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.Cause there’s Beauty in the Breakdown..

Philip Emde



(sent on 14/08/19 at 20:20)

… i visited only once Vienna before … it was February … cold very cold and I got a little bit lost … visited the narrenturm … Egon Schiele … the things he made with his hands … it was kind of morbid but although nice in a way … there was beauty behind …


Philip tells me that Caspar David Friedrich’s ‘Wanderer above the Sea of Fog’, ca. 1817, is an important work to him. Friedrich placed in the middle of the canvas the image of a dignified man, his back turned to us, atop a cliff. Our subject gazes out at a vast and unknowable territory obscured from view by a thick, low fog. He himself is just as unknowable, as an observer we are invited to project onto him what we image ourselves to see or feel in his place - object and subject become one.


Let us set the current scene: lining the wall are works with silent, stuffed, and motionless observers. These monkeys perch in front of murky surfaces. What do we see in them?


As with us human art-goers, the stuffed chimpanzees of Emde’s imagination react differently to the works, some observing introspectively, some wistfully gazing whilst perched with a lover, some elated, some turned away in mock disgust. A kind of ‘Singerie’ springs to mind, a tradition of depicting monkeys imitating human behaviours such as playing cards or painting, which as a form of mild satire of society grew in prominence within the canvases of great Flemish and French painters of the 16th to 18th centuries.


Along one side of the room they contemplate foggy silver surfaces, somewhere between foil and mirror. Emde’s monkeys imitate the various viewings of serious art with a cheeky wink and a light nudge. Innocent toys composed in this way could evoke Narcissus finding himself in every reflection, lost in a very personal abyss. Contemplation of the self and contemplation of art can be a sticky business, and hard to pry apart.


The playfulness of Emde’s works cover territory as vast and deep as Friedrich’s fog. His tools are the company Steiff’s cheerful tokens of childhood; anyone who grew up in the German-speaking world will be familiar with these iconic animals, all branded with the emblematic ‘Knopf im Ohr’ and yellow ear tag. His large collection of used and unused Steiff animals, found predominantly on eBay, make up a wondrous overflowing studio, a cave of stuffed wonders he has dubbed EmdiLand.


It is in this studio that the tumbling colourful totem pole of stuffed friends is birthed, and children’s toys are his perfect tool. It becomes apparent whilst thinking about the works that children are in fact natural collectors. They do so before they can attribute their collections to any rhyme or reason, are inclined to collect marbles, stones, stickers, and especially lifeless companions.


In this way Emde also turns the act of collecting on its head, the collecting of stuffed animals such as Beanie Babies and other branded toys being auctioned off on the web holds a certain 90s nostalgia, of a time before such online bubbles were burst. In today’s art context the collector is the ultimate critical observer.


Questioning the lens through which we see and are moved by works as a collectible representation of the human experience, Emde breaks down the elements of artful seeing with colour and humour.


Philip Emde lives and works in Cologne and Neustadt Weinstrasse. This will be the first time his work is shown in Vienna.


(Text written by Song-I Saba)