Fotograf Magazine

Eva & Adele

artist of the future

Few living artists can equal the international fame attained by Eva & Adele. For ten years now these artists have formed one single hermaphroditic character. They have captured attention with their public appearances at all the big contemporary art happenings – the Venice and Lyon Biennials, the openings of Documenta and Manifesta, not to mention nearly all the major contemporary art fairs around the globe. Today, the presence of  Eva & Adele is a litmus test. ‘Will they come or won’t they?’ Their arrival at a private view sends out vibrations saying that this is really an event. It’s odd that these two artists should have such power when they have always refused to accept any institutional or commercial support.

Eva & Adele are the most ‘marginal’ of the artists to have marked the 1990s. And yet, even in the United States and Japan, a big vernissage is not considered truly big unless it features an appearance-cum-performance from this strange couple of apparently identical characters exhibiting their hermaphroditic attributes and wearing kitsch-colored plastic clothes that underline their ambiguity and the artificiality of the image that surrounds their act. Yet few artists are as indifferent to the social round as Eva & Adele. They don’t attend because it’s the smart thing to do or to have fun: they go there without an invitation, to ‘work’. Every detail, from the journey to their physical posture, is meticulously, choreographically planned in advance. You will never catch Eva & Adele just hanging around. When it’s time, they always leave these private views pretty promptly. Their appearance is a performance, even if their visit to an exhibition can last up to eight hours or even longer, during which time they are constantly on the alert.

In a way, you could say that the international art scene now works a contrario. When Eva & Adele don’t show, everyone has then the impression that the exhibition is not of the first importance. This is even more the case when it comes to contemporary art fairs. It’s enough for the rumor to go around that ‘Eva & Adele didn’t come either’ for there to be talked of the fair’s decline. And yet Eva & Adele are just two autonomous, independent and self-financed artists based in Berlin who, so far, have managed to keep going outside the art market, running on minimal resources. If they have managed to create such an effect – and in the art world this can be gauged almost every day – it is because their vision has been particularly innovative and precise ever since 1990, when they made their first public appearance in Berlin. Their method has remained unchanged down to the last detail. Their precise and percipient thoughts on art are the foundation of a practice so strange and innovative that this couple of artists has won itself a considerable place in the imaginary world of contemporary art.

If Eva & Adele now have an established role, it is still important to explain a number of aspects of their work. First of all, Eva & Adele are in no   way a product of the art world. Their appearances at prestigious openings have always been self-financed. This artistic couple, or this double artist, has been round the world several times in a Dormobile which has remained unchanged for ten years – painted pink in keeping with the Eva & Adele aesthetic, deliberately identifiable and unchanged over the years. They have been officially ignored by the art world. Hardly any critics have ventured to write about them, and they never asked. Rather than being excluded from the art milieu, Eva & Adele have deliberately chosen to  remain enigmatic. Though pressed by German journalists, they have never revealed anything about the lives they had before they worked together: nothing on their dates of birth, their sex or their earlier work. Their artistic concept has never varied: to be outside the art world but perfectly au fait with its workings; to be self-financed; to introduce a highly artificial aesthetic based on kitsch and the unacknowledged dreams of occasional exhibition-goers, miles away from the heritage of modernism; to break for good with the figure of the solitary, heroic and individualistic artist by   the fusion of their two persons and sexes; and, not to produce any theoretical or critical discourse to justify their unsettling work. Surely there are no other influential artists of the last few years who have so resolutely refused to be the subject of texts, interpretations or personal accounts.   If Eva & Adele have now begun to accept exhibitions and critical texts, it is because they have embarked on a new phase in their work – rather      like launching the second stage of a    rocket.

Since 1990, Eva & Adele have themselves financed the countless Dormobile trips they have made to attend the main artistic events with the sole purpose that their strange presence should set off a process of thought and reflection about the nature of a truly visionary practice of art. It is important to emphasize here that Eva & Adele are artists who came from outside the art world. There have been no subsidies, no buyers and no public contributions to smooth their path. Anyone who has had the privilege of sitting in their Dormobile knows just how Spartan their life has been during these ten years of public appearances. From the moment they began working together, they have believed that their strength lies in their profound questioning of art today. In a decade, Eva & Adele have succeeded by virtue of their ideas alone, without seeking outside help. This is worthy of respect.

