The German artist Andrea Büttner creates exhibitions that connect art history with social or ethical issues, such as poverty, work, community and belief. Her work is based on thorough research into specific areas or situations, articulated through formats such as woodcuts, stained glass and weaving, but also videos, photography, and works with moss. In her exhibition “Shepherds and Kings”, Büttner presents three large-scale projected slide shows, shown together for the first time, that mark important strands of her research, further complemented by furniture and a series of wall installations made from textiles used for workers’ uniforms.
The shepherd and the king are two symbolic motifs that Büttner’s research has focused on over the past few years, continuing her interest in themes such as shame, vulnerability and dignity, as well as the belief systems that underpin them. The title work Shepherds and Kings (2017) is a collection of art-historical images, showing how shepherds and kings have been represented in Nativity scenes throughout art history. Büttner’s collection of shepherds and kings, as well as an earlier selection of historical representations of beggars, offer new ways of understanding familiar images that form a part of the collective imagination. Initially associated with religious themes, as parts of a history of the representation of poverty and power, these images are still relevant today, especially in relation to debates concerning access to social benefits and social responsibility.
The Archive of the Lives of the Little Sisters of Jesus with Circuses and Fun Fairs, Tre Fontane, Rome (2012) shows the life and work of the Little Sisters of Jesus, a contemplative order of nuns that doesn’t missionise, but instead shares in other people’s secular working lives. In Büttner’s installation, the Little Sisters’ own archive of photographs depicts their work at several circuses and funsfairs all over the world throughout the history of the order. The Sisters’ sincere devotion and an unselfish wish to give runs counter to the otherwise market-oriented experience economy of our time. The images portray the lifestyle of the nuns, working in an all-female collective, which oscillates between religion and politics, between contemplation and spectacle, and problematises what is considered as a political strategy. Also included in the exhibition is a series of benches with backrests produced by Büttner in collaboration with a weaver who normally makes priest gowns. Mounted on the wall, the backrests operate simultaneously as paintings and as functional seating, with the viewer placed with their back to the work.
The third series, Stereoscopic slide show from the Whitehouse collection (mosses and field trips) (2014), shows figures in crouched postures, bending over and creeping along the ground as they search for mosses, in addition to close-ups of various moss types. Previously classed as a “lower plant” by botanists, moss grows horizontally along the ground in the shadow of other plants, and is felt by people underfoot. Büttner is interested in the “queerness” or “hidden sexuality” of mosses, which are classed as cryptogams: moss reproduction is concealed—there is no true flower or seed. The slide show, and a new installation with moss-covered stones, point to the extraordinary complexity and beauty of these plants, with their ability to grow on almost any surface.
Andrea Büttner (b. 1972) has shown internationally, amongst others at Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2015); Museum Ludwig, Cologne (2014); documenta 13, Kassel (2012); and was nominated for the Turner Prize 2017. Shepherds and Kings is the largest solo presentation by the artist in the Nordic region.