Stop searching (I got everything you need)

Sonneundsolche, Düsseldorf

How to … (not) take a look at Annabelle Agbo Godeaus complex image-text- constellations

By Romina Dümler

After a while, the visual relations between the people in Annabelle Agbo Godeau’s image-text constellations engaged me the most.

The intense eye contact of the dancing couple as their bodies move unseen towards and away from each other, performing their choreography of „funky isolations“ dance steps. How we have to watch the dancers to be able to learn. The inability to look at each other when one’s head is on the other’s, as in the image of two men wrestling. The hypnotized, presumably inwardly directed gaze, the medical gaze of the optician, who looks deeply into the eye of his customer, and the empty gaze on her part that goes back to him.

After looking for a while, I was preoccupied by the gazes in the two illustrations of how to hide under a couch. The one who lies on the couch and the one who slips under it seem to relate to each other through both the presence and absence of their visual connection: At the same time the reclining surface of the sofa becomes an axis of symmetry where the posture of both is inversely related, mirrored against each other.

Lacan has described the ability to recognize oneself in the mirror as a fundamental human development, in which one becomes aware of oneself but also of the views of others. Does the one woman recognize herself in the other in these pictures or is it really just a matter of deceiving someone else through the game of hide and seek?

For the vitrine of sonneundsolche, Annabelle Agbo Godeau has created a collage of a female figure as well as a compilation of drawings that recreates opened magazine pages.

Agbo Godeau has long been interested in vintage magazines – often erotic publications from the 1940s and 50s. In addition to photographs taken in her circle of friends, she takes a good part of the images and text fragments from them, as well as from movies, and transfers them into her paintings, where they are related to each other.

Mostly she chooses portraits of women, which catch them in ’sensual-glamorous‘ activities, e.g. in (ice-)dance or aerobics, or the artist uses photographs in which they appear in stereotypical feminine poses. While many paintings of the last few years were permeated by a strong blue color, which through its reference to so-called „blue movies“, hence pornographic films, as well as to the pale light of our computer screens, pointed to the link between eroticization and desire, in the exhibition Stop searching (I got everything you need) Agbo Godeau shows for the first time a compilation of charcoal drawings.

These are also the consequence of a pandemic-related restriction of her production conditions. Much more, however, these drawings carry the decision not only to think of magazines as image sources, but also to use and exhibit their structural principles and content conventions.

That the artist is interested in the continuities of social expectations and ideas manifested in magazines and in the way they are displayed, is well felt through the tonality in the magazine pages, which the artist adapts joyfully from its templates and with which she re-formulates phrases spiked with contemporary references. In an always cheerful tone, the drawings are accompanied by headlines and captions that behave as absurd how-to instructions or reveal scandalous news, indeed simply stuff that happened yesterday.

One may always suspect a pun behind the easily consumable images and texts. The clues show the artist’s sense for the continuities of power relations, conveyed through subtle gestures