Pauline Boudry / Renate Lorenz

1972Lausanne, Switzerland | 1963Bonn, Germany

Swiss and German video and visual artists.

Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz have been living and working together in Berlin since 2007. Their art, termed “queer archaeology” by theoretician and activist Mathias Danbolt, involves unearthing objects from the past (figures, events, documents, archives, photographs, etc.) and lending them a contemporary form by means of filmed performances conceived for the camera, which are themselves interwoven into a scenic device or installation. The elements drawn from the past take on a militant, queer and feminist slant that the history of art and ideas, with its Western, dominant bias, has blanketed out. Once highlighted, they become part of a new take on the non-linear, plural genealogies of sexual, gender and racial minorities that speak to both sides of the spectrum.

In one of their first films, Normal Work (2008), they turned to the self-portraits and portraits, laced with highly erotic connotations and sadomasochistic overtones, of British maidservant Hannah Cullwick. Werner Hirsch revamped the shots in Victorian costume, although a number of anachronistic details, such as the depiction of two butch drag queens in the background, challenged the premise of a literal historical reference or straightforward re-enactment. P. Boudry and R. Lorenz are attached to the performativity of the performance, in other words to its effects on reality, which pave the way for a form of agency. They see in these “trans-temporal links”, as M. Danbolt puts it, a way of composing a queer future, in a utopian dimension similar to the one advocated by American researcher José Esteban Muñoz. Their films are systematically integrated within a device that allows screening and installation to enter into a dialogue and bounce off each other: the frontiers between the spatial representation of the film itself and the venue in which it is being screened are blurred in order to form a single entity. The two video artists surround themselves with their chosen family of “friends from the past” to conceive their oeuvre (including Pauline Oliveros, Kathy Acker, Annie Jones and Jean Genet) working with artists and performers (such as Werner Hirsch, Ginger Brooks Takahashi (1977-), Sharon Hayes (1970-), Yvonne Rainer (1934-), MPA (1980-), Peaches (1966-)…)and theoreticians who interpret their work and the world (Mathias Danbolt, Antke Engel and Nana Adusei-Poku, for example).

In 2019 they represented Switzerland at the 58th Venice Biennale with Moving Backwards. Also known as the “abstract club”, the exterior of the pavilion resembled a number of Berlin clubs: a door and lobby encapsulated its post-industrial heritage while an outdoor bar was located at the exit of the installation, flanked by two Wig Pieces (in a formal pictorial reference, these were entirely composed of synthetic hair pieces redolent of the drag scene, which rendered gender identification impossible). Inside, facing a stage occupied by the audience, a film featured five performers dancing backwards in completely different worlds. A newspaper composed of various letters addressed to the public and written by artists, thinkers and activists was handed out after the performance. This work opens up as many avenues for community action as it does methods of resistance to combat recent reactionary movements.
Since the 2000s their work has been shown in Europe and the United States in both solo and group exhibitions. Catalogues and monographs have been devoted to their artistic practice and in 2012 Renate Lorenz herself published Queer Art, an essay on the genre’s innate, fertile anachronism, which the duo’s work epitomises to perfection.

Manon Burg

Translated from French by Caroline Taylor.

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