The second aspect of their work is even more important. People in the art world generally believe that Eva & Adele only dress the way they do that they only become a falsely bi-, homo- or trans-sexual couple when making their appearances at major exhibitions. But the idea that they dress  up specially to go to exhibitions could not be further from the truth. For them, life and work are inseparable. Eva & Adele look exactly the same when they go out for the bread or the newspaper—a trans- or mega-sexual couple with a weird new aesthetic, willingly exposing themselves to the intrigued or downright hostile gaze of their fellow citizens. Eva & Adele submit all their appearances in public space to their corporeal, sexual   and sartorial principles. Last summer they spent their holidays in Brittany without once moving away from their aesthetic concept slip. Out jogging, they kept their identity, and indeed passers-by would stop them and proudly tell them that they knew who they were. Yet, when I walked with them past a cinema where a crowd of young people had gathered I witnessed vocal racist and homophobic aggressions of the kind you would never have expected in a smart seaside resort. Every day, by making their lives into a visionary work of art, Eva & Adele manifest a surprising courage. They consciously provoke situations where love alternates with conflict. After ten years of working together, they have learnt to anticipate the quotidian dangers attached to their mode of appearance. While it is very risky to venture into the suburbs of Berlin, the old working class districts   of Communist Germany where large numbers of young people support the far right, they have never been seriously aggressed at an art event. Still, even in France they park their Dormobile at campsites in such a way as to ensure the possibility of a quick getaway. And to prevent things  from getting nasty, they communicate a great deal, talk to people about art and its visionary dimension that should transform life.

Eva & Adele are looking for an audience off the beaten path of contemporary art. Their exclusive theme, hermaphroditism, is conveyed using  kitsch bisexual clothes that draw on every conceivable cliché. Every day, people come up to Eva & Adele in the street: ‘I saw you six months ago in Tokyo,’ they say, ‘is that possible? It really made a strong impression on me. I wanted to tell you that I am very happy to see you again.’ How many other artists get that kind of reaction    nowadays?

In private, at home or at other people’s places, Eva & Adele are exceptional conversationalists, and remarkably perceptive about the role of the artist at the present time. At their home everything is very calm, highly organized and very deliberate. They do a great deal of thinking. One leaves their studio-cum-flat none the wiser as to their biography, which they deliberately keep secret. Their discourse on art is remarkably coherent. They have not chosen the easiest way of earning acceptance from the art world. In 1994, at an art  fair,  a  leading  dealer  told  me:  ‘They  are  truly courageous artists. Nobody talks to them; there is a complete lack of understanding. People think they get into private views for the media publicity but they have been coming to my stand for years to find out about the happenings of the ’60s and ’70s. They know it all by heart. They are going to become major  artists.’

Above all, the work of Eva & Adele grows out of an analysis of the social role of the artist in contemporary society. They are building a social sculpture in the Beuysian sense of the term. Three aspects of their approach recall that of the German sculptor and thinker who died in 1986. Firstly, ever since their first spectacular interventions Eva & Adele have always sought direct and immediate contact with the public, outside institutions and in the teeth of rampant art world professionalization. They have also chosen a form of appearance that has a symbolic value and is immediately recognizable, as did Beuys, whose famous hat became a brand image as early as 1972 and was engraved in the memories of   most German citizens. The third aspect of this parallel with Beuys concerns the economy of art. From the outset, Eva & Adele have profoundly assimilated this dimension. They are self-financed and have a working, cooperative relationship with the multicultural population of their neighborhood, Kreuzberg.

Eva & Adele have chosen to appear as an image that is utterly new but completely identifiable. They are not TV stars—far from it, but they have consciously constructed their common undertaking in the form of a media image. Letting themselves be photographed by other visitors, also anonymous, is an integral part of their work. During a recent edition of the ARCO art fair in Madrid, they told a journalist that, yes, of course, anyone could take their photograph. The next day thousands of people turned up to do just that.

Ever since they started, Eva & Adele have been collecting the many photographs that they receive every day from around the world. Their mailbag is impressive, of ministerial proportions. Actually, Eva & Adele have decided to make public the traces of their appearance in the aesthetic proposed by these anonymous correspondents. ‘We have always seen our work as a response to the current malaise of painting’, they say. But this remark cannot hide the deeper dimension of their work, the fact that its true subject is Love. And here theirs is one of the most radical enterprises of our times.

Robert Fleck