11.03.-29.04.2023

"SHE HAD ALREADY LEARNED TO BREATHE UNDERWATER"

SOPHIE UTIKAL

Trailer: Daniel Jarosch

exhibtion view, Kunstraum Innsbruck 2023, Photo by Daniel Jarosch

exhibtion view, Kunstraum Innsbruck 2023, Photo by Daniel Jarosch

exhibtion view, Kunstraum Innsbruck 2023, Photo by Daniel Jarosch

exhibtion view, Kunstraum Innsbruck 2023, Photo by Daniel Jarosch

exhibtion view, Kunstraum Innsbruck 2023, Photo by Daniel Jarosch

exhibtion view, Kunstraum Innsbruck 2023, Photo by Daniel Jarosch

exhibtion view, Kunstraum Innsbruck 2023, Photo by Daniel Jarosch

exhibtion view, Kunstraum Innsbruck 2023, Photo by Daniel Jarosch

Curated by Ivana Marjanović


As a contribution to commemorating the 8th of March, the international day of the struggle of women*, Sophie Utikal’s solo show presents recent art work that strengthen concepts of togetherness and resilience in relation to the climate - and other catastrophes. From the position of agency of women of color, Sophie Utikal deals with bodies, migration experiences, multiple affiliations and the resulting contradictions. The artist creates textile dream-like scenes and landscapes that address collective empowerment rituals, practices of caring, and more recently also imaginary future transformations of life on Earth.

Sonic pieces by artist and musician Hyeji Nam as part of the show add another layer of reflection on the creation of new worlds. Born in Tallahassee, USA, Sophie Utikal currently lives in Berlin.



The exhibition presents recent artworks on textiles and some of the artist’s newest pieces, including an installation made especially for the show at Kunstraum Innsbruck.

Sophie Utikal has developed her own signature visual language using roughly stitched pieces of textile inspired by the brightly-colored arpillera patchworks made by South American women. Her “rough” hand-stitching symbolically leaves the “wound” visible, and is balanced out through the use of very pleasant fresh colors and compositions. Her artistic representational method shifts from joy to pain and back to joy, and is adept at communicating complex feelings and topics, ranging from love, solidarity, unfolding, experiencing pain, regenerating, co-dependence and surviving.

In recent years, Sophie Utikal’s imagery has predominantly staged women in quiet conversation, contemplation, and actions where they stand for each other or for themselves, regardless of servile roles in patriarchy (for instance Fluids (2017), Within Me (2021), Ocean of Tears (2020). These sensual women, without faces, symbolize change, often appearing in relation to water, liquids and fluids. They also encompass more than figures of women; they reference a kind of female inner creative energies or spiritual states and even recently not-completely human agency. They are all part of the entirety of all living and inanimate beings, which defines their destinies. As Sophie Utikal states, “Even if one of the women lives alone on a piece of fabric, they all belong together. Whether I actually mean different people by that, or myself in the diversity and inconsistency of my character, is actually not that important. It’s about the encounter in each other, to oneself and our surroundings.”

Sophie Utikal’s works depart from memories and knowledge of her own (family) and its diasporic trajectory from South to North America and then to “Western” Europe. The artist translates real life experiences of difference and trans-border struggles into reflections on paths toward inner and collective transformations. Living in between worlds, searching for strategies to nurture the body and cleanse it from internalized hegemonic ideology are aspects that her art works through. However, Sophie Utikal converts traces of social injury into powerful images, which invest in regeneration and the sustenance of life.

Looking inward, perceiving your own body (in solitude or together), staying connected, hearing and curing it are compelling practices, which seek to counter rational knowledge and neo-liberal pressures of productiveness, and are a call to step out of imposed temporal and spatial bindings into your own spacetime. “I wanted to imagine a place where surviving does not require cutting away from oneself, where no structures can trap me because I can hear my body, where I allow myself to feel my frustrations because I know that they will move me, where my fear will make me sharp and precise, where my anger will let me stop whatever is bothering me and where my resting is not seen as a waste of time but a responsibility,” the artist writes in her thesis (2019).

