Born in 1973 in (G.D.R.)
Lives and works in (United States )
Born in 1973 in Munich, Janaina Tschäpe is German on her father’s side and Brazilian on her mother’s. She spent a great deal of her childhood in Sao Paulo, the hometown of her maternal family. This dual cultural heritage infused her work with a paradoxical mixture of Western rationalism and the fantastical South American imaginary. Her many references combine in a personal mythology, which, to begin with, evoked identity and femininity, evolving towards a broader questioning of the body, energy and metamorphosis within a luxurious and strange natural world.Between 1996 and 2002, the artist produced a series of performances, from which she created one hundred photos, in which she stages herself as a corpse. By presenting her prostrated body in widely diverse locations, she created a panorama of environments that inspire her. From the rooftops of Greenpoint, with its typical New York water tower, to the luxurious Rambough Palace in Jaipur, or more intimate spaces, Tschäpe moulds her body to the landscape, losing her identity in each new point of view. Often incongruous, sometimes aggressive, this presence disrupts the interpretation of the landscape, since the grounded body adds a narrative aspect to the photograph. From this series of performances onwards, it became a habit to include herself in the work at any time, adding a more fantastical twist to the fictional side of her work, through costume elements, which she takes with her when she travels. Her work is immersed in legends and myths and she provokes evolutions in female bodily forms through their close contact with natural elements. In humid and strange atmospheres, hybridisations give rise to creatures that are part chimera, part mermaid. Overinflated condoms, fabric tentacles and all kinds of soft sculptures metamorphose the body that seems to float in lush natural environments. In the photos from the series A Botanist’s Dream (2006), the costume transforms the artist’s body, which enters into osmosis with an environment of gigantic flowers : “ Whether I am morphing humans, animals and plants or inventing new organic forms amidst fertile botanical settings, I have become a sort of conceptual geneticist, a Dr. Moreau who can’t differentiate process from product.” * After photography, video and drawing, she started painting, which eventually began to dominate her work. Motifs inspired by the plant forms of tropical forests cover her immense sheets of paper, evoking the world of her videos. Several details evoke figurative elements, a spider’s web or a carnivorous plant. Spectators immerse themselves in the contemplation of incredible flora, losing themselves in the interwoven networks and minute ornaments. Microcosm or macrocosm, the undetermined scale of these gardens reinforces the dreamlike aspect of these landscapes.
Janaina Tschäpe shares her time between New York and Rio de Janeiro, conserving the cultural duality that is a source of inspiration to her.
Translated by Anna Knight
* Interview of 28 March 2008 with Rachael Thomas, published in the exhibition catalogue Janaina Tschape : Chimera, Dublin, Irish Museum of Modern Art, 2008, p. 102.