One problem with the research on dreams is that one cannot observe a dream directly. To learn how or what a sleeper dreams, he has to be awaken from his sleep and questioned about it. Cornelia Renz’ large dimension acrylic paintings may just be giving us an insight into that question of the representability of dreams.
In her works, Renz has been addressing those very subjects which Surrealism and cinema are also obsessed with, namely the unconscious, the pleasure principle, the expressive power of the symbol and of dreams, castration, anxiety, and the death drive. All this Renz conjures up in her depiction of fantastic worlds, fairy-tales, and masquerades―and not without humour. In these prolific worlds nothing is as it seems, the general order of things has been suspended and the conventional social and moral principles are disturbingly broken. Her images give us an odd feeling, making us think how castrating the structures of our real world actually are. Thus, Cornelia Renz’ fantastic worlds seem to hold a promise of liberation. By linking the grotesque and the divine, death and humor, violence and eroticism she shows the mechanisms of desire in action.
It all seems to move around dreams and the unconscious, puberty, identity, gender roles, subliminal violence and power games. Renz’ young women actively negotiate and consciously manipulate power to their advantage if they get a chance to. However, to interpret Renz’ works as transgression per se would be to fail the real subject matter of her work, namely how the joy of life and the mystery of death coexist altogether.
In Cornelia Renz’ compositions line and colour are the supreme elements. Each composition is made of thousands of lines. Her figures no longer hold to the ground. All former rules, like perspective and logical shadowing, have been abolished. Instead, these have been replaced by vectors of directions. The composition is commanded mostly by ideas of top and bottom or left and right in some cases.
In many of her works Cornelia Renz adopts an aerial viewpoint in order to give us the feeling that we are optically and aerially moving around the work. This is enhanced in two ways. First of all through the transparency of the acrylic glass she uses for her pieces and secondly due to the fact that in many of her compositions a moral debate or some kind of struggle between top and bottom is taking place. Once linear perspective and traditional notions of space are abolished, things like the distinction between figure and ground, superposition, dramatic colour contrast and flatness become extremely important for the kind of work being done here.
Cornelia Renz is exploring an essential set of conventions―line, figure, scale―which not only directly derives from the technique she employs but represents a conscious positioning within the tradition of painting. Her rejection of Renaissance Italian perspective in favour of older modes of representation which takes us as far as the Middle Ages, results in a graphic immediacy which at first glance might not seem so natural and spontaneous but instead brings forth a certain quality of the gesture. Her choice means the replacement of the visual for the tactile, the abandonment of the optics for the haptics.
Based on the principle of the collage, Cornelia Renz shamelessly samples and mixes references which range from pop culture to historical engraving, mythology, and comics re-interpreting them in a very personal way. Each painting offers itself for decodification. There is a very particular Renz’ iconography which includes, among others, Lolitas, horses, nurses and skeletons. Childhood and puberty for instance represent interesting moments for the artist because the first is almost pre-societal, and the latter is a brief moment just before the loss of innocence. Both escape, even if briefly, society’s control and customization.
Cornelia Renz’ specific interest in these moments of ”out of control“―the same way a dream represents a moment which escapes control, and the same way an image is as deceitful as a dream―influences intrinsically the way things are represented. In most compositions there is a horror vacui which could be said to derive directly from the wish to tell a story. Since Renz’ stories are full of tension and include unpredictable elements which could suddenly intervene and change the sequence of events at any time, her scenes are often organized in a spiral manner. This can be seen in such works as ”Skyrider“, ”Subrosa“, ”Wendy“, and ”Forever”.
In Renz’ images different tension points and situations compete for our attention. Sometimes the image is organized as a kind of poster or a medieval illumination, with space being organized by the use of banners or medallions as in ”Love“, ”Forever“, and ”Love Rules”.
Cornelia Renz seems to be thinking in terms of physicality, for her paintings are very dense considering imagery, tactility, and terms of representation but deceitfully fragile through her choice of material. The material mainly used by Cornelia Renz ―acrylic glass―has the specific and remarkable quality of transparency. This condition necessarily brings forth issues like the incidental, the transitory, the peripheral, the metaphor of the mirror and self-reflection. Not lacking in paradox it also holds the painting in a contradictory situation in which opposite poles meet: between being a massive, extremely heavy object, and at the same time possessing an evanescent body, from solid object to vaporous air.
Since the articulation between materiality, representation and imagery is extremely sophisticated and loaded, Cornelia Renz’ paintings with their physical properties, their gesture’s authenticity and literary density show great emotional power. More important than to ask what they are about, is the understanding of how these different vectors engage in a psychic and energetic build-up, and which construct a universe of their own.
Cornelia Renz’ rich imagery represents thus a second order of reality, which in a way gives us a blink into reality itself, for it is full of painful, dark and strange things, which we must deal with all the time. Here pure horror is always represented in an aesthetic way, contributing for a sense of estrangement as we are left alone with what to do with the image. These paintings might just as well represent a liberating break or a catharsis with all things strange in our daily lives. Liliana Rodrigues
Born in 1966 in Kaufbeuren/Bavaria (DE), Cornelia Renz studied at the Academy of Visual Arts at Leipzig (“Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst“). Currently living and working in Berlin, she has been awarded with the “Marion Ermer Prize” (2001) and the “Förderpreis Bildende Kunst” of the Schering Foundation (2005). Recent shows have included a solo presentation at Galerie Anita Beckers in Frankfurt (2007), Goff + Rosenthal in New York in 2006 and the group exhibition XV. Rohkunstbau “Drei Farben – Rot” at Villa Kellermann in Berlin in 2008. Cornelia Renz is represented in many private and public collections in Germany, the United Kingdom, the USA, Brazil and Japan.