Birgit Jürgenssen

Ohne Titel (Selbst mit Fellchen)

1974, printed 2011

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Not on display

Artist
Birgit Jürgenssen 1949–2003
Medium
Photograph, colour, chromogenic print on paper
Dimensions
Support: 177 x 126 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the Estate Birgit Jürgenssen, Galerie Hubert Winter 2013
Reference
P13486

Summary

Ohne Titel (Selbst mit Fellchen) is a colour photograph originally produced by the Austrian artist Birgit Jürgenssen in 1974. Its German title translates as Untitled (Self with Little Fur). It is a half-length self-portrait of the artist, whose eyes and nose are covered by a fox’s face taken from a fur stole. She wears a turquoise woollen cloth with a dark pattern, poncho style, covering her body. She appears to lean slightly against a light wall and her pink lips are pursed. The image was reprinted under the supervision of the artist’s estate in 2011 in an edition of eighteen, of which this copy is number two.

Jürgenssen’s use of fur in this image suggest multiple allusions. First it cites the glamour associated with luxury fur clothing and particularly that worn by early Hollywood film stars, such as Marlene Dietrich or Mae West. The artist’s pinched pout and made-up face could likewise be seen as mimicking the posed images of those actresses’ studio portraits. The act of wearing fur has also be associated with the simultaneous concealing and revealing of sexuality and the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud argued that fur is a sexual fetish-object in his 1927 essay Fetischismus. Jürgenssen’s playful reference to the Austrian psychoanalyst would have been especially apposite in her native Viennese context. Yet more than just an accessory, the fur acts like a mask covering the artist’s human features. This suggests both her personal metamorphosis into an animal as well as the appearance of the often-concealed animalistic side common to all humans. The fox fur appears to be a part of Jürgenssen’s face and as it merges with the artist’s hair and features, she is transformed into a ‘fox-woman’. This animalistic and fantastic aspect, as well as the use of fur as artistic material, call to mind the work of surrealist artists, especially Meret Oppenheim, who created numerous objects with fur (most famously Object 1936, Museum of Modern Art, New York). In 1981 Jürgenssen exhibited Ohne Titel (Selbst mit Fellchen) with a dedication to Oppenheim, expressing her high regard for the older artist. The work was shown in Jürgenssen’s solo exhibition 10 Tage – 100 Fotos / 10 Days – 100 Photos at the Galerie Huber Winter in Vienna in 1980–1. One hundred framed photograph and Polaroid self-portraits of Jürgenssen were hung closely on the wall and presented as a group in a largely symmetrical composition. Ohne Titel (Selbst mit Fellchen) was at the centre of this installation.

Ohne Titel (Selbst mit Fellchen) is not the only work in which Jürgenssen covers her face using an animal part. The motif can also be found in other photographic self-portraits, for example the Polaroid photograph Ohne Titel (Selbst mit Schädel) (Untitled (Self with Skull)) 1979, in which she covers her face with an animal skull. In a slightly earlier untitled drawing from 1977–8 she depicted a young woman wearing a large rat-like head around her human head.

The female body and feminist analysis are at the centre of Jürgenssen’s work, whether critical of the domestic sphere and mass media or in celebration of the natural or animalistic (see Jeder hat seine eigene Ansicht / Everyone Has His Own Point of View 1975, printed 2006, Tate P13487 and Nest 1979, printed 2011, Tate P13488). She wrote in relation to this plurality that: ‘Women certainly deal with the question of identity in a more interpretive way simply because they are more often obliged to play roles’ (quoted in Elisabeth Bronfen, ‘Self-Irony as an Autobiographical Strategy: Birgit Jürgenssen’s Word Games’, in Schor and Solomon-Godeau 2009, p.84). Her work encompassed 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, pp.79–95.
Gabriele Schor and Heike Eipeldauer (eds.), Birgit Jürgenssen, exhibition catalogue, Bank Austria Kunstforum and Sammlung Verbund, Vienna 2010.

Lena Fritsch
April 2013

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