Birgit Jürgenssen

Nest

1979, printed 2011

Sorry, no image available

Not on display

Artist
Birgit Jürgenssen 1949–2003
Medium
Photograph, black and white on paper
Dimensions
Unconfirmed: 270 x 391 mm
frame: 520 x 620 x 30 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the Estate Birgit Jürgenssen, Galerie Hubert Winter 2013
Reference
P13488

Summary

The black and white photograph Nest was taken in 1979 and reprinted in 2011 as a lambda print in an edition of eighteen under the supervision of the artist’s estate. Shot from above, it shows a bird’s nest with two small eggs in it nestled between the crossed legs of a figure wearing light-coloured, laddered nylon tights and sitting on a furry rug. The upper body of the figure is cropped out of the photograph. The shape of the legs and the nylon tights suggest that the subject is a woman, although the nest obscures the figure’s genitals. The vertical line of the seam of the stockings and the two eggs bisect the photograph, while the angle of the subject’s legs is almost symmetrical. The round nest is positioned just above the middle of the photograph.

Jürgenssen’s Nest provides a direct counter to the representation of the female body as a nude, dominant in art history. Rather than showing the body off, it is clumsily cropped and covered in torn tights, with the ragged bird’s nest jokingly referring to the female reproductive organs. Likewise, the viewpoint from above suggests that the image may have been taken by the seated figure, troubling the distinction between the artist as creative subject and sitter as object of the gaze – a dynamic which usually saw a woman represented by a male artist. Nest is also an example of Jürgenssen’s use of linguistic puns. The German term ‘Nesthocker’ (literally ‘nest sitter’) refers to a ‘home bird’ or one still living in the parental home as an adult. It has negative connotations, associated with a lack of desire to experience the wider world. Jürgenssen visualises this term, but rather than present the figure sitting in the nest, it sits on her lap, suggesting she has outgrown it. Indeed the sitter’s state of undress and laddered tights implies that she has already left the safety and seclusion associated with the familial home.

Between 1996 and 1998 Jürgenssen created a photographic series called Interieurs (Interiors) that includes an image in which Nest is re-used. The works in Interieurs combine interior decoration drawings printed on transparent sheets from the book The Instant Decorator (1976), with images that deconstruct their conservative 1960s and 1970s middle class aesthetic. Nest is paired with the outlines of a typical bourgeois kitchen interior that satirise the idea of designing one’s home as a personal ‘nest’ while using the same standardised aesthetic as anybody else. Moreover, this image, like Nest itself, highlights the blurred line between the personal sphere (the ‘inside’ symbolised by the nest) and society (the ‘outside’ as represented by the standardised kitchen).

The female body and feminist analysis are at the centre of Jürgenssen’s work, whether critiqued in relation to the domestic sphere or mass media, or celebrated in relation to nature and the animalistic (see, for example, Untitled (Self with Little Fur) 1974, printed 2011, Tate P13486). Her work encompasses a range of media, including sculpture, installation, lithographs, drawings, collage and photography. Jürgenssen lived and worked in Vienna throughout her life, although the curator and art historian Peter Weibel has emphasised the international relevance of her work. In 2003 he wrote: ‘Birgit Jürgenssen is the missing link that is finally being discovered not only for Austrian feminism between Maria Lassnig and VALIE EXPORT, but also for the international women’s art movement from Francesca Woodman to Cindy Sherman’ (quoted in Schor and Solomon-Godeau 2009, p.9). Jürgenssen also considered herself a feminist artist, as she stated, ‘in the sense of conscious awareness, analysis and deconstruction of dominant theories and systems of representations – yes’ (quoted in Schor and Solomon-Godeau 2009, p.8).

Further reading
Gabriele Schor and Abigal Solomon-Godeau (eds.), Birgit Jürgenssen, Ostfildern 2009.
Gabriele Schor and Heike Eipeldauer (eds.), Birgit Jürgenssen, exhibition catalogue, Bank Austria Kunstforum, Vienna and Sammlung Verbund, Vienna 2010.

Lena Fritsch
April 2013

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