Written by Yosr Chaieb. Published on 2 January 2023.
Since 2000, the German artist Gudrun Barenbrock has been experimenting with archived footage collected during her trips around the world. These visual materials undergo the various processes of collage, montage, juxtaposition, overlaying, coloring, and/or decoloring. The final product is an artistic palimpsest, a multi-layered record of Gudrun’s urban, natural, and representational surrounding spaces.
Gudrun’s aesthetic vision consists of visual conceits, permeated with instances of harmonious discrepancies, and discordant harmonies. For example, the juxtaposition of the natural site and the urban mechanical space creates a wide margin for contemplation and interpretation. These snapshots taken from common everyday scenes engage in a fertile dialogue with both the urban site and the onlooker.
In addition, the use of the negative film is recurrent in Gudrun’s art. It communicates a shadowy effect that renders strange an ordinary scene. The interplay between light and darkness further accentuates this effect and thrusts the onlooker into a loop of inquisitiveness.
For the MISE EN LUMIÈRE public art project in Tunis, Gudrun Barenbrock invigorated Bab Bhar, the Cathedral, the City Hall, the City Museum, and the City Theater with still and moving images that do not dispense with depth, artistic ingenuity, and formal mastery. The visiting artist invested her aesthetic vision and artistic expertise in MISE EN LUMIÈRE through a number of artistic expressions that highlight both the light art and the project’s theme, along with a number of local and international artists selected by the artistic directors Aymen Gharbi and Bettina Pelz for the commission.
Dedicated to shed light upon both the iconic sites and the pioneering women in Tunisia, the commissioned project inspired the artist to create visual representations of the thorny yet steady pathways pursued by Tunisian female avant-gardists. Gudrun endowed her artworks with a motion to emulate the historical figures’ movement forward and backward from their relative success.
At Bab Bhar, The City’s Museum, and at the City Theater
To introduce the guiding theme of the project, Gudrun chose to cover the building with digitized revisions of drawn or photographed portraits of all the pioneering women selected for the Mise En Lumière’s project. These portraits were collaged with the animated texts, and pixelated letters referring back to both Najet Abdelkader’s text and MEL’s selected French keywords; “Innovatrice, Révolutionnaire, Avant-Gardiste, Audacieuse, Créatrice, Pionnière, Creative, Moderniste, Futuriste,” conceived by Detlef Hartung.
At Bab Bhar
The artwork exhibited on the gate of Bab Bhar consists of the artistic representation of present-day walkers. These passers-by, described by the artist as “the walking dead,” penetrate the gate like ghosts. They come across the urban site, and disappear in the gate, in a familiar yet strange fashion. The slow yet persistent movement of these figures hearkens back to the Tunisian avant-gardists’ paths toward history. These immortal women such as Habiba Msika, Saliha, Arwa La Kairouanaise, Ons Jabeur, and the rest of the names selected for MISE EN LUMIÈRE, did not all take the easy way towards success. Some of them were privileged. The others, however, embarked on a thorny journey against the hindrance of patriarchy and poverty. Some even died trying, and fell into oblivion a little after.
At the City Theater
Gudrun’s visual installations at the City Theater represented the natural process of photosynthesis and the journey of metamorphosis a growing plant goes through. This aesthetic vision is deeply rooted in Art Nouveau’s tendency to fuse art with architecture. The interplay between the natural and the architectural created many possibilities for interaction among the audience.
At the City’s Museum
At the City’s Museum, she presented artistic revisions of negative video footage depicting the movement of trains in the urban area of Tunis.
At the Cathedral St. Vincent de Paul
The interaction between the cultural-historical site and the projected installation generated new ways of perceiving contemporary light art. The religious symbolism of the site adds to the aptitude of Gudrun’s multi-disciplinary art to trigger the audience’s curiosity.
At the City Hall
The artwork exhibited on the facade of the City Government Office featured a patchwork of collaged footages of Tunisian urban areas taken from different angles. Some footages were taken from a bird’s eye view while the others were establishing shots, taken from either fixed or moving standpoints, providing the viewer with a variety of perspectives.
Gudrun dedicated this piece to celebrate the Tunisian female path-makers from the country’s founder Elyssa, to Najla Bouden, the current Prime Minister, and Souad Abderrahim, the current Mayor of Tunis, being both the first women to occupy these positions in the Arab world. The site also celebrated the first female physician in the Arab world, Tawhida Ben Cheikh, and the first female Tunisian pilot Alia Menchari. As Gudrun’s artistic approach is deeply rooted in visual symbolism, the artwork exhibited in the City Hall is thought to have best symbolized these Tunisian leading figures’ determination in crossing pathways usually occupied by men. Political leadership, most specifically, has always been contingent upon masculine privilege. However, these groundbreaking figures proved to be as efficient and competent in these fields.
Gudrun Barenbrock’s artworks are multi-disciplinary. They succeed to fuse the natural with the urban, the common with the strange, the still with the transient, the personal with the universal, and the auditory with the visual. As such, they create endless possibilities and perspectives from which the onlooker can perceive of the world. For me, these exhibited products are not pieces of art to be contemplated from afar, but rather experienced. This multisensory experience makes Gudrun’s artistic approach malleable enough to represent personal, universal, and historical concerns. It is what helps her artworks exhibited in MISE EN LUMIÈRE best achieve the mission of celebrating the pioneering women of Tunisia.