, symbiotically. Now, his “me” and “not me” begin to separate. For the first time, the child experiences itself as an independent and complete life form. Yet, this moment of happiness is an illusion which in turn is the decisive conclusion of Lacan’s theory: This other self in the mirror is just a reflection of an imaginary self, which, additionally, is located outside of its own self: in the mirror. This moment of recognition immediately also becomes a moment of estrangement. Jacques Lacan attempts to answer the question, how human self perception grows and works with the mirror phase theory. The mirror phase, according to Lacan can be described as a continuous problem that we as humans experience during the entire length of our life: we entertain and love this unreachable, idealized image of ourselves that we can never become.

The endless surch

For good reason, the title of Kristiane Kegelmann’s piece a ≡ a (identity) is written in the language of logic. It shows that a perfect recognition of ourselves and our effect on others is not possible. The logic is a philosophical art of assessment, with which arguments and defined terms can be verified. In logical systems identity is introduced through indistinguishability with the formula a ≡ a. According to the artist, when searching for one’s own identity, this may not suffice.

Text: Katharina Arimont