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CONCEPTUAL FINE ARTS

Luzie Meyer: a desire to acquire, to multiply oneself

Céline Mathieu

A conversation with Berlin-based artist Luzie Meyer on threading bodily presence, disorientation and the formation of selves

Thinking of Luzie Meyer, one might find a figurine of her sitting on a chair, slightly bent; or images arranged like cartoons suspended mid-air, holding existential conversations; or the artist’s voice reading, smacking, or suddenly high-pitch singing a folklore song. Meyer (born 1990 in Tübingen, Germany), as the Internet summarizes her, is an artist, poet, musician, filmmaker, and translator. In fact, her art holds the middle and the edges of these roles.

luzie meyer
Installation view, Luzie Meyer, Lasciatemi Morire, Fanta-MLN, Milan, I, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Fanta-MLN, Milan. Photo: Roberto Marossi.

More generally speaking

“I have acquired for myself, a choir for myself, a choir of myself.” These are the words that introduce the first minute of Meyer’s audio piece The Acquisition of Language & The Language of Acquisition, 2021. [The piece is available here. Ed.] In a fast-paced phone call held with me while walking, the artist smilingly clarifies the tightly knitted connections between eclectic references. Through different exhibitions, titles, materials, and scales, things start to touch and overlap, electrifying little clicks in the viewer’s mind. Her art is site-specific, using most exhibition spaces shortly before the opening to record video and sound—let’s call them scenes—of recurring puppets and her own body in and out of the frame. 

luzie meyer
Luzie Meyer, I was required to exchange chimeras of boundless grandeur for realities of little worth., 2019. C-print in artist’s frame. 67.5 x 56.5 x 4.5 cm (26 5/8 x 22 1/4 x 1 3/4 in). Photograph by Diana Pfammatter. Courtesy of the artist and Sweetwater, Berlin.

Finely constructed, from the smallest detail to the exhibition’s scenography and voice-over in the videos, Meyer’s art collects ideas on orientation and self-formation: “bodies in space and the ways there are power imbalances at play within architecture and gazes,” Meyer ponders. In her solo exhibition at Sweetwater in 2019 titled Duplicitous consent, a series of photographs feature people holding puppets, doubling, tripling even, the representations of tender relations between the characters. Moreover, the show was periodically rearranged with new pieces brought in throughout its duration, furthering multiplication. 

There is an interesting repeated tension at work in Meyer’s art, as the process of making and setting up the exhibitions becomes part of the artist’s poetics. The marionettes, which often operate as little models in the artworks, strikingly resemble the artist and her friends. They are photographed reclining, gesturing, and conversing in the very space where those images will eventually be exhibited. Between the intricately thought-out stories, materials, crafted puppets that take months to make, and the directness of the actual footage, freshness and disorientation meet. These raw voices and the pure body are then again heavily edited, chopped thin, or overlaid; they become composition in space. 

At some point in the audio piece A desire to acquire, to multiply myself, 2021, Meyer breaks out in a recitation of a baroque song by Henry Purcell, which oddly suits the puppets’ aesthetics with their somewhat dusty human hair. Other doublings happen: in the video Tryst Again, 2021, presented in the show Second at Kunsthalle Friart Fribourg, the contemporary artist Becket MWN performs a puppet playing Beckett for Meyer in a group exhibition featuring works by, among others, Becket MWN. In her art, one becomes a self, a carrier, a puppet, a performer, a same-name, a multiple.

If all is questioned, what’s left?

For her 2022 show Thespians’ Questions at Sweetwater, Meyer covers the gallery’s front window with one-sided mirroring foil reflecting whoever stood outside, effectively making the gallery disappear like a glass building mirroring its surroundings. Inside, an intricate play with titles and placement of the artworks builds up a storyline by multiple authors. The tale takes place at the Café Answer, where the main, Shakespeare-inspired character puppets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern try to find an answer to life’s questions. If all is questioned, what’s left? is one in a series of framed pinhole photographs that lines the walls; playing on the title, this image of the Café Answer’s facade is hung on the left-hand side of the gallery. The picture looks like it was taken secretly from under a muffling coat, angled as it is and somewhat obscured.

The series maps the setting of Café Answer and strange occurrences related to its location. In the middle of the space, a long intricate philosophical dialogue between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern takes place in the format of a picture-and-text-balloon cartoon. The frames holding these existential questions are suspended at an angle for optimal reading. The third series of images floats high up in the space, showing snapshots of the “making of”. All the way to the cotton threads holding the frames, materials, fiction, words, and selves double. During my visit, the gallerist pointed out a remnant of the set, a word scribbled in pencil hanging in a corner of the space at ankle height. There is a dream-like quality to the show, which borders the feeling of getting tricked in a continuous displacement and reoccurrence. 

luzie meyer
Exterior view, Luzie Meyer, Thespians’ Questions at Sweetwater, Berlin, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Sweetwater, Berlin.

