A new art space has opened in Frankfurt: ELVIRA. Curator Paula Kommoss on what it has to do with the city, with director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and with the eternal search for the self.
Mearg Negusse: ELVIRA is a non-commercial exhibition space that you founded here in Frankfurt. Since when exactly has this art space existed and how did it come about?
Paula Kommoss: I have been curating solo and group exhibitions in close collaboration with artists in Frankfurt for several years now. In 2019, I founded the project space “Taubenschlag” in my home. Here the artists Julian Tromp, François Pisapia and Vera Palme presented artworks based on an idea, discussed together and curated. Since then, there was a personal desire to find an art space in the urban context and to develop a program that would put artists from Frankfurt in dialogue with external positions. In May 2021 the time had come, a small flower store in Gutleutstraße 14 moved out and I could use the space for five months and start ELVIRA.
What is behind the name Elvira?
The name Elvira has a direct connection to Frankfurt. Elvira is the main protagonist of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “In a Year with 13 Moons” (1978). The film takes its starting point here in Frankfurt's train station district. After her boyfriend breaks up with her, Elvira visits some of the most important places and people in her life in Frankfurt. She moves through the city to find an answer to her uncertainty, but arrives nowhere.
And would you say that this idea is conceptualized in the program of ELVIRA?
Yes, it actually runs like a thread through the program. It all started with the moment of movement. When I told Nooshin Askari about Elvira and my project, we decided to show their film “Walking” (2019). In the film, an avatar continuously moves forward in front of two racers on a rally road. A tail extended with the spine acts as a sweeping backward compass. In the loop, the scene repeats over and over again, illustrating the act of striding without rest. This was a good prelude, since the work could be seen from the outside through the floor-to-ceiling window front and ran around the clock – passers-by could spontaneously encounter the work, and it began the conversation.
Then followed the exhibition “From Below” with works by Beth Collar and Shaun Motsi. How did the collaboration with these artists come about?
Shaun Motsi is a graduate of the Städelschule with whom I have been thinking about a collaboration for quite some time. His work “Automat_3 (Extinction Rebellion OST)” has been on my mind for a while. In the form of an ATM sculpture, Motsi shows snapshots in public space – a puppet plays a violin and no one stops. I was also in conversation with Beth Collar. In the work “Cloaked Output Vol 2: Spirals of Focus” Collar gathers cinematic detail shots of male monumental sculptures from Rome, Berlin and Sheffield. The perspective is always chosen from behind and below. In the exhibition, the unilateral effort to communicate was an important moment. Looking at the screens, one found oneself in the perspective of a loner.
Currently, the exhibition “Third Person” is running with works by Claude Cahun, Hannah Fitz and Atiéna R. Kilfa. How did this artistic compilation come about?
The exhibition “Third Person” looks at aspects of the transformation of identity. Here, the focus is on the self and an examination of social roles. Claude Cahun’s main literary work “Aveux Non Avenus” (1930) is dedicated to the search for the self, and this search is also pursued by two contemporary artists who are on display alongside Cahun’s photo collages. As one enters the exhibition, Hannah Fitz’s “Mirror” (2021) makes it only partially possible to look at one's own reflection. This interrupts what we expect from a Mirror, instead of an image we see our silhouettes returning in a monochrome gray – a kind of neutral projection surface.
Added to this is Atiéna R. Kilfa's photographic series “You Look Lonely” (2021), which shows three women in an apartment – all embodied by the same mannequin. The person depicted here is another, a third, without self-determination. She is on a borderline of subject and object. It was important to me that the exhibition address different engagements with the self – from an ambivalent representation of the self, to a mirror image or a duplication, and then to a projection surface. To combine a historical position with contemporary ones is a great privilege. Because in this small constellation it allows free and associative access.
Could you talk a bit about your curatorial practice in relation to the exhibition space?
2020 was the year I developed the concept for the exhibition space. It was a year full of uncertainties – due to corona, a large group exhibition had to be cancelled. For this very reason, it was important to me to start with a project space that functions as a closed exhibition series. The screenings and exhibitions build on each other thematically. Sometimes inspired by Fassbinder’s character Elvira, social encounters in urban space, the question of the meaning of one’s own self, and different perspectives on the city of Frankfurt itself play an important role in terms of content. I started with a screening, was then able to focus on content with three exhibitions, and will conclude the project with a final screening. A cinematic moment also resonates in the curatorial concept: the exhibited works become elements and images that interact with each other.
Can you give us a preview of what visitors can expect next?
The current exhibition runs until the middle of the month, and there will be a finissage on August 15. What I'm looking forward to is the summer screening weekend on August 24 films by Georgia Sagri and Annika Kahrs among others. The final exhibition opens on September 4th with artists Bogdan Ablozhnyi, Judith Hopf, Phung Tien-Phan and Matt Welch. ELVIRA concludes the last week of September with a screening of Isa Genzken's “Chicago Drive” (1992).