An imprint is defined as the effect of the pressure of a body on a surface which retains its shape; a trace is the result of a contact between a surface and a moving body. An imprint is static, a trace is dynamic. Both are signs of the existence of a body in a space, of its passage through it. But the former refers to its presence, the latter to its departure.
Tanja Hamester builds on this distinction to create a personal archaeology of the places she encounters. Since her arrival in Bari last August, the artist has carried out an investigation of the public space, deploying a strategy she has been working on for years, a set of tactics designed to avoid falling into the stereotypical representation of a place. To approaches that reduce a place to its “common places” — through references to monuments, buildings, figures, and events of the past — Tanja Hamester opposes a bottom-up strategy based on encounters, trajectories and stories. The gesture objects are the key elements of this artistic strategy. Born in the process of discovering a territory, these objects constitute an archive of the implicated passage of the artist body through it.
In the spaces of VOGA, Tanja Hamester guides us through an evolving repository of imprints and traces found and created during her journey. Some of these are objects donated by friends and artists met in Bari - Angela Capotorto, Pamela Diamante, Natalija Dimitrijevic, Silvestro Lacertosa and Mariarosa Pappalettera – who were asked by the artist to provide possible symbols of their relationship. These contributions span from a miniature teapot to an old fishing spear gun. The artist animated these items by imprinting them into the surface of salt dough. Through her gestures, she generated performative objects, which embody the truths of interaction, uniqueness and chance. They bear a clear factual implication: an imprint is never a mere copy of the existing object. It entails an act of mediation, that of the artist, who, in the performative action of imprinting and leaving a trace, takes upon herself the responsibility of showing one truth rather than another.
This is even the more significant given the preconditions behind the research: the artist arrives in the city as a tourist, and as such she uses her foreigner’s position as an excuse to build a personal narrative of the place she visits. A narrative that is personal but also collective, as it takes into account all the micronarratives and inputs received by the locals.
The need to interact with the inhabitants of a place in order to speak about it is materialised in the use of the salt dough as primary material of the exhibition. In fact, the salt dough on which the traces of the gesture objects were generated is the result of two workshops, which took place in January at VOGA. On these occasions, the artist invited the participants to work together to prepare the dough, thus putting in place a re-enactment of a social practice that has been taken up from the past.
This hidden aspect of the exhibition leads us directly to one of the central aspects of the strategy behind the gesture objects: the re-enactment of female reproductive work and its transfer to the context of artistic production. The notion of ‘reproductive work’ refers to all the care activities usually carried out by women (such as having and raising children, cooking, cleaning the house, helping their grandmother to take a bath), which our society does not recognise as ‘real’ work. The artist reflects on this ‘hidden work’ and uses the gesture objects to talk about systemic oppression, moving along the thin thread between visible and invisible.
In line with this reasoning, Tanja Hamester also chose to conceal from the exhibition the performative work behind the gesture objects and her performative body, which, removed from the public’s eye, are present in the form of imprints and traces: the casts on the latex sheets, visible in the mobile archive; and the wearable display (made in collaboration with Elvira de Serio), worn by the artist during the performances and now installed on the wall as display of the items used.
In the deployment of this rich and multi-layered strategy, Tanja Hamester thus practises a ‘seeing’ and a ‘showing’ differently, a ‘recording’ with clear political implications, built ethically as a collective narrative. Hence the exhibition’s appearance as a breathing archive, limitless as the result of a research which, by looking for traces, always leaves new ones.
Text by Flavia Tritto and Bianca Buccioli
Wearable display in collaboration with Elvira de Serio, with Gesture Objects borrowed from Angela Capotorto, Pamela Diamante, Natalija Dimitrijević, Silvestro Lacertosa and Mariarosa Pappalettera
Fotos: Flavia Tritto and Tanja Hamester
The Empowerment Archive
During the workshop, the artist gives a lecture performance focused on the historical moment of transition to early modern capitalism and the changes it brought to women's life situation. In fact, the shift of women's reproductive work to an exclusively private dimension produced a progressive isolation of women and deprioritised situations of emancipation and empowerment that previously found space in collective work, putting into context the feminist theories to which the artist refers in her artistic research.