Asta Gröting’s interest in film and video seamlessly follows the strategies she employed in her earlier sculptural work, which dealt with issues of the body combined with a sophisticated choice of materials. These qualities of Gröting’s sculptures are consistent with sculptural practice in Western Germany in the 1980s, which, at the time, was characterized by an emphasis on purely formal issues. By the early 1990s, however, artists wanted to break out of this limiting approach to sculpture and work within broader social contexts. Gröting introduced aspects in her work that examined the inner workings of the body. Interior organs were brought to the surface, and the body was turned inside out in order to show what made it tick. In this way, Gröting literally examined the physical mechanisms responsible for fundamental human motivations and goals, bringing her work into the realm of social psychology. Abstractions of the nervous and digestive systems were depicted in a variety of ways. Intestines, for example, were cast in glass, and the inner ear was turned into a larger-than-life–size wall sculpture, while the nervous system of a hand was carved in wood. In addition to many other interior organs made in rubber and silicone, Gröting also made a fifteen-foot-long esophagus that was suspended in space like a giant, pink rubber tunnel. Already in her choice of subjects, Gröting challenged the inertia of sculpture, creating work that teeters on the boundary between process and object.
To further investigate this dichotomy, Gröting turned to video in 1993 with a piece called The Inner Voice, which she has been expanding into a series of seventeen films over the past ten years. In this series, the artist visualizes the idea of the alter ego through the image of the ventriloquist. Gröting writes the texts—about relationships, values, faith, friendship, and differences—which are performed by world-renowned ventriloquists with a puppet designed by the artist. While other artists might exploit the camp qualities of ventriloquism, Gröting relates to its humor, its uncertainty and fear, and its permission to express taboos, insults, and confessions that have fed ventriloquism’s popularity for centuries. With this body of work Gröting is engaging the gap between art and popular culture—courageously, especially for Germany.
A similar impulse is at work in her short video Parking, whose slapstick quality is tightly choreographed by the artist in constant contact with the drivers via walkie-talkies. Much like her previous work in sculpture and video that was concerned with social conditions, Parking is an investigation into the nature of competition, perseverance, and determination in today’s society, expressed here in the model world of street parking. The viewer is afforded a view from above on how different psychologies play themselves out in a situation that we are all too familiar with. While in the ventriloquist videos the puppet represents the alter ego, in Parking the cars become extensions of the body that allow the drivers to act out their ids in a kind of dance society seems to find acceptable, unless it turns into road rage.
The façade projection at the Johnson Museum is Asta Gröting's first museum show in the United States.
Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art