PROFILE: RAPHAELA VOGEL – Ultranackt; Son of a Witch; A Woman’s Sportscar

  • 16.01.2019

Under the aegis of witches the insecurities of the male gender were secularly represented. In fact, two centuries of "state terrorism" during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, taught men to fear the power of women, because they were the generators of life and custodians of the primordial knowledge of birth. To resize the woman's strength and subject her to male control, she was portrayed as being sui generis "lustful and unable to govern herself". Silvia Federici, international witches theorist, studies and affirms the constructed character of sexual roles in capitalist society.

She notes how female sexuality was sanctioned, criminalizing those activities not oriented towards procreation and family support; prostitution, nudity and dances were forbidden, and the collective sensuality at the centre of social life in the Middle Ages became a new kind of subversive political meeting. In fact, the figure of the witch has become a symbol of martyrdom for feminist and post-colonial movements, as she exemplifies the contrast to dominant male thought, devoted to the subjugation of the unknown and the different-from-himself.

The intrinsically indomitable and autonomous women/witches are therefore to be silenced, to be expropriated and subjugate their bodies, to be purged with fire. The witches of that time are the bitches* of today, those that come together to give new value to witchcraft, as a quality in which to invest in the future. One should not be afraid of being a witch, indeed we should do everything to be so, affirming the xeno-side, alien, wise and wild, going to meet and use the powers of secular knowledge, beyond good and evil, wearing red velvet cloaks and emerald eyes.

I have always found Raphaela Vogel’s outfits carefully dissonant and so wonderfully spontaneous. She puts together completely random things, a fur coat with a pair of torn tracksuit pants and brown boots. Unusual to look at, but intriguing, as she reinterprets naturally the usual notions of taste and style, making the female appear as the master of her image and not subjected to the gaze of the other, meaning the masculine. What struck me about her outfits on the occasion of “Son of a Witch”, her first exhibition in Berlin at Berlinische Galerie, were the golden and python boots and her wild hair, which, while I said hello to her, were all one with the soft white fake fur she wore. She looked like a capricious queen jumping out from one of her video works.

The entrance of the show was made circular by a candid three-dimensional ornament that seems to resume the iconic motifs of oriental art, dragons and vortices, or insects and suns, immediately referring to a magical portal, whose world beyond is unknown. Crossing the threshold you enter an iron structure that cages the hall. It seems to be a ribcage or a nomadic cathedral, whose columns, made of iron pipes, emerge from wooden hands that echo Buddhist tradition. At the back of the room there is a screen which is a little crooked with respect to the audience; the projector from which the images start is also hidden by a wooden hand, it almost seems that the flow of light comes out of the limb just like a witchy superpower. The images follow each other on the screen, giving life to the video work Sequenz (2017). A distorted and solemn version of Frédéric Chopin's nocturne pervades the space and gives sound to the atmosphere.

The predominant shape is the circle, the bed on which Raphaela is waving is round and round is the celestial cave in which she rejects and attracts the camera that films her; round is her ass that she spanks, circular is the roundabout shots from above, whose central structure looks like a flower or a gear. This recurrence made me think of the definition of “Bubble Vision”, coined by Hito Steyerl, that refers to the markedly disembodied process of seeing the world through the spherical multiverse constituted by virtual reality. Steyerl points out that the space in which we enter the VR has the form of a sphere, so this is the solid in which we transpose ourselves through the use of the technological machine. “Bubble Vision” is an invisible but increasingly powerful structure, so Steyerl:

"Clicking on a spherical icon often transports users into realistic virtual worlds".

So the sphere accompanies us in a world where we are slowly replaced by technology and artificial intelligence systems. Spherical is the globe in which the sorceress reads the fate of man, but spheres are also surveillance cameras. In the video installations of Vogel, of which she is director, cameraman and subject, she is often seen in combative action, restless or resisting the technological means that are recording the videos. Go-pros positioned on fishing rods, selfie-sticks or insect drones, these are the incarnations of the constant gaze we are subjected to. The domination of the visible, put in her own terms by Vogel in a futuristic and apocalyptic key, in which she dresses up as technology itself: the female and not the male gaze is now the predominant one.

One of the sequences in her video work, for example, sees her from behind, sitting on a sidewalk, on her back is projected the shadow of the drone that films her. The shadow contrasting with the white t-shirt seems to delineate the bone structure of the spine and ribs. Here the presence of technology seems constituent in two ways, firstly because without it there would be no image, secondly because through the "bone" projection it seems to give structure to the human body of the artist. The identity of the woman becomes a construction defined and opposed by man in an uncanny alien world. In another you can see her wiggling between white sheets with a child's unicorn scepter in her hand, the image distorted and doubled by the mirror filter is kaleidoscopic, it seems to visualize the cause of the restlessness of sleep. Technology is invading all the spheres of our living environment, the private and inner as well, so perhaps this nightmare is caused by the presence of the camera itself?

The practice of Vogel since her solo show "Ultranackt" at the Kunsthalle Basel last May (and the first episode of her vision in progress), sees the intersection of the video with the installation, the setting takes up the environment in which the films are shot, adding a further layer of uncanny absurdity. The viewer is able to experience personally the atmosphere of the physical environments of the moving images. Looking more carefully at the hands / pedestals and the iron columns, I found similarities with Raphaela's limb that holds the selfie stick in various sequences of the video. A hand that then summons the power to observe and then control. The installation was meant that we too are in the same position as the artist, subjecting our bodies to the disembodied gaze of the machine, the temple of new cults and new powers of contemporary society.

In Italian we say to catch a girl’s attention, that they have a beautiful carrozzeria, meaning they have a nicely shaped body. The term is adopted from automobile machines, the illusion of male erotic desires par excellence. As a child, I always thought that the front of cars looked like a face, slightly aggressive, but powerful in its shape. It is no coincidence that Vogel’s setting in Munich is a Spitfire Triumph from 1981, whose headlights will be the projection of a new work produced in her amazingly prolific year, 2018. The imagery of the car will visualize this time a further character: Rollo, her giant dog, a jumbo poodle, and fluffy-hyper-smart companion. In this capsule, curated by Anna Schneider, the biological distinction between human body, machine and animal under the spell of a fast rotating world is pulverized and blurred in a further hypothetical conceptualization of a future environment where subjectivity can assume disturbing and colourful tones. By playing with the invisible, permanent surveillance and regularization mechanisms of today, through which her images of her own dreamy and biographical world are projected, Vogel unveils all clichés and stereotypes that are subsumed. She offers the possibility of fighting them with the magic of symbols and icons when the thresholds of civilization will be destroyed.