Ann Braunsteiner explores cultural trauma
The McKee Gallery at the Suter has been transformed into a new realm where installation, paintings and photographs combine, Judith Ritchie reports.
Artist Ann Braunsteiner has carefully and deliberately constructed #lostchildhood in the McKee Gallery space, sharing insights as an adopted child while exploring the universal culture of trauma. She uses the hashtag (#) as part of her dialogue with the audience.
"We're so connected with the internet, everyone is a part of others trauma, sharing way broader than ever," Braunsteiner says.
Her expressive, gestural mark-making overlaid on photographs reveal women, dolls and dolls clothing. Some works are grouped in clusters while other larger works stand alone on the gallery walls.
Within the gallery space, a child's bed hangs suspended, back lit by an overhead projector. Twin teddies and a one-piece pyjama suit rest on the bed. A plain addressed envelope lies on the pyjamas. We are given a window into another world, one that speaks of an orphanage, while referencing past traumas on a more universal scale.
Austrian-born and now living in Nelson, Braunsteiner draws on her experience from being adopted at three years old by parents in their 50's, who were closer in age to the grandparents of her contemporaries. She identifies with the post-war Austrian psyche in the manner of artists Gottfried Helnwein, Anselm Kiefer and Arnulf Rainer.
Braunsteiner uses artist Sigrid Weigel's concept of 'telescopage' to describe relationships between generations after World War II or a traumatic incident. Historically they are kept silent, repressed and hidden, which imprints onto the unconscious and is passed to the next and subsequent generations.
While #lostchildhood is autobiographical, Braunsteiner deals also with this broader socio-cultural issue of collective cultural trauma.
"This tagging of online content could be thought of in terms of an extended book of memorial, where those who feel the urge to say something in response, tag it as such and therefore become part of the public record."
Recent traumatic incidents have been posted and shared globally online using hashtags, including #jesuischarlie, following the Paris attack on the cartoonist magazine, and #orlandopride after the US Orlando attack, reflecting how we attempt to deal with trauma in new ways.
"#bringourgirlsback in response to the kidnapping of Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria served as a call for action as well as sharing in grief," Braunsteiner says.
While acknowledging the hashtag in her work, Braunsteiner also questions whether this shared media culture results in a mass desensitising to trauma leaving individuals detached and shut down.
"Will we become desensitised to trauma through over exposure resulting in the sensation I feel nothing/fine?" Braunsteiner asks. "I think art should have its voice; I'd like people to think about trauma culture; we need to talk about this."
#lostchildhood, Ann Braunsteiner, Nelson Suter Art Society McKee Gallery, the Suter te Aratoi o Whakatu Art Gallery, 208 Bridge St, Nelson, to June 25. Matinee, Sunday June 11, 11.30 - 1pm, all welcome.