“Hair that falls
weaving itself into a basket
around my body
conceal me in repose
the fibre winds itself
dead or alive
breathing the earth
which you are from
Teaching you fragility
because our moon phases
when I see you flying
– Sophie Rebentisch
Visitors to the RADAR exhibition “Ciao Eden” are greeted by this fragment from a play by Sophie Rebentisch, which is currently still in the making. It effectively pinpoints the thematic focus of the show and, at the same time, sets the underlying mood. Sophie Rebentisch’s art, which ranges from installations via sculptures to texts, dwells on opposites: fragility and stability, female/male-connoted stereotypes, life and death, sculpture and poetry, nature and architecture. This interest is reflected in her choice of materials, as well as in the stories she harnesses as her themes. Rebentisch describes “Ciao Eden” as an “attempt at assemblage,” an admixture of poetry, theatre and sculptural components. Formally speaking, she is concerned with the coexistence of different genres housed together in an expansive installation.
Her preoccupation with lyrical texts and the theatre in particular informs her creative method. Her work in the props department of the Wuppertal theatres effectively marks the starting point of her engagement. In essence, it is about the search for the possibilities of combining the medium of sculpture with theatre as a genre and to demolish the boundaries that exist between the two. As a result, her sculptural works are invariably inflected by linguistic influences and textual fragments. Quite literally – on the wall of the exhibition space, or in the processual fusion of both genres in the form of an installation that resembles a stage set.
The narrative that Rebentisch places centre stage here is decidedly well-known, primeval: Adam, Eve and Lilith. However, she tells the story from a queer-feminist perspective that presents Lilith as Adam's first wife and thus as the first person to disavow the patriarchy (in the form of Adam). There are countless historical and religious citations as well as interpretations of this figure. In the Bible, she is mentioned by name only once, in Isaiah 34:14. Some feminists and religious scholars assume that Lilith was expunged on account of her role as one of the few strong female figures. For this reason, she was henceforth to be denigrated as evil, seduction personified, and in some narratives even as a demon who devours babies. Why? Because she, created by God from earth and dust like Adam, refused to recognise Adam's superiority, which was determined by patriarchal dominance. Instead, she fled from Paradise and was pursued by God’s angel avengers. They too were unable to persuade Lilith to return to Adam and thus to the patriarchal fold, so that in the end her fate was banishment. Meanwhile, Eve was formed by God as a second woman from Adam’s rib: as a compliant partner, ready to submit unconditionally to the male will.
Sophie Rebentisch's “Ciao Eden” takes up the story at this point and has Lilith, the serpent, return to Paradise, where she tells Eve about what had transpired. Enlightened by this knowledge, Eve decides to elope with Lilith. As a result, Adam forfeits his patriarchal power, while the two women retreat to their shelter. Meanwhile, the Garden of Eden withers, whereas the shelter blossoms as a result of Eve and Lilith’s dreams, deeds and imagination. Ultimately, Adam effectively disappears owing to the fact that he is simply forgotten.
Elements of this imagined story coalesce in the exhibition space, itself akin to a backdrop. The apple in the entrance area and the enthroned serpent on the narrow wall provide unambiguous iconographic references. The archway at the top of the stairs is also to be understood in this context, as it marks the threshold to Paradise, whereas the shelter promises a place of refuge.
Dried leaves interwoven into the archway in filigree fashion bear witness to an erstwhile freshness and fecundity. Naturalistic leaves made from porcelain line the windowsills of the exhibition space. Like a memento mori, they recall the past splendour of Paradise, reflecting both life and its finitude. By resorting to fired porcelain, the latter take on a new permanence despite their fragility. Once fired, they retain their shape and colour as long as they are not destroyed by physical intervention. Radical fragility. The majority of Sophie Rebentisch's works are characterised by a sense of transience. They are not necessarily meant to last but run the risk of disintegrating or shattering on the floor. At the same time, the handling of the material seems like a clash of binary gender stereotypes: connotations of masculine strength and durability spar with feminine gentleness and fragility. The clay of the shelter is not meticulously plastered, the ends of the wire on the gate remain sharp, it is weighed down by paving stones. While strength is reflected in Rebentisch’s handling of materials, a gentleness is revealed in their fragility. By virtue of the fact that Rebentisch’s narrative depicts the supposedly delicate, fragile and vulnerable women as agents of their own destiny, taking flight and building a life of their own, she effectively reverses these very clichés: Adam is divested of his significance and Eve and Lilith gain their independent right to exist. With a view to (gender) identities, it also emerges that Lilith herself is not limited to her existence as a woman in the different versions of the stories; she is simultaneously a serpent, a demon, even the branch of a tree. She embodies curiosity, as well as self-determined thought and agency.
(Translation poem and text: Tim Connell)
Sophie Rebentisch (b. 1996 in Cologne) lives and works in Münster and Wuppertal. She is currently studying at the Münster Art Academy under Suchan Kinoshita. Her works have been exhibited in the exhibitions “RE-EXPLORE / RE-WRITE II” at the Linden Museum, Stuttgart, “Hallo” at the artist-run space im Keller, Münster and the “Förderpreisausstellung der Freunde der Kunstakademie” at Kunsthalle Münster, Münster. In addition, she works as a curator for the Kunst- und Kulturzentrum LOCH, Wuppertal and is responsible for liaison with the Von der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal, where she is currently co-curating the exhibition “DO YOU TAKE UP ALL THE SPACE IN YOUR BODY?” in conjunction with Renee Morales.
Curated by Jana Peplau
RADAR: Access via the Westfälischer Kunstverein, Rothenburg 30, 48143 Münster
A cooperation of the LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur and the Westfälischer Kunstverein.
Friday, 9 June 2023 at 8 pm
RADAR is an exhibition format hosted by the LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur and the Westfälischer Kunstverein. It features emerging, as yet little-known younger artists who stand out and are hence on the “radar”. The exhibited works provide insights into the featured artists’ current fields of interest.
The project space can also be viewed out of hours from outside.
> pamphlet (pdf)