Das Institut

DAS INSTITUT in conversation with Francesco Garutti

Abstract Anxiety

The basis (or rather the necessary fiction—or rather the door to the maze) being Kerstin Brätsch and Adele Röder. Begin, then, here, now, with them. “Begin, ephebe, by perceiving the idea/ Of this invention . . .”1


Kerstin Brätsch. Glow Rod Tanning with. . . .2 The subject: the suffering of painting. The aim: to cast a damning light on painting.3 A painting always asks, craves, to “be in the right light” (to find its place under the sun  . . .). But imagine a Vermeer hanging in a garage: It would suffer. The transparent paintings are exposed to artificial light—to aggressive light.4 Backstage light. They are scrutinized and dissected. And, as in an X-ray, each painting MUST fail—fail its beauty—because nothing is hidden.

Adele Röder. COMCORRÖDER. En-Lightening / En-Visioning / En-Signing. How to overcome the rigidity of fabric, its inanimate material being, regular and abstract, and unfold its possible forms projected onto a woman’s body [a world’s surface]? How to obtain plastic effects that can highlight, without the use of touch, the metric features of weave, thickness, weight, and color? How to proceed from the idea of De-Sign toward the idea of En-Sign?5



1 “. . . this invented world,/ The inconceivable idea of the sun.” (Cf., being in the right light.)

2 For BLACKY Blocked Radiants Sunbathed, from “Glow Rod Tanning” series, by Kerstin Brätsch

*Ei and Tomoo Arakawa. Tomoo runs a tanning business named Blacky (near Fukushima).

3 Poussin on Caravaggio, “to destroy painting.”

4 There are also cryptic aggressors in the paintings: hair, fish bones, fluff, spines . . .

5 Pirated from Antonella Huber.

Kerstin Brätsch and Adele Röder at their studio, New York. Photograph by Jason Schmidt.

Kerstin Brätsch and Adele Röder at their studio, New York. Photograph by Jason Schmidt.

Your practice seems like a gas or a virus: difficult to control, difficult to isolate and catalogue. Following this idea, I’d like to begin by talking about the eatable spray you used for the cakes in “My Favorite Artworks as Cakes Baking Workshop,” at the nonprofit space New Jerseyy, Basel, in 2010. The spray (real spray can or Photoshop tool) is one of the materials you used that seduced me most. Can you tell me the story of the cakes project? How did you make them?
Most of the cake decoration was bought from a cake shop in New York that offers a huge variety of edible decoration. We used these decorations like paint: edible airbrush spray, edible glitter, iridescent paint, etc.

The idea of creating an edible artwork, or better an artwork-imitation—“your favorite artwork,” which can be devoured after its creation—was attractive to us.

On another level, the cakes purposely stole the show from the “artworks” on display (in the background). Our textile/painting combination (Thus! Units) suddenly turned into a backdrop for the patisserie decor in the front windows.

As they rotted and melted away over the duration of the show, leaving a particular sickly sweet odor in the exhibition space, the “artworks” were kind of annihilated.

In addition, the exhibition continued virtually as merchandise sold by the nonprofit space, because you could purchase our DI WHY RELAX! Raincoats (water refreshment spray included) via New Jerseyy’s website.

Cakes, napkins, stockings (I like stockings because the design of their pattern often takes into consideration the fact that the fabric will be distorted and deformed, so you never know what the “real” pattern is), clothes, magazines, performances, paintings as performative backdrops: Your practice is based on the idea of the dissemination of different products. It seems to be between several markets, a game of smoke and mirrors played among different types of economies. How do you manage to be in different markets at the same time? Do you sell things outside the art market? The roles of artist, gallery, and collector don’t seem to make sense in relation to your work anymore.

BLACKY Blocked Radiants Sunbathed

DAS INSTITUT for UNITED BROTHERS, BLACKY Blocked Radiants Sunbathed, 2011
Installation view, Kerstin Brätsch and Adele Röder, “Vorahnung [United Brothers and Sisters],” Kunsthalle Zürich, 2011
Photo: Stefan Altenburger

DAS INSTITUT is an aperture that allows us to “spell out” our names in different ways, sometimes backward. Or simply, not to know our own names. Beyond the name, the aftereffects are that you shift yourself and place yourself somewhere you were not able to forecast.

The operation is a sinkhole establishing a dimension that is simultaneously Brätsch and Röder.

double identity
     the eyes
two equal
points of view *

Who’s standing behind the curtain?

The “gallerist” could kindly be put to work and turned into artwork-display as well. . . . He is selling himself while selling the works. . . . (For example, for “Art Statements” at Art Basel, 2010, the two gallerists Balice and Hertling wore customized men’s shirts produced by Adele for DAS INSTITUT, whose graphic motifs were similar to those of Kerstin’s paintings on sale. The relationship wasn’t explicated in any text.)

In spring 2009, just after the explosion of the financial crisis, curator Francesco Bonami wrote a short piece for the magazine Tate Etc. about the “everyday” and the shifts that have taken place in artists’ practices in response to economic collapse. He argues that throughout art history, artists—almost like animals—have reacted instinctively to economic crises, as a sort of tactic of survival. Do you consider misinterpretation and abstraction to be a strategy today? Is creating context more than creating artworks a strategy?

Kerstin Brätsch’s studio, New York

Kerstin Brätsch’s studio, New York
Courtesy of the artist

We are on some level interested in determining Abstract Anxiety or a more liquid form of identity and mode of production.

