Whitehot Magazine

July 2011, Kathrin Sonntag @ Galerie Kamm

Kathrin Sonntag, Double Take, 2011
inkjet print / wallpaper, brass / rubber band, paper, photocopies, playing card, plastic
colour photo, lacquer / wood, brass umbrella stand, poster, lacquer / wood, plant, glass, tag, dimensions variable.
Image courtesy of Kathrin Sonntag and Galerie Kamm.

Kathrin Sonntag: Double Take
Galerie Kamm
Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße 43
10178 Berlin
30 April through 25 June 2011

"Nothing is more abstract than reality."
-Giorgio Morandi

"Never judge things by their appearance… I’m sure I never do.”
-Mary Poppins

It’s that time of year again: Berlin Gallery Weekend. Described by locals as the “unofficial Berlin Biennale,” the “art marathon” and the “vernissaga.” It is a three-day stint of stellar shows, copious amounts of white wine, a showcase of the city’s who’s who and an excuse for international collectors to tour around in conspicuous black limos. Through the labyrinthine trail of openings and events, one exhibition stands out: Kathrin Sonntag’s Double Take at Galerie Kamm.

For her third solo show at the gallery, Sonntag presents her audience with a puzzling array of images and items culled from her studio. Encompassing sculpture, photography and film, her exhibition uses complex configurations of quotidian objects to encourage the audience to question assumptions about how and what they see. Through her work, architectural space is abstracted as surfaces, objects and images reflect, distort and obscure each other and create a disorienting experience for the viewer.  

Blame it on Morandi is a slide projection panning a 180-degree view of Sonntag’s studio. It is the first piece one encounters upon entering the gallery and gives a sense of place and animation to the still photographs that follow. Many of the slides in this work contain allegorical motifs appropriated from traditional still life painting. Books, scissors, coins and playing cards are combined with partially eaten fruit and ceramic shards and make an implicit reference to classical vanitas. An egg standing on its end, a pair of dice, a chess board, a hammer perched precariously on the edge of a table and a set square resting on its point all come together to create a sense of dynamic tension and play in her own studio practice.

In one particular frame, the audience is presented with a view of inspirational pictures taped to the wall and ink spilled across the floor. There is a sense of urgency to the slide, the reminiscent aura of the creative process. It is only upon closer examination, that one notices how the room is divided lengthwise by an open door. Only then does it become apparent that the ink puddle continues from the floor onto the door in the form of a 1:1 scale photograph. The photo, given away by strips of adhesive tape and a slight upwards curl of the bottom edge of the paper, causes the audience to re-evaluate the image.

Kathrin Sonntag, Blame it on Morandi, 2011
81 slides, 27 motifs, Kodak Carousel projector and sound, dimensions variable.
Image courtesy of Kathrin Sonntag and Galerie Kamm.

Upon entering the second room of the gallery, the viewer is confronted with two walls covered in life-size photographic prints of the artist’s studio, a frosted window with a graffiti tag scrawled on the outside and several domestic objects. The table, tagged window and potted plant echo the photographic content in the other half of the room, and the viewer experiences a pseudo-symmetrical environment, yet one half of the room exists in three-dimensional space and the other in photographic space. It is a tangible trompe-l’œil.

Aptly, it is only through the process of looking at the marker tags repeatedly, that they reveal themselves and spell out the words "double take,” the name of the show…and a bit of an obtuse visual pun.

The whole mirrored scene is then repeated once more in a small-scale print on the wall entitled Making Of. In this photo however, the reflected rays of light that stream though the partially frosted windows fall unnaturally flat on half of the space and quickly break the suspension of disbelief. Slight incongruities, such as the minor upward shift of everything in the right-hand side of the room and a seam that runs the length of the wall, expose the illusionary space. Making Of has strong references to digital image-enhancing software yet it is obvious that Sonntag took a different, more analog approach, photographing her studio, pasting the life-size image to the adjacent wall and then re-photographing the space. Despite alternative methods for achieving a similar outcome, her approach lends a more familiar, tangible quality to the image and an uncanny air that may only be achievable though physical means.

Kathrin Sonntag, Making Of, 2011
c-print, 72.5 x 60.5 cm.
Image courtesy of Kathrin Sonntag and Galerie Kamm.

A small photograph entitled Studio #1, in the third room at Kamm, exercises the audience’s perceptive skills yet again. The viewpoint is askew and the audience is compelled to ask, “which way is up?” The configuration of objects in the picture plane suggests that the floor could be either one of two surfaces presented. It is only upon further study that one notices subtle clues, namely the electrical outlet and the baseboard, that offer affirmation that the floor is indeed the surface that first appeared to be a wall. One also cannot help but wonder if this topsy-turvy vision of Sonntag’s studio could be the aftermath of a particularly overwhelming bout of artistic frustration.

Kathrin Sonntag, Studio #1, 2011
c-print, 50 x 33 cm
Image courtesy of Kathrin Sonntag and Galerie Kamm.

It is obvious from her work that, like the artist Giorgio Morandi, Sonntag’s atelier is the locus of activity, production and inspiration. Her carefully orchestrated exhibition prompts the viewer to examine the differences between looking and seeing, and the subtleties between concepts of “the same" and "similar." The exhibition demands a concentrated, methodical gaze and repeated comparison of the all elements involved. The more the viewer examines the work, the more is revealed, and the more the staged quality of her œuvre becomes apparent. Sonntag’s work encourages us to take time, to look harder, pay attention to detail and to consider how easily our eyes can deceive us. Her exhibition makes a particularly poignant statement during Berlin’s gallery weekend, when the chief goal of many visitors seems simply to see as many shows as quickly as possible.

1. Miracco, Renato et al., Giorgio Morandi 1890-1964: Nothing Is More Abstract Than Reality (Milan: Skira, 2008), 256.

2. Mary Poppins. DVD. Directed by Robert Stevenson. 1964; Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Home Video.


Emmy Skensved

Emmy Skensved is a Canadian artist currently based in Berlin, Germany. She holds an MFA from the University of Waterloo and a BFA from OCAD University. She has exhibited her work across Canada and Europe, including solo shows at Greener Pastures Contemporary Art in Toronto and September Gallery in Berlin. Her review of Kathrin Sonntag’s Double Take at Galerie Kamm won second prize in the 2011 C Magazine New Critics Competition.

view all articles from this author