By Ndeenda Shivute
Kirsten Wechselberge’s exhibition “Navigating the Maze” at the Franco Namibia Cultural Center (FNCC) in Windhoek, was quite a different exhibition from what I have seen in Windhoek or in the Namibian art scene in general. Kirsten is known to push the boundaries of the local art industry.
The work called “maze” is a rather personal one. In it she speaks about her bipolar condition. The Merriam-Webster definition of Bipolar Disorder states it is: “a psychological disorder of mood characterized usually by alternating episodes of depression and mania”. The works on exhibition take you into the mind of Wechselberger, giving us a glimpse into her psyche.
The exhibition was held on the lower level of the FNCC. As I entered into the dimly lit room it felt as though I was entering a very intimate private space. The first thing you see as you come down the stairs is a structure made of found cardboard boxes, it’s a tunnel that has a sign with “no entry” on the door on the one end and on the other door it gives you instructions: “take off your shoes when you enter and no kids below a certain age allowed, one person allowed at a time.” In front of the tunnel is a piece called “navigating energy” it is made of different size solid discs suspended on a rope. Each disc has a maze imprinted on it. On the southern wall of the space there are three pieces. The first is called hope which is an interactive art piece where the viewer writes down their aspirations and hopes, then rolls up the piece of paper and places it in one of the many holes that have been drilled into a white board.
Two other pieces accompany this one, also made of wood but constructed to look like mazes as seen from above. These two opposing works represent the bipolar mind set, one is painted black and the other is brightly covered and has string running across the top of it.
The star piece of the exhibition was the performance which had people in awe. On the opening night the room went silent; a video was projected on to the floor of the space just next to the stair case. Two people came out pushing a coffin shaped crate covered with a white cloth, inside the box was Kirsten. When they took off the cloth it exposed her naked body lying in small green Styrofoam pieces. She then begin to recite her identity number, sex, gender, sexual orientation and many other bits of information over and over like a robot. The thing she recited where the labels that we in society use to identify ourselves, but they are all exterior things that we differentiate ourselves with.
The crate evoked a feeling of death and helplessness, this felt like a commentary on current life in Namibia and the world in general. We are judged by labels and tiles. For example when you apply for a job those labels are the important thing, race, sex, gender, sexual orientation. If two people are equally qualified a lot of the time these are the things they use to make the decision.
When you enter the tunnel it is pitch black there is a recorded sound playing of what could be child’s voice singing or humming some sort of song. It reminded me almost of a horror movie, very sinister and dark, as you walk further into the tunnel you begin to understand why your shoes should be off, because the texture of the floor changes and you walk into different things and feel different things. Because your eyes cannot see the other sense are heightened and your hearing, feeling and sense of smell take over. Toward the end of the tunnel there was a lullaby song playing, and the experience for me was scary but for others is could have been comforting. The space made me feel like what it could be like to deep in the human mind, in that unknown thing that controls our whole body.
Kirsten works with layers in her work (the video on top of the naked body, the string on the wood piece and the way the corridor is layer) for this exhibition which also spoke to the layer that we cover ourselves in as people all these labels etc. The entire exhibition was an experience every one of the senses are heightened, some may criticize the work for its material shortcomings but the concept seemed well formed and thought through. This exhibition will inspire more Namibian artist to work more creatively in their craft, experiment and explore new ways of expressing themselves through art.