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ELISABETH FREI. Growth and grown

Stadtmuseum | Museo Civico
Klausen / Chiusa, IT
2.9. - 28.10.2023

Growth and grown / Wachstum und Gewachsenes

The exhibition at the Municipal Museum of Chiusa shows from September 2 the latest works of the artist Elisabeth Frei. The location has not been chosen without consideration, since the ensemble of Klausen/Säben is considered one of the first masterful landscape renderings in art history. Dürer captured the “small world” of the time in all its detail in the floor backdrop of his Fortuna balancing on the ball of fate, thus choosing it as a receptive surface for human happiness. In the first rooms large-format tree works are gathered, in the last one tree sections are painted on, they take the “Brennend Liab” in their center.
Now Elisabeth Frei also captures fragments of nature. She finds them in expressive tree trunks lying there as if dead, defoliated, without life, split inside by worms and bark beetles, hollowed out and damaged, gnawed beyond recognition. The branched tree trunks, however, still have a residual life in them. This life reflects the causers of transient happiness: the evulutionary believer. These are pictures that come along in a form-quiet scenery, as if the revolution organized by nature was the only sure thing that can still be expected. In front of the backdrop of the Trostburg, the highway is empty of vehicles, the railroad is broken through, competing bare growths now push upwards and disappear in the grid work of a transformer line.

Again and again we find birch trunks, also small trunks, lyrically asserting themselves against horned tree backdrops. Animal and nature are merged into a symbol, man’s work causes the disturbance. Elisabeth Frei has interpreted the idea of the “Brenner Base Tunnel” in the Eisack Valley as a tube into the past. Reminiscences from the Loreto treasure, vedutas of cozy homeliness and historical interiors appear in the tree cuts, a homage to the exhibition site, so to speak. The tube of the tree mutates into an arterial road, the bark reflects the built-up. What was said to Marcel Brion in his standard work “Jenseits der Wirklichkeit. Phantastische Kunst” in 1962 on the painting of the fantastic, undoubtedly fits the works of Elisabeth Frei: the fantastic refracts here in the surreality of a nature. Horror and salvation lie side by side, the common and the beautiful; these are images of frightening this-worldliness, which is only broken through when the vision of another world appears. Ambiguously, the artifacts of the past stand in the ruins of nature, the fantastic becomes a memorial against all destruction and human delusion. And at the same time, vain pictorial peace reigns over the vision of a development that is only declining or suspended. Growth becomes a frightening spectre without any future.

What has grown remains just as dead and rigid. Only occasionally does a bird (in the manner of Alexander Koester) flutter up and seek the distance. But one wonders: where does it want to go? And into the maelstrom of orderly annual rings Dürer now once again brings himself in, his Fortuna floating sure-footedly on her sphere, leaving the little town in the eroded wooden hole beneath her. And also his overpainted likeness appears, caricatured with dark glasses, at the root of a double lime tree. Detail at the edge: In the glasses the highway traffic jam is reflected.
Elisabeth Frei offers us no consolation against all destruction. No word preaches sustainability, no startled bird crows for climate change. Man alone, it is he who expels himself from paradise, into emptiness and the unknown. Glances are lost in corridors and caves, not unlike Piranesi’s prigioni. Fortuna has finally turned into destiny.