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Mariechen Danz: Body of work

INTERVIEW! The eponymous centrepiece of Mariechen Danz's Womb Tomb is a body with exposed organs, eternally incomplete. We spoke with the artist about her work dealing with the human body; see it for yourself at Galerie Tanja Wagner opening Nov 20.

Image for Mariechen Danz: Body of work
Photo by Uwe Niklas

Mariechen Danz, the Irish-born, Berlin-based artist is already turning heads with her solo Womb Tomb at Galerie Tanja Wagner. We sat down with Danz to learn more about the show’s eponymous performing sculpture, a “process piece” that she says she could keep working on forever. Be one of the first to experience it as it opens Friday, November 20 at 6pm.

What will we see in the exhibition?

“Womb Tomb” is the main piece, the show’s named after it. It’s a figure, lying like a corpse on a pedestal, whose intestines, lungs and heart are exposed. I call it a he because it looks more male than female, but actually it has no sexual signifiers or sexual organs, and no belly button, therefore it cannot give birth, was never born, cannot procreate and so on. There are impressions and marks of hands left from making his form. He’s stagnated in a permanent process of becoming.

This is the second iteration of this piece. You included a similar work, with the same title, last year in your solo at the Centre d’art Neuchâtel is Switzerland.

Yes, but he didn’t work the way I wanted him to. So I’ve re-skinned him – now he’ll be covered in thermal graphic pigments which will change colors at different temperatures. There’s a heat source inside of him, so in a way he’ll be performing. Plus you can touch him, so for example, rubbing his lips or stomach will change him.

Will he be alone in the gallery?

There will also be two sculptures of intestines, one which is sort of toxic-looking and one that is very warm and womb-like. They’ll stand at the height of where they would be in an average human body, but they’re actually the size of a teenager’s. I like this incompleteness. Different stones from all over the world are set into them. Some are from Ireland that I’ve had with me for years. There are also several flat silken bodies which were hand-sewn, with thermal weather mapping on one side and marbled silk designed with elements of Kerstin Braetsch’s Unstable Talismanic Rendering paintings on the other side, as well as several plaster masks cast from an educational medical replica of a CAT scan-like view of the human head.

Will you alter the gallery space in any way?

The windows will be covered in red transparencies. The gallery is like a shop front, so I think it would be very problematic to put a man-made body there, because people would relate that to mannequins, not to the anatomical body. I wanted to create a warm space. It’s not an aesthetic thing. It would be painful to expose him to stark light. It doesn’t matter if he’s plastic. For me he’s real, even if he’s not human. [Laughs]

What keeps bringing you back to the human form?

Throughout the history of anatomy, you find the most errors about the closest thing to us, the body. There have been so many misunderstandings across all different societies and time periods. Galan, for example, thought that air went through the heart and for 1500 years that was accepted and not questioned. I’m working mainly with the history of anatomy and the transmission of knowledge, and the hierarchies they created.

Are you more academic or experimental in your research?

I have both phases. I am always trying to find a way to access information. In the beginning I just read texts as if they’re poetry. If I read Deleuze and it sounds like rap in my head, I think, I need to sing this in a performance. So in that sense it can be light, but I also do a lot of writing.

You often perform in your installations; will you do so this time?

My performances are vocal-based, and this time, I didn’t want any language involved. I’m not performing, he’s performing for me. I’m mute for the first time, and that’s a whole new ballgame for me.

His performance is shaped by the viewer. How do people react to that?

Yes. You will have an impression on him. You can have an effect on him. I like the intimacy that he creates. The body, in that position, is a trigger. So many people have asked me, because I’ve been working on him for ages, why he’s titled “Womb Tomb”, because that would mean the piece is about everything but life – before you’re in the world, and after, when you’re in the other womb under the ground. I don’t think of it all in that way. I think of “Womb Tomb” as a state of being neither, being in between.

And that in-between is life?

That in-between is, I don’t know, it’s trying. It’s trying to be alive. [laughs]

Womb Tomb, Nov 19-Jan 16 | Galerie Tanja Wagner, Pohlstraße 64, Tiergarten, U-Bhf Kurfürstenstr., Tue-Sat 11-18