DI is the Volksgarten, obstructed by venetian blinds
DI is a gaze with multicolored shades
DI is simply not knowing one’s own name
DI is a character in various roles
DI is an open roof deck
DI is a moldy pond
DI is seaweed
DI is same old same old
DI is Räder and Brötsch

There are many references in your practice to the world of the economic market (e.g., “import/export,” “corporate identity and abstraction,” “Swiss Spa Cava” series, etc.). Why are you interested in the marketplace, company strategies, and corporate identities?
“Some have a little balloon touch, but you can always see through. So without being naked, you can see the body. So the clothes float around the body in a way. Everything’s very light, light, light. The main thing is weightless, weightless, weightless.” (Karl Lagerfeld)

the ambiguity
       this can be! *
In your work, foreground and background are always blurred, both physically and metaphorically—it’s never clear if you’re the protagonist or if you’re supporting something else. Is your practice in part a reflection on the role of the artist today?
. . . It shows a straightforward way of how we exist in the world . . .

change in the manner
       of being, that’s all *
I recently read that word of mouth is one of the most effective tactics used by marketing specialists. I like to think that the economy is also ruled by a sort of friendship, as words are disseminated uncontrolled from person to person throughout the world. What kind of role does friendship play in your practice? What’s the role of collaboration?
DAS INSTITUT is built on friendship.

UNITED BROTHERS counts on them.

THUS Unit #5

DAS INSTITUT, THUS Unit #5, 2011
Oil on mylar and digitally printed silk fabrics with ribbon
Two parts, each approximately 150 x 48 in. (381 x 122 cm)
Courtesy of the artists
Photo: Pinakothek der Moderne München

How do you work together? What are the working processes that link your activities? How do Kerstin’s paintings develop out of Adele’s fabric designs, or vice versa? Martino Gamper, Ei Arakawa, Lydia Rodrigues, Debo Eilers, Lucas Knipscher, and Thomas Chen are just a few of the photographers, designers, and artists you have collaborated with to produce your works. Could you describe the working process among all these actors?
       mysterious finger
___chasing away
       the false
       ____ *
For the Ringier Annual Report project, you were the subjects of a fashion photo shoot. This situation seems to me to be a good representation of your overall practice. There are several things on the set—high-quality cameras, backdrops, the crew, the photographers, super-designed clothes, fabrics, and raw materials—but if you look at it from a distance, you cannot understand the core of the situation. Can you say something about the role of fashion shoots in your work?
A “photo shoot” seems to represent the quasi very well. In the Vietnam photo shoot, DI functioned like a template. We handed ourselves over to the Vietnamese makeup designers, who put our faces on in their style.

In the Viola photo shoot, we underwent simple facial alterations, and it was all about these alterations, playing a simple trick and revealing it afterward. Again: turning into a template and creating a trompe l’œil effect.

The minute we turned our heads, the deforming illusion was broken.

“The surfaces shaded black suddenly become an artifice that serves to produce nothing but disfigurement and pollution. Viola can be seen as an affinity to the monstrous.” (Manfred Hermes)

In the Ringier Annual Report, you played with numbers and markets, creating a fake report on your own economy as artists. Can you tell me more about that?
B Personal

Sun in the Sky Blocked,

Radiants Cost.


C Components for COMCORRÖDER (Zürich Arrangement), for DAS INSTITUT and UNITED BROTHERS

Adele Röder, C Components for COMCORRÖDER (Zürich Arrangement), for DAS INSTITUT and UNITED BROTHERS, 2011
Installation view, Kerstin Brätsch and Adele Röder, “Vorahnung [United Brothers and Sisters]” Kunsthalle Zürich, 2011
Photo: Stefan Altenburger

In When You See Me Again It Won’t Be Me, what is the relation between the graphics and your faces, which are blemished with black marks?
It’s an example of the various applications of Adele’s graphics. This photo series was the starting point for the Viola series and later turned into the Apes and Shapes series, in which both of us were “hiding” behind beards created out of our own hair.

When You See Me Again It Won’t Be Me was also the title of our first show in New York, and it is also the title of a painting by Kerstin (created several years later).

A frame of reference, a skeleton for thoughts

Material modalities of appearance

(Pulling them off the screen)

Materialization / brown study

an expansion from the digital onto the human

In your work, you mix pure digital abstraction (Adobe Photoshop) and raw material techniques (paint, brush, etc.). How would you define the various “crafts” you practice?
  A massive multiplication (and therefore creation, obfuscation, and perpetual annihilation) of the self.

Adele’s Digital Abstraction is used as quasi painting.

A painted brush-mark by Kerstin is used as an enlarged brushstroke and a quasi digital tool.

What is a Painting? What is a digital De-Sign? What is a Sign? What is En-Sign?

One of your posters includes the text made in china. What is your interest in China? The idea of the “replica” and the “fake” is also very market related. When we met for the first time, we discussed chocolate brands and geography.

Made in China is also the title of a painting, which was made in . . . New York City. Our interest was to relate the painting to something outside the world of painting, like a daily item, like a piece of clothing with laundry instructions on a label inside.

We wanted to shift the production outside its reality and address questions about replica.

Kerstin, you have defined your paintings as sample pieces of material, a “swatch.” What do you mean?
Particularly the interchangeable three-part Mylar works, which follow the principle of accumulation: There is a painting that exists only as a variable configuration.

*Quotes from Stéphane Mallarmé, A Tomb for Anatole, trans. by Paul Auster (New York: New Directions Books, 2005).



View of “BLACKY Blocked Radiants Sunbathed,” Halle für Kunst Lüneburg, Germany
Photo: Hans-Jürgen Wege


Adele Röder, COMCORRÖDER, 2012
Digital image
Courtesty of the artist