Her latest art works have evolved from Those Inbetween (Water me) (2022) and represent an aesthetic shift where Sophie Utikal moves from imaginary representations based on auto-fiction to the world of fantasy, which is triggered and inspired by anxiety and the uncertainty concerning the future of life on Planet Earth. This new artistic impulse is reflected in a change from soft textile fabrics, pastel colors and soothing forms, to harder materials (for instance artificial or upcycled leather) and rougher designs. This could indicate an expansion on the current narratives around self- and collective support practices and desires that also include the future transformations caused by scarcity and deficiency.

The melting of glaciers, extreme drought or rains, energy crisis, the extinction of species, which environmental movements have been discussing for decades, have only recently entered into the collective consciousness, subsequently changing the ways we relate to the present and the future. Even if the work series I thought we had more time (2021) could refer to many different things, it cannot not make us think of the prognosis that we as the human species will be unable to make it forever in this form on Earth and in the Universe. Surviving in the present form, which is limited by social discriminatory mechanisms resulting from ideological fictions (of race, nation etc.), opens up the question of the survival of organic life all together. Along that path into uncertainty and chaos, we will morph much more radically than those who transgress borders now, and become invisible or somebody or something else in order to survive. Hence, one could say this exhibition also reflects on what that harsher world might look like, and tries to imagine us in it together, as an inter-connected trans-border body, which may even extend beyond life. Amidst this seemingly melancholic meditation, it might be comforting to transcend “species-centrism” and re-envision the whole tree of life, of which humans are only a small branch, and perhaps trust in the powers of life’s evolution. As Sophie Utikal states, “We already had learnt how to breathe underwater once. In the wombs of our mother” and I would add to it we already learnt it before becoming humans at all.


Sophie Utikal

Studied contextual painting with Ashley Hans Scheirl at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. She is a co-editor of the book Anti-Colonial Fantasies/Decolonial Strategies (2017). Her artworks have been shown throughout Europe, including Kristinstads Konsthal (2022), Kunsthalle Vienna (2021), Mediterranea Biennale 19 in San Marino (2021), Museion Bolzano (2018). Her most recent solo show was at Neuer Wiener Kunstverein (2022) and at Galerie im Turm (2020). For more information, visit: https://sophieutikal.net/

Text by Drin Ivana Marjanović

*the word women is here used as social and not biological category and it refers to everyone who identifies with it.

ARTIST WRITING

(in lieu of “artist statement”)

Her ocean of tears and drops / To somehow make it in a strange environment

Seas, Tears and Skies
In Waves
Becoming other Bodies

We had already learned how to breathe underwater. In her womb my lungs were fed oxygen through the water of her being. Moving all the time, rotating in a black space which consisted only of liquid shapes and warm patterns and the beating of our quick and her slow heart together. A different rhythm but still connected through the same love for life. And what happened then? What made us forget? What caused the split? Lies. Silence. Not saying what was true or why.

Sill the stones keep merging, dissolving
Becoming someone else
The softness of a single drop
The worlds of the sensible

Our voices have changed, becoming so deep that we cannot recognize them anymore, we cannot tell them apart, they sound almost the same.
And with her last words she slowly enter into a new time frame, changing the calculations of time and moving within a new dimension. a dimension where her body became wider and bigger and permeable, like a very very thick fog. She covered everything. Big, curly, soft and wavy.

I am wandering through my days
Searching inside of me
Where is that free person?
Trying to soften into my own confusion, uncertainty and chaos.
What future am I preparing for?

Migrating to several countries and several social classes, going back and forth, leaving behind passports and friends. Leaving behind so many parts and versions of myself. But the emptiness, it stays with me, the missing pieces. And in the middle of that void, a new life will grow. All at the same time.

Tears of softness
Tears of blood, lymph, sweat and spit
The softness of our organspumping up with warm blood
Overstepping all borders, calling for me to spill over
like she had no skin

Searching for a future in which we cause less harm
Where we can survive without destroying everyone.
Try not to give up hope. Work on the places you can access.
There is nothing breath can’t move
Try to listen to every drop
Telling us stories about the deepness of the ocean
All the different bodies they have run through
The water in me is the same as the water in you

Collaborating with the dead, rearranging their skins into new bodies, skins that were thrown away, damaged skins, tortured skins, broken skins, skins that were called worthless. Trying to save them and their memories, trying to honor them within our world that soon will end.

Sophie Utikal (2023)

EVENTS