Forms of Constraint
Metallicgarn auf Leder
Weiße Stickerei auf bedrucktem Stoff
Stickerei auf Organza Seide
Cowhides, Metallic Embroideries, and Lace Doilies
Annette Streyl’s new objects
Around the turn of the 21st century, Annette Streyl, an accomplished stone sculptress, surprised the public with knitted objects. The artist created architectural husks of existing representational buildings of politics, culture, and economy in various sizes as soft sculptures, or suspended these like bed sheets from a clothesline. In the midst of the construction boom that was part of the neo-liberal departure, Streyl’s works deflated the post-modern euphoria made manifest in steel, bricks, and glass with an ironic gesture: drawing upon the female, domestic activities of knitting, embroidery, crocheting, and other forms of handiwork, the domed Berlin Reichstag, the cubic contemporary art institution Galerie der Gegenwart in Hamburg, Ikea Dortmund, Deutsche Bank Frankfurt, and the tower of AT&T New York were reshaped in woolen mesh fabric resulting in foldable and transportable emblems that could be easily exhibited.
Streyl’s latest objects are again surprising and no less charged with meaning, albeit possibly appearing harmless at first glance. On pieces of natural cowhide leather dyed black, geometrical forms have been embroidered in centered or asymmetrical complexes with silver metallic thread. Streyl works with visual contrasts between hard and soft, irregular and module-like systems, organic nature, and cultural constructs. The embroideries only reveal references to well-known architectural ground plans at closer examination. However, the five-sided concrete construction of the United States Department of Defense, the Pentagon, erected in 1941 upon America’s entry into World War II, still among the ten largest building complexes in the world, should be swiftly recognizable to most viewers. Proceeding from Streyl’s Pentagon, the link to the artist’s other architectural systems depicting stringent order discloses itself.
A circular sign that is determined by the pull of a frozen gaze stands out in a particularly striking manner. The ground plan reproduced by Streyl, which recalls a watchful eye with a pupil in its center and a radial iris, was conceived in 1791 by the economic politician and social policy maker Jeremy Bentham to control factory workers, and served as the ideal blueprint for the construction of prisons in the 19th century. In the realizations of the ‘panopticon’ prison type, French philosopher Michel Foucault recognized the signature of modern disciplinary societies cast in stone. Other ground plans inscribed in cowhides with embroidery by the artist are variations of centrally structured historic surveillance architecture that is being built to the present day (JVA Freiburg, Berlin Moabit, Arizona Prison, SAP-Zentrale / Main Office, Frauengefängnis Island / Women’s Correctional Institute, Iceland). Instead of using animal hide as a medium of conveying meaning, the artist has appliquéd a series of these architectural ground plans onto a material similar to cake doilies, in combination with a decorative border that cites the patterns of lace doilies. In doing so, Annette Streyl propels the theme of disciplinary