7 May 2017: SOMA Art Gallery – Berlin, If Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade

And then there were none, performance image, estherka ©2013

And then there were none., Single Channel HD Video, performance video and photo ©2013

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“If Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade” is a powerful maxim that encourages an optimistic attitude in the face of adversity or misfortune. Since moving to Berlin in 2009, interdisciplinary visual artist kate-hers RHEE’s work explores the intersections of race, gender and cultural identity specific to language and nation. In this solo exhibition, she presents work that confronts disparaging racist and sexist German colloquialisms, while deflating them with humour and wit. The offensive (racist/sexist) slang,  N****kuss, Schicke Möpse, and Fidschi are at the centre of this exhibition. The pivotal work, The Chocolate Kiss Project examines the concept of the Other through Blackness, using the lens of the racial triangulation theory to reflect on her own subject position as an Asian-American woman. The artist contemplates the intersecting impacts of the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the Black Lives Matter movement on the model minority myth, while reflecting on her own foreign identity as a non-white, non-black woman in Germany.

“If Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade” is often used by women, women of colour and recently quite famously referred to by Beyoncé in her iconic music album Lemonade with a direct quote from Hattie White, Jay Z’s grandmother.

The long-term curatorial project ‘Yellow Matters’ curated by Nabi Nari at SOMA Art Gallery Berlin is supported by Senatsverwaltung für Kultur und Europa Berlin (Senate Department for Culture and Europe Berlin).

Opening 15:00-19:00, Sunday, 7. May 2017
Free admission

7-17 May 2017
SOMA Art Gallery
Liegnitzer Str. 35
10999 Berlin

Works Presented: 

Möpse Gone Wild Calendar, 2017, 12 ink drawing on papers, each 42 x 29,7 cm

Employing images from the last Playboy’s Playmate calendar, after it was announced in 2015 (and subsequently rescinded by Cooper Hefner in 2017) that Playboy would no longer use images of nude women, the artist created her Möpse Gone Wild Calendar project. This work belongs to a larger interdisciplinary project called Modern Beauty Ideals in the Age of Digital Technology or If I can K-Pop dance, I’ll be a part of your digital beauty revolution that engages hetero-patriarchal global beauty ideals and neoliberal beauty practice and how they are framed within feminist, geopolitical, and post-colonial discourses. Her ongoing works that engage the German double entendre Möpse in the sexist German slang Schicke Möpse are witty, critical and troublesome all at once.

Fidschi Saft für eine Gute Reise nach Hause (Fiji Juice for a Nice Trip Back Home), 2017, 5 Fiji Water Bottles and the Artist’s Urine, 24,5 x 7 x 7 cm

In 2009 the year the artist moved to Berlin, she was called a Fidschi on the street by a pair of hooligans who threatened her and her partner physically. A few years later while at a subway station, she overheard a man who had just asked her for a cigarette cry out, “Wo sind die ficken Fidschis?” He had apparently expected her to be selling illegal cigarettes. The word “Fidschi” has its origins in the DDR when those of Vietnamese or other East Asian descent were discriminated against and subjected to this pejorative insult. Ironically, the Fiji Islands located in the South Pacific Ocean became a representative location for all those of East Asian descent in the minds of many East Germans. The title of this work references the refrain of a song by the neo-Nazi band Landser, “Fidschi, Fidschi, Gute Reise.”

Blackface Projection Grid #1,2,3, 2014, 49 corks on wood panel, 30 x 30 cm, edition of 2 + A/P

The series, Blackface Projection Grid, uses in each work 49 corks, seven across and seven down. Seven is seen globally as a significant number (i.e. seven sins, seven wonders of the world, seven having religious connotations, etc.) and the artist also invoked the number seven in the work 7 Drawings, 28 Kisses. The artist was first drawn to working with corks because they have a similar shape to the German Schocokuss. But the power of the object lies in the historical usage; Blackface performers had used burnt cork to blacken their skin. 7 Drawings, 28 Kisses, 2013, chocolate kisses on paper, 42 x 59, 4 cm

7 Drawings, 28 Kisses, 2013, performance on HD video, 8:8 min, edition of 7
Camera: Dian Zagorchinov and Chiara Nadone

This work was performed at MOMENTUM, Kunstquartier Bethanien, Mariannenplatz 2, 10997 Berlin, Germany on 26 May 2013 as part of the WORKS ON PAPER exhibition of curated performances by Rachel Rits-Volloch. Created with the generous support of the Millay Colony for the Arts, this methodical but messy performance plays with the slippage of meanings. In this work, the artist employs the Little Gauss Arithmetic Progression Formula as a strategy of counting the Other, while objectifying and refusing to acknowledge individualized subjects. Yet another symbol, which explores the space between double meanings and connotations, is the choice of the artist’s clothing in the performance. In her hometown of Detroit, the original label Carhartt produces clothing for factory workers representing the proletariat laborer and the working class. Conversely, in Berlin, the same manufacturer produces a very different style of clothing for a distinctly other group: the trendy, affluent hipster.

And then there were none., 2013, C-Print, 40 x 60 cm, edition of 5
And then there were none., 2013, HD video, 6:56 min, edition of 7
Performers: Abbéy Odunlami and kate hers RHEE
Camera: Aleks Slota

This performance was honored in 2014 by the AHL Foundation in New York, with the 1st Prize of the Visual Arts Competition. In the most important work from this series, the artist was interested in suggesting the complicated ways racialized and gendered bodies get (re)produced, reduced and essentialized. The multiple layers of meaning in the work are meant to confound notions of cultural and gender stereotypes. The position of the Asian female seems at first one of passivity and obedience through her stoic silence, but then we notice the black male is the one who is the most vulnerable and unease through his performative kisses. The curious confrontation is awkward and both a contradiction and a confirmation to the ways in which Asian female bodies and Black male bodies are highly sexualised as the Other. In addition, the implicit reference to the Los Angeles riots and the violence between Korean American and African American communities became only comprehensible as the artist began to articulate the work as one that could evoke and be in dialogue with the theory of racial triangulation between Blacks, Asians and others (Whites). According to political science scholar, Claire Kim, who coined this term, “Asian Americans have not been racialized in a vacuum, isolated from other groups; to the contrary, Asian Americans have been racialized relative to and through interaction with Whites and Blacks. As such, the respective racialization trajectories of these groups are profoundly interrelated.” The viewer of the work occupies the ostensible standard racial perspective, conditioned by White European ethnographic historical frameworks, but in this work they are intentionally forced to wait outside of the frame, observing but not playing a role.

(no) regrets, 2014, HD video, Color, B&W, Sound, 11:43 min, 16:9, edition of 7
Voiceover: Sabrina Nelson and kate hers RHEE
Texts: The Awful German Language and excerpt from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Reminiscent of Hollis Frampton’s film Nostalgia (1971), where photographs are burned to
the sound of anecdotes, RHEE sticks Chocolate Kisses onto skewers and melts them in a kind of animist ceremony. This act is accompanied by extracts from Mark Twain’s essay The Awful German Language (1880) and his novel Huckleberry Finn (1884). The result is a complex web of references ranging from the 19th-century slave trade to the timeless intractability of the German language. Things come to a head when the slave Jim wins his freedom, visualised by smouldering Chocolate Kisses symbolising the end of racist idiom. Text written by Anne Bitterwolf.