Alone in Love's Domain Eckart Britsch 2003

The primal image amid the personages presented by Elvira Bach is a variation on the aristocratic "daughter of Eve." As a sort of "temporary queen," this figure dominates the opposing fantasies in the land of male demons, come hell or high water. In Africa Arthur Rimbaud described the radical presence of that figure whose bold appearance is almost always intensified with the color that is most popular with all women, "red." In his instructions on how to read color, Alexander Theroux has charted out the universality of the effect which "red" has had throughout human history. Not only in its artistic treatment is the play of the color "red" the boldest, most dramatic and most impudent of all colors. There is even reputed to be red laughter.

In the work of Elvira Bach, "red" flows as a central color through almost all her pictures, in the most highly varied degrees or nuances, and it helps to present an erotic mixture of wildness and form that has become the unmistakable trademark of her painting. She plays with the tension between the sexes and its propositional character as a counterweight to the desire-laden acquisition of victim-status by female figures. In human architecture, "red" is undoubtedly also the color with the greatest ambivalence, whose slogans come in pairs: pity and martyrdom, heaven and hell, love and death. This is a color which to a great extent can be destructive and creative at once, and whose raw animal power is a direct summons to mildness and moderation. In any case, "red" possesses all the more value in a picture the more hidden, reduced and purposeful its appearance is.

Elvira Bach also shapes "red" in her new pictures in a sovereign manner in that she reduces it and brings it almost to the verge of disappearance. With a disarming economy of simplicity, she thereby reveals her figures, who then conquer the visual space as in a flash. It seems as if in the moment of painting, a long stretch of the past has achieved permanent summation. These figures have renounced once and for all any willing acceptance of being taken in or being led by the nose. At the same time they let a long-lost abundance resonate like an appealing tautology out of nostalgia and despair, feelings which are used as allies in order to break through fantasies of patriarchal roles: snowdrops, balloons, amaryllis, red rouge - the many-tipped star hole, back into which one should not fall. These parts of the female body would never offer themselves for selection like the girls in brothels, because they themselves symbolize in their respective frequencies the power over life and death. They are characterized by a well-founded knowledge of their terrain, one which in any case appears to be healthier than a pure energy over which one can at any time lose control. Nevertheless, the secret of the poetry that lies within them forbids too intensive a search for symbolic meanings.

When life's fundamental questions come to the fore, then it is often only humor which knows how to respond. It is then that the roguish wag summons up the joy of observation and renders opposites capable of being narrated and balanced. Thus the new pictures also resemble building blocks, or fragments, or trial arrangements of a perception of irony - but not an irony filled with moaning complaint, born of romantic despair. It is instead the case of an irony which knows itself to be possessed of all details and which knows that as a rule it is nothingness that again and again leaps right in front of males and, to bring things to a head, gives them an erection. A tiny naked toe, the massed curls of fluttering hair, the stretched hem of a dress, the casual undulation of a thigh or the signal-lights of proudly worn earrings often determine fate far more decisively than all the workings of the rational mind. Likewise, the struggle depicted upon the pictures towards an energized, sturdy symbolism of the tension between the sexes is not to be had without the bringing to light of all ambivalences: between baby-bottle and champagne, ice cream on a stick and cigarette, all the way to high-heeled shoes as a substitute for heavenly church towers.

Elvira Bach is never concerned only with establishing her standpoint in relation to some other point of view, for the choice which we are is always borne as well by the non-choice which we are, in the sense of a scarcely avoidable fate. And what is much more important, she seeks to establish a playful confirmation of the invisible as a contrary tendency to the flood of images in the media characterized by garbage-dumping and whore-making. It is a matter of the life-puzzle of discovering what the essence of human life is, which almost borders on blasphemy: to paint something that for you yourself really embodies feeling. Thus she pins her hopes on pictures that are irresistible, seductive and hypnotic in that they are entirely her own images and fantasies: the objectivity of the absolutely individual. What is rejected is subjective arbitrariness and the accompanying body of thought which has the aim of justification. Thus there comes into being an unembellished pictorial directness which characterizes the special existential liveliness of her pictures and which creates an effect encompassing the outstanding and the common, the sarcastic and the utopian. Moving between narcissistic chic and mythological veil, she plays with the entire spectrum of human orientation. Above all, however, her pictures embody the direct experiences that release the city as a human command-control center. It is the impression of a trancelike but rigid state of excitement, one which draws the viewer into the picture. Out of a maelstrom of whirling density, these facial masks stare at one intensely, as if one were, like Tarzan in the jungle, a not entirely welcome intruder into the realm of the senses. At the same time, they develop an erotic presence which is comparable to a hallucinatory, emotional energy and which is embellished with utensils from the global village, the tom-toms of lipstick and crystal, of high-heeled shoes and much more.

The new pictures, however, no longer play with extreme characteristics of those memorable beginnings in the Eighties with the No Future, end-of-the-world mood of Fridays fish, Saturdays soccer and Sundays family, when an intimated threat of castration was still sufficient to set the automated assembly line of fantasy in motion. The power of art as a means of opposing everyday life must also be renewed again and again. Thus after the fever of revolt came attempts which feel out erotic longing in a more distanced manner, along the surfaces, in order to spur things along. At the same time it seems to be the case that there no longer exists an interiority that was once sufficient for unleashing an ecstatic storm onto that which is new, because in the meantime one once again knows that today, under the conditions of civilization, the return to a state of nature represents a state of war. On the other hand, a competing but up to now unknown, neglected inner strength seems to point to the fact that one ought to treat oneself to a few worldly tortures: above all, the luxury of grand feelings. In an old pop song, Jimmy Clanton expresses this as a paradox, "Red doesn't mix with Blue," one which flashes forth and then disappears immediately - pseudo-emancipation as self-mutilation.

Although Elvira Bach reveals with pitiless clarity the tensions which accompany the project of seeing or even painting the female form, one cannot ignore the fact that on the one hand life is too short to be constantly encumbered with these tensions, but that on the other hand, worse substitute forms are in fashion, ones extending all the way to war. Could it be that the magic of her pictures touches us for that very reason? They provide an impulse for thinking about our confused era without forgetting the red-hot glow of eroticism.

Translated by George Frederick Takis