A sunny day in Clapham soaking up rays on the Common and watching the world go by. Many memories were dredged up but they were mostly of the pleasant variety. Unlike some of Amelie von Wulffen's slightly disorientating work.
The misjudged Bimpfi, at Studio Voltaire, was German artist von Wulffen's first solo exhibition in the UK and she was certainly a new name to me. On the surface twee but even so much as a cursory inspection reveals an underlying sense of unease. von Wulffen corrupts 'canonical genres by deliberately embracing clumsy derivates'. It's not that she's no concept of bad taste. More that she accepts bad taste as one of the motors for her work.
Every work in the exhibition was made in 2016 and is untitled (thus saving me a lot of time having to copy them all out) though she's claimed they're meditations on her interest in guilt and the unconscious. I'm not quite sure how the heavily decorated piano that sits in the centre of the room fits in with that reading but the creepy cats, oddly shaped babies, and little miniature men seemingly imprisoned in a room together do speak of the stuff of nightmares. It's reminiscent of Dorothea Tanning or Neo Rauch.
The Surrealist influence that pervades her work is the most dominant but there's something more ethereal, dreamy about von Wulffen's canvases. She's referenced the peasant scenes of Austrian artist Franz von Defregger (whose works were later co-opted by the Nazis) and Alfred Kubin's Symbolist work. There's something of Outsider art too although as von Wulffen is not an outsider herself it can, at times, feel forced, possibly even a little faked.
The titular 'misjudged Bimpfi' is an anthropomorphised mushroom who, in a German children's book, is ostracised for crimes he did not commit. It seems like the kind of ludicrous, and ludic, story that von Wulffen would enjoy so it's no surprise she's borrowed it.
Amelie von Wulffen was born in 1966 so grew up in 70s and 80s Germany when a climate of blame, restraint, and coming to terms with what had happened in the War was prevalent in society. Her art is playful but, like a lot of child's play, can be uncomfortable, cruel, sadistic even when zoomed in on. Why are those people all naked? What's going on there? What's he doing to that cat? Is that little girl tied up? Are those people being forced to play those instruments?
It's art that raises questions but resolutely refuses to answer them. It's fun, disturbing fun, to look at them and one day I'll hopefully get a chance to see more of her work. But on Sunday the sunshine won out in the end over von Wulffen's oddly colourful darkness.