Katja Stuke‘s video work Cry Alex (2019) features two crying women of different nationalities and ages simultaneously presented as a diptych on two tablets. Facing the viewer front-on, they seem to turn directly towards them with their unfiltered emotions or at least to regard the viewer through the camera as the recipient. One sequence shows a young Asian woman in a simple white top in front of a light grey-beige background, her hair is shaved. Overflowing with tears, she reveals herself to an invisible audience, interspersed with short, impetuous sighs.
The person depicted is the Japanese pop singer Minami Minegishi, a member of the well-known Japanese girl band AKB48. The band’s concept allows for a special closeness between the girls and their fans, which, among other things, manifests itself in regular handshake events. As part of the marketing strategy, band members are prohibited from having relationships. Stuke takes Minami‘s publicly expressed remorse as an opportunity – typical of her work -– to ask questions about the authenticity and staging of images. Even though the resulting sentences in Japanese remain incomprehensible to most listeners due to a lack of language skills, the visible signs of humility are universally readable through the tears and the shaved hair. In Japanese, the expression ‘to become a monk’ describes this form of (self-)humiliation, but above all it is reminiscent of the public punishment and humiliation French women who were said to have had relations with German men during the Second World War endured. Katja Stuke critically questions this media event by juxtaposing the crying Minami with the crying Alex. Alex, an actress hired by the artist, rubs a sliced onion under her eyes in front of everyone, so that afterwards the tears flow as a physical reaction and at the same time her facial expressions produce a moment of authentic crying. Alex is dressed in a comfortable black T-shirt while Minami wears a white top that in this context can be seen as a hair shirt, in Christian terms this means a rough, scratchy garment, that when worn on the bare body implies the most moderate form of (self-)mortification. This juxtaposition subtly reflects the possibilities of media staging that require a specific reference in order to be unmasked as artificial. In the case of Cry Alex, it is the onion and the sentences whispered in Japanese: ”Is she crying? Is she really crying? Tears run down her face.” Due to the language barrier, this hint is only accessible to a small audience. If the viewer misses the initial sequence with the onion, then the emotion portrayed would be considered authentic. It is only the detailed gaze, the time spent and the attentiveness of the recipient that distinguish the ready and willing consumer from the critical observer. In this work, Stuke‘s media-critical preoccupation with images of people in public is shown to be exemplary, for it remains unclear whether Minami‘s feelings are real or just part of a marketing strategy launched in advance. Photographed from a television screen, it is the monitor resolution that gives the work a grainy aesthetic, in turn it implies a fleetingness that can be seen as characteristic of the fast-paced media world. Stuke captures and freezes this transience, counteracting it, so to speak, by fixing the individual frame of a video sequence in a single photograph.
Katja Stuke is a German artist. She lives in Düsseldorf.Katja Stuke is a German artist. She lives and works in Düsseldorf.
Together with Oliver Sieber she cover an extensive range of personas: photographers and artists, curators and exhibition organizers, designers and art book editors. Yet as they move through their photographic cosmos, it is not always so easy to determine where one identity ends and the other begins. Regardless, in their works and activities as artists and art facilitators they have long since become moderators of a very specific photographic culture.