Text from the catalogue same title, written by Peter Schmieder
Although the catalogue at hand mainly focuses on works Barbara Koch has developed since 2004, it nevertheless makes sense to have a closer look at the time before 2004 to be able to point out differences and similarities but also influences and developments.
Before 2004 Barbara Koch mainly worked as a painter; thus, even when she creates installations or is experimenting, she always remains connected with painting and particularly with experimental painting. Her concept in painting is based on the material, bringing the properties of the different materials in the painting into the focus of her investigations. One group of works addressing this intensive examination of material is, for example, The Colour Red, 1999.
Here the full ability of Barbara Koch’s works to form a synthesis of colour and meaning develops. In her work series Gums and Liquids, with which she becomes known in 2000, she activates the material with experimental interventions. The increasing use of every-day means and the inclusion of every-day materials becomes obvious in the thus developing works.
Around the same time, Barbara Koch gradually starts using silicone – a material, which by its skin warm palpability and its velvety silky texture always has to be read in direct association with creatures and spirits.
An additional quality of this material is that as a moulded shell it can change from inanimate form into something with a life of its own. This quality can be seen as a further motive prompting the artist to use silicone as a material.An additional main feature of those works, which have emerged since 2004 under the title Lab Sweets, is the flexibility of the material in a literal as well as in a figurative sense. The series’ title as such is in itself a hint towards the sweet temptation inherent in the pretended lab creations. Balancing on the threshold between seduction and poisoning, these object images use natural forms only to immediately over-enhance and over-emphasize them. Their colourfulness catches the eye, luminous and fluorescent pigments are applied and become part of a surface, which can be associated with biomorphic structures. However, also exaggerated fantasy landscapes or mysteriously magnified details from biological cell structures might be seen in the works of this series.
The artist shapes the surface structure of those works in a classical manner herself, or with objects taken from reality like, for example, machine-made gaskets and tubes, tablets or underwear.
The installations, which finally develop alongside the sculptural works of the Lab Sweets series bursting through image space and image outline, are influenced by the use of all these aforementioned techniques and materials and pervaded by the element of enactment, the formation of anatomy-analogous groups, figures and figure groups.
In the course of time new arrangements referring to a world to come enter into the scenes of a work group called Waiting Rooms where different versions develop over several years. While at first the sculptures seem to be plump creatures in need of protection, lying around and waiting to be cared for, it is the innocently white and nevertheless already injured figures, which characterize the later versions of the Waiting Room works. Here airy white shapes appearing in an ethereal-cloudy way are hanging from tubes, which connect them as a last bond to our reality. Looking at the broken figures, the comprehension of this reality as something morbidly dazzling is self-evident. In such an atmosphere, hope and empathy have to be painstakingly wrested from the scenery. In her latest installation Barbara Koch worked with theatrical means: a TV-chair, a lamp and a screen on a little table are combined with only seemingly private surroundings. A video showing the artist clearing out a room full of clothes and stuffing them into blue trash bags runs on the screen. It illustrates an experience many people have to live through who responsibly support their parents or relatives on the last meters of their lives. Barbara Koch takes those very private experiences as a starting point to transform them into something universal. Thus she is able to show them in the exhibition space as touching experiences the spectator can relate to.
It is not surprising that also almost floating images created on transparent materials or formed as curtains exclusively made from tablets appear in the installations. Hereby, Barbara Koch on the one hand uses the colour of the pills and tablets as a pictorial component and on the other hand she relies on their immediately accessible and comprehensible interpretation as a remedy. The curtains themselves made from tablets again vary between this medical interpretation and its similarities with DNA-structure as the basis of life. In contrast to the works of Damien Hirst in which the pharmaceutical material is only seen as pure surface and also left as such, Barbara Koch’s work focuses on the medical meaning of the material. Thereby, she does not shyly avoid the biographical process, however, she additionally uses it as an important catalyst. The same can be said for the video in which the ceaselessly recurring movement of clearing out takes on the characteristics of a Sisyphus labour – tasks not only set for heroes but a part of everybody’s life.
Due to the additionally utilized materials as such, Barbara Koch’s works have gained in sharpness and relevance over the last years. In this context, there is always an immanent possibility of interpretation and a self-developing expressiveness contained in the material itself. Of course, only to remain on a painterly-experimental level without going further, even if one were a master in this field, would not have been enough, as this would have meant stagnation. This expansion of the artistic spectrum is rewarding. The extensive way in which the works of Barbara Koch show and address the alienation and the contamination of our social and natural environment as a potential poisoning of our ability to observe lets the spectator shiver and shrink back. Maybe he even becomes consumed by being fascinated by the imminent threat. However, one thing will not happen: that he, as the recipient, remains unaffected by Barbara Koch’s works.