Scale keeps shifting in Meyer’s art: formally, in time, and in the existential pokes. Bodily presence lapses in the sound piece Noisy Scene (Hush! Crack!), 2022, which feels as though it was hanging in the space just like the other works–throat clearing sounds and a voice mix with little shakers and crisp digital coughs ups. The puppet’s bodies stand behind the wall, on the way to the gallery’s office, backstage as it were. Rosencrantz’s hair is the artist’s: The threading endlessly continues, a suspended state wired through every element of the show. 

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Installation image, Luzie Meyer, Thespians’ Questions at Sweetwater, Berlin, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Sweetwater, Berlin.

Meyer’s thick edit and somewhat erratic rhythmic tension resembles the fragment of a Leslie Scalapino poem, which finds its way through the internet on a Wednesday at 8.21 am. An excerpt:

to make
—as
in—their
—it
with—
a person—in
a time

Meyer’s works render fluid and rearrange the moments of their manipulation. Everything between thought and documentation is blurred in edits, looping the visitor as it does the artist’s own body.

Cyclic Indirections

The trigger for Meyer’s most recent solo exhibition at Kunsthalle Bremerhaven titled Cyclic indirections was a local gothic 19th-century lighthouse, which is effectively the set and centerpiece in the show. The resulting installation of projections and sound profoundly disorients the body in space, where visuals reach visitors with a delay and therefore make them rely on their hearing. The round architecture of the lighthouse and its characteristic spinning light are mimicked in the installation by three beamers on moving turntables. They project footage of the lighthouse’s rooms, filmed on different floors, with the camera spinning from the center of the space. The room of the show becomes overlaid. In the dark exhibition space, one sees elsewhere only where the beamer aims. Everything else is black. 

luzie meyer
Installation view, Luzie Meyer, Cyclic Indirections at Kunsthalle Bremerhaven, Bremerhaven, 2022. Photograph by Fred Dott. Courtesy of the artist, Kunsthalle Bremerhaven, Bremerhaven, Sweetwater, Berlin, and Fanta-MLN, Milan.

This specific camera movement and Meyer eating an apple are a direct quotation from Chantal Akerman’s La Chambre, in which Babette Mangold’s camera is swirling around the room. Commenting on the directionality of architecture and how the body relates to it, Akerman was one of the first structural filmmakers to show the author in space: not being nobody; not negating the body of the author. Meyer too appears in the frame as the space shoots by, casually picking up, rattling, scratching materials in and onto each other.

These sampled sounds become the soundtrack of the film in the smaller room, a more narrative video of Meyer walking through the lighthouse with a light on her head. The artist’s words are simultaneously translated into German by the museum director, who is filming the scene. With a searchlight/headlamp and a rhythmical voiceover, the artist again finds an entry into the simplest things, charging them with references.

If you listen to the script parts of it come up again

In Ovidius’ Odyssee, Odysseus takes away the cyclops’ eyesight. Stating his name is No-one, he leaves the cyclops calling for help, screaming “No-one blinded me.” “If you’re nobody to the lighthouse,” Meyer riffs, “the lighthouse cannot identify you.” Thoughts from Sarah Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology pierce through: how one makes sense of the body in space, revisiting personal history and being subjectivised. “I run towards the lighthouse like a moth flies towards the light of a lantern,” Meyer says in the video. Evoking the ideas of direction and recognition, the lighthouse suggests a guide showing people the right way. Bremerhaven, where the exhibition and the lighthouse are located, has a history of immigration. Referencing Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism, Meyer points to the false promise of the new land: The thing you desire forms an obstacle to your flourishing, a promise that is also an imperialist and capitalist dream of economic progress. Orientation in her seeking headlight equally holds a reference to sexual orientation and the place of family and what is available to us as young people, what orientates a person’s direction.

Installation view, Luzie Meyer, Cyclic Indirections at Kunsthalle Bremerhaven, Bremerhaven, 2022. Photograph by Fred Dott. Courtesy of the artist, Kunsthalle Bremerhaven, Bremerhaven, Sweetwater, Berlin, and Fanta-MLN, Milan.

In the last shot of the film, the camera zooms in on the sun. Meyer reflects: “the biggest lighthouse that there is, (smiles) the cycle of life and day and night the last cycle we cannot break; (holding breath while thinking) part of this complex cyclical existence, (speeding up again saying) an insurmountable fact.”

October 17, 2022