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Reading Rämistrasse #79: Noah Merzbacher zu Tina Braegger bei Weiss Falk

Weiss Falk has finally spawned in Zurich, occupying a beautiful space at Sonneggstrasse 82. The new gallery opens with a show of Tina Braegger’s bigger-than-life teddy bear paintings. Nearly every painting has its own room. It is almost as if walking into the different rooms is labour enough for you to have seen them. They basically invite you to dedicate yourself fully to the fizzy prosecco glass in your hand. The paintings are very undemanding, but they also need to be.

Installation view, Tina Braegger Vom Bordstein bis zur Skyline, 18.12.2021–19.02.2022, Weiss Falk Zurich

Courtesy of Weiss Falk and the Artist, Foto: Flavio Karrer

Each painting shows Tina’s bears and some sort of back- or foreground. This formula runs across every canvas she touches: as Moritz Scheper wrote in the exhibition text of Vom Bordstein bis zur Skyline, Tina Braegger has ridden that horse to exhaustion. She has been painting those bears for over ten years now, and it is interesting to see how this arbitrary bear became such a sticky image over this time. The bears have rippled through institutional machines, money machines and bourgeois gossip.

Tina appropriates the bear from the Grateful Dead, a psychedelic rock band from 1965-95 (which the hippie patterns on some of the paintings most definitely reference). She enters a triple sign-meaning machine made of a band logo, fan appropriations and Tina's own versions throughout the paintings, all leading to a polyphonic stream of meaning that is eerily illegible and therefore empty. Some of the bears are blown up to the point where they are so in-your-face that they seem to mock their emptiness, twisting it into being too big to grasp. In works like Kommet ihr Hirten, Tina’s bears reveal their creepy side, kind of like waking up to anxiety-inducing thoughts that are too big, too in-your-face to be put back into a well-prepared system of coping strategies. The bears aren’t quite neutral. Their creepy smile lurks back at you, shifting the passive agency of fluffy teddy bears a tiny bit. Objects aren’t as neutral as you think.

Tina Braegger’s bears are made out of paint textures, glitter, hippie patterns and both beautiful and sadistic worlds. The paintings dabble in the fantasy lands of warping an object, dissevering it, burning it but also more classically beautiful fantasies like standing it in pastel pink colours or dancing in blue voids. It seems as if the bears are actually enjoying the pain and pleasure in which they find themselves. Or maybe they are just eerily indifferent to what is happening to them.

I don’t go to a Braegger show and think “Oh, what an interesting and surprising subject choice”. I already know it’s going to be a bunch of bears, and teddy bears are easily readable subjects in general. Children know this intuitively and play with them as stand-ins for family members, friends or feelings. The same could be said about the back- and foregrounds that situate the bears within a particular environment. Most times, those sites are easily readable as well. They range from empty colour voids and blobs (Kommet ihr Hirten) to specific human worlds (Dance Me to The End of Time). When they are not so obvious, it adds textural diversity to where the bears could appear. It feels a bit like constructing an image out of Play-Doh: a little drizzle of that, a bit of a different background, a bit of appropriated Instagram pseudonyms, a bit of glitter and a bit of footprint on top of it. It isn’t the content and its deep inherent layers of meaning that mark one’s encounter with Braegger’s work. It is quite the opposite: my attention seems to warp around exactly such modes of encounter. That is a very sophisticated quality in its own right.

Installation view, Tina Braegger Vom Bordstein bis zur Skyline, 18.12.2021–19.02.2022, Weiss Falk Zurich

Courtesy of Weiss Falk and the artist, photo: Flavio Karrer

 

The painting’s content is so mind-numbingly evident and in-your-face that they make for a very great ‘relatability’ in the best sense of the word. Kind of like the photobooths you would see at Disneyland or Europapark. Macht und Masse’s content translates to something like “Oh, I can imagine this teddy bear or maybe myself in front of a pastel blue and pink background, where there is a weird vertical line making half of the body's colours invert”. I can do that. Everybody can. This does not mean that the paintings are unsophisticated: it means that space and objects become something very graspable. They are ironically generous.

I can feel the sculptural qualities that hide in plain sight when objects relate to other objects through actions like burning, warping, making transparent or stomping. Signs and images don’t just float in a vacuum. On the contrary, signs, images, and painting textures do something very profound to the haptics of objects.

Braegger’s paintings evoke the very human pleasure zone of wanting to manipulate objects in a space where consequences might not occur at all. Braegger’s works are odes to exactly such fantasy lands. This is only possible because the content of both bear and environment is intuitively graspable. They are paintings and not videos or sculptures because it is the suggestive element of painting rather than 3D space or animation that triggers the imagination, resulting in a very real but sometimes scary encounter with objects. The bears are suspended in a Super Mario-esque jump or dancing pose. The bears never land, and they shouldn't, or they would fall flat on their faces.

Tina Braegger, Vom Bordstein bis zur Skyline, Weiss Falk Zurich, Sonneggstrasse 82, 8006
18.12.2021.–19.02.2022

Reading Rämistrasse

Geht der Raum für Kunstkritik verloren, müssen wir handeln. Deswegen schaffen wir diesen Ort für Kritik – Reading Rämistrasse – auf der Webseite der Kunsthalle Zürich und veröffentlichen Rezensionen zu aktuellen Ausstellungen. Diese geben nicht die Meinung der Kunsthalle Zürich wieder, denn Kritik muss unabhängig sein.

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