Antonia Wetzel is a storyteller. The floor of her Pilotenkueche studio is covered with huge sheets of paper, and each of them bears a narrative. Some of them are written statements with bold, black letters covering a whole page, while the others are mainly large scale comics. Although they are all separate and conclusive in themselves, as a whole they build a cohesive braiding of sentiments and stories.
‘Comics are a way for me to bring the most important information of a whole storyline into just one painting’, Antonia says. Constantly adding new paintings to the paper stacks, she has created an ever expanding sketchbook on concrete floor. The existing parts being perpetually and haphazardly juxtaposed with more recent material, and thus constantly gain new meaning.
‘Sexuality plays a huge role in each of my works – and obviously shame’, Antonia explains. This involvement with sexuality and shame is almost abidingly present throughout her practice: Often based on Antonia’s own experience, her works exhibit situations associated with the emergence of shame and the feeling of being exposed in a sexual context. The chosen role as the exhibitionist is a liberating one, offering the protagonists the opportunity to escape vulnerability and to retrieve their dignity through regaining a position of power.
There is an aggression in the act of the unmasking, a brutality in the bluntness of her words, yet there is wit. One of the paintings on the floor depicts the artist as an old woman in a chair, holding a young man in her lap. Both of them are naked. It is Antonia’s cynical answer to the sexist lifestyle promoted in many of Charles Bukowski’s pieces. The artist’s humorous approach makes the said appear even more incisive, simultaneously it acts as a medicine soothing the wounds of both beholder and originator.
For the Pilotenkueche exhibition at Kunstkraftwerk, Antonia embraces a new medium: performance. Her interactive piece, ‘Fuck an Artist’. urges the spectator to actively engage with the theme through writing their fantasies on postcards inscribed with the question ‘What do you want to do to me?’. These will then be put in a glass box, exposed to everyone. The content of the notes will eventually be reflected upon in a performance by the artist herself, who will be present during the entire process. Deliberately objectivising herself whilst maintaining ascendancy through the exposure of her subject, she generates an ambiguous mechanism, a power dynamic run by mutual dependence.
As part of the exhibition, Antonia will also hand out ‘Hurenpaesse’ to visitors. ‘Whore passports’ are issued to sex workers by the German government. They are a crass example of the stigmatisation sex workers have to face in a hypocritical system that protects the industry’s customers, but leaves the providers exposed. The passports will feature a real phone number which can be used to make an appointment with the artist.
‘I can get away with calling it art, but a real sex worker does not have the same freedom. In this space of it being a performance and me being an artist I can sell sex if I want to, but a real sex worker will face a lot more difficulties and that is the point I want to make. Certain people get a lot of freedom because of the circles they are living in and in what context they are doing things, and then others live other stigmas and labels and don’t have the same freedom.’
There are many myths evolving around sex work, though the narratives have largely been woven by men. With contemporary society stagnating on a platform of ‘acceptable disparity’ whilst cherishing the illusion of gender equality, Antonia’s work is now as relevant as ever.
written by Fiona Irene Graf
See Antonia’s work in the upcoming exhibitions
Saturday 17 August
Isaac Magner and Agathe Barre
Saturday 24 August
Isaac Magner and Agathe Barre
Friday 20 September
Saturday 21 September – Monday 23 September
PILOTENKUECHE International Art Program