Childrens Portraits

Katharina Bosse

2014 - Ongoing

Text by Silke Hohmann

Published in Monopol 2/19

Ever since they were babies, the children of Katharina Bosse have been depicted in her works. The artist, who was born in 1968 and teaches at the Fachhochschule Bielefeld, presented herself—pregnant and nursing, nude, or with some characteristic paraphernalia—in large-format allegories in her series A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mother. It is about her as a woman, mother, and artist, as well as about the simultaneity of motherliness and sexuality—a taboo in Germany, which is why she initially published the series in France.

A taboo in art, really? Yes, indeed. When Bosse became pregnant, suddenly her ambition, enthusiasm for work, and professionalism was questioned. When she had her second child, one collector remarked to her that now her works would only be available at auction. Most of the judgements and imputations from her environment were subtler, but they were always present, nonetheless.

As a rule, female artists do not mention their children, because they have the feeling that they will be perceived as less professional. The effects of this are far-reaching: in the art world, the children of artists are rarely visible, not discussed, and as an artistic theme, don’t sell well. That may also be because, as Bosse says, the German notions of being an artist and being a mother are two completely different, irreconcilable poles. “Artists” drink red wine and question the world and its norms, while “mothers” represent these norms and pass them on to their children: brush your teeth, do your homework. Oscillating between these two spheres is an everyday experience for a female artist with a child.

Katharina Bosse looked for positive examples, images, and role models, and found nothing. So she made motherhood the theme of her art. “It’s as if the theme is always used to judge women and make them weaker,” she says. Everything is at the mercy of being judged: how long she stays at home with the children, if she goes right back to work, at what point in her life does she have children, or whether she even has them at all.

In her new series of works both children are personalities that make their own contributions to the pictures. Bosse has long been a single mother, and they’re usually together when she travels. The children have known how long it takes to produce a picture ever since they began playing the main roles in their mother’s scenes. Sometimes it takes hours, including discovering the visual idea, scouting the location, and styling.

Bosse always looks for a certain kind of light, and for places that trigger something in her. The photos convey a particular sense of intimacy; of course, her children are closer to the artist than anyone else. And yet, they divulge nothing. Thus, the children’s portraits are only superficially about the bond of the mother-child relationship. In fact, they deal with questions about photography as such—for instance, about the moment in which the photograph is taken as a reminder of the moment that has just passed. The children’s changing shapes mark points on a timeline.

These pictures also show something inexplicable in the mother-child relationship, over which society is in so much agreement, and about which there are very precise, often glorified ideas. Mother and child—the oldest banality in art history. But how close can one get, at all?

In these delicate breaches there lies a much greater poetic power than there is in using the standard notions about this standard formation. Katharina Bosse sees the quality of complexity. She refuses to accept the terminology used to split female identity into either motherhood or professionalism. And she understands the tensions amid all of the contradictions as an energy field, not as obstacles.

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