Who was Lorenza Böttner and why is she important? – ARTnews.com


At Documenta 14, the 2017 edition of the vaunted art festival that takes place once every five years in Kassel, Germany, Olu Oguibe erected a fifty-foot-high obelisk paying homage to immigrants, Marta Minujín built a monumental Acropolis-shaped structure from book stacks, and Maria Eichhorn created an institute focused on the expropriation of property that belonged to European Jews during World War II. These gestures caught the attention of international publications, but it was an artist hitherto unknown to much of the art world who stole the show: Lorenza Böttner, a German painter, dancer and performance artist. who in the 80s and 90s started doing meditating works on her trans armless body. Included in Documenta were her meticulously crafted renditions of her trans, armless body, wielding a brush with her mouth and feet.

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Until Documenta 14, few people had heard of Böttner, whose “dissident transgender body has become a living political sculpture, a sculptural manifesto without arms,” ​​as theorist Paul B. Preciado wrote in a item for Documenta 14 South magazine. Böttner, who died of HIV-related complications at age 34 in 1994, had never had a major solo investigation before Documenta 14; his reputation pales in comparison to those of the other included artists. And yet, many critics took note anyway. New York Times critic Holland Cotter devoted an entire paragraph in his see again to Böttner, whose paintings he called “accomplished”, and to Andrew Russeth, in his ARTnews review, called his work the “undisputed highlight” of Documenta’s offerings presented at the Neue Galerie in Kassel.

Since Documenta, Böttner has come into the limelight, in large part thanks to the work of Preciado, who has curated his traveling solo exhibition now on display at the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery at Concordia University in Montreal. But, as Preciado pointed out, Böttner’s work was widely seen during his lifetime. A member of the Disabled Artists Network, she then took on the role of Petra, the controversial 1992 Paralympic mascot, designed by Spanish illustrator Javier Marsical and described by the event as “a positive, outgoing, independent, energetic and brave with no weapons. Her performances have been performed around the world, in cities like Barcelona and New York, and she has even appeared in a Advertising of Faber-Castell art supplies, ballet holding pastels with his toes.

Yet, as Preciado once explained, “This work could have been totally lost.” Thanks to shows like the one currently presented in Montreal, Böttner’s work will likely remain immemorial. Below is a glimpse into Böttner’s life and art.

A blurred image of a woman wearing lipstick with long wavy hair.

Lorenza Böttner, Untitled (again), sd
Courtesy of Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery

“I am an exhibitionist and I like it”

Many artists do their work in private, toiling in their studios and only showing their work once it is finished. This was not the case for Böttner, who created his art in the public eye, breaking down the divisions between performance art, dance and painting. “In some ways I’m an exhibitionist and I like it. I take advantage of it, ”Böttner said in a documentary from the 80s. “But I wasn’t always an exhibitionist, it came about because of my disability.”

An armless woman stands in a street, using her toes to paint a picture in pastel.

Lorenza Böttner, Untitled, 1982.
Private collection

Böttner was given the name Ernst Lorenz Böttner when he was born in 1959 in Punta Arenas, Chile, to a German family. (In Preciado’s writings, the pronouns he / he is used in reference to the artist’s childhood; he / she is applied to Böttner’s years in art school, as the artist was beginning to make the transition; and she / she is invoked in the descriptions of the years after.) At the age of 8, he saw a bird’s nest on top of an electricity pylon and tried to climb the structure to achieve it. He fell on the way down and the electricity forced the doctors to amputate both arms below the shoulder. Although he underwent a series of plastic surgery operations starting in 1973, when he moved to the West German town of Lichtenau with his mother, he never opted for prosthetic arms.

When he started attending the Kassel School of Arts, Böttner began to explore what can be called disability. He / she took the name of Lorenza, “affirming an openly transgender female position”, as Preciado wrote in the South trial. After a teacher told him that he / she was a ‘walking performance’, in a comment that might be perceived as condescending, Böttner started a series of photographs from 1983 titled ‘Face Art’, in which he / she appeared in front of the camera with make-up that altered the artist’s face, giving certain features a distended or particularly bony appearance. In some cases, the makeup had made Böttner’s face appear confrontational, even threatening; in other cases, it softens the artist’s sometimes sad expressions. He / she graduated from the Kassel School of Arts in 1984 with a thesis titled “Behindert? “Or” Disabled? “

Böttner had become fascinated by what Preciado called the “monster art tradition,” or the artists who did their work using their mouths and feet. Sometimes this took place in front of the public, on the street, for example, or in circus performances. Böttner’s work subverted this kind of performance, returning the looks she received every day. “She fully confronts people who watch the performances with the act of getting her body back, not with the object of a bizarre gaze but as a political subject,” Preciado said in a 2018 speak.

A naked woman without arms slumped in a landscape with shapes radiating from her body.  A cityscape with skyscrapers rises behind it.

Lorenza Böttner, Untitled, 1986.
Courtesy of Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery

The eye of the beholder

Often at stake in Böttner’s art was the concept of beauty itself – what it means to be aesthetically pleasing, and who should be seen as such. Western male artists throughout art history have often personified beauty in the form of a non-disabled cisgender white woman – think of the sculptures of Aphrodite by Praxiteles or the voluptuous women by Peter Paul Rubens. Böttner’s paintings and performances test this notion by attacking bourgeois images of this type and breaking open gender binaries.

A naked woman with a hairy breast poses next to a painting of a naked woman combing her hair.

Lorenza Böttner, Untitled, 1982.
Private collection

In his work, Böttner seems to play on viewers’ perception of his genre. A 1982 photograph shows Böttner sitting on a wooden floor next to a painting of a slender naked woman with her breasts uncovered. Böttner poses shirtless, inviting a comparison between her hairy, armless chest and the smooth, Renoir-like flesh of the combing woman, whose face appears vaguely similar to Böttner’s. The two characters look at the viewer with a look that seems charged with eroticism.

Other works push Böttner’s images of genre fluidity even further. In an untitled and undated work on paper, Böttner creates something akin to a triple self-portrait. On the left, she shows herself wearing a dress and with wavy hair; in the middle, she has an elegant beard with shaved stripes; and on the right, she looks like a haired businessman. They all look like Böttner. And in an untitled 1980 pastel painting, Böttner shows herself acting like the mother of a baby, holding a bottle of formula under her neck while looking lovingly at the child.

A recurring figure in Böttner’s work is the Venus de Milo, the millennial ancient Greek sculpture that was considered by many to be a model of beauty. In its current state, the sculpture lacks arms, a bit like Böttner. Why, she wondered, did so many people still consider work beautiful, even though they wouldn’t say the same about her body? To accompany a performance, created in 1982, in which she took on the appearance of sculpture, she evoked this paradox. “A sculpture is always admired even if it lacks limbs, whereas a disabled human being arouses feelings of uncertainty and shame,” she wrote in a pamphlet explaining the work. “By moving from sculpture to human being, I want to make people aware of this problem. “

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