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Lost in space

Birgit Graschopf's works are a breathtakingly detailed analysis of modern society

Image Credit: Supplied
’Mirror Lines’, pencil on paper
Weekend Review

Birgit Graschopf is interested in investigating space in terms of the impact it has on individuals and society. The Vienna-based Austrian artist uses drawing, photography and performance art to deconstruct the power structures of society and examine the fine line between public and private spaces. Her latest work, titled Space Forward, looks at the dynamics of a mass and how it affects the private space of its individual elements, on a micro and a macro level.

"I am fascinated with space because it affects us subtly. Different spaces have different powers. People can feel the power of a space subconsciously and they behave accordingly in that space. I like to watch how people manage themselves in public, private and semi-private spaces. And I want to question whether we can be ourselves in public or have we become like robots, whose behaviour is dictated by society's power structures. My work expresses my personal sense of loneliness, despite living in a world that is so well connected, and my own perception of a mass of creatures as a threat to individual identity," the artist says.

Graschopf spends a lot time observing people in various spaces. She spent many days on the terrace of a building to create a set of photographs of the street below. "I observed the patterns created by the shadows of the building and the trees, and the play of light and shade on a drain cover on the street, before choosing the time for the shoot. And I placed the male models, dressed in black suits and hats, in such a way that their figures blended with their shadows. The people appear like dark spots or clouds floating in an open space, alluding to the anonymity and loss of identity of individuals in urban society. I included the drain in the pictures because it represents an interface between the brightness outside with the darkness inside, the visible space above with the hidden space underneath, the private and the public and the conscious and subconscious," she says.

Another set of photographs, titled Urban Creatures, is a playful look at how individual entities lose meaning in the greater cosmic context. Here, the artist has combined pencil drawings of various historic towns in Italy to create interesting cosmic arrangements. "Most of these historic places are now neglected and uninhabited. They have lost their meaning and their importance in the modern world. To me, their shapes look like horses and other creatures, and they seem to be lost and floating as a meaningless speck in the cosmos, just like people in the city lose their sense of identity and become part of a teeming mass," the artist says.

In Swarm, the artist has digitally created an arrangement of pictures of skaters on an ice rink to convey the menacing nature of a swarm of bees. Yet the individuals in the swarm look helpless and lost. The artist explores the same concept metaphorically in Firmament of Flies — a series of photograms created by arranging dead flies in various patterns. A drawing titled Bacteria Laces depicts the idea on a micro level. "I saw pictures of clusters of E. coli on the internet and found the bacteria very beautiful. But at the same time I know that a mass of these bacteria can cause disease," the artist says.

Her other drawings also elaborate on the loneliness and helplessness of people caused by the subtle pressure of conforming to society's power structures. Although the artist denies it, perhaps, her work has been subconsciously influenced by the recent mass protests around the world.


Space Forward will run at Carbon 12 gallery, Dubai, until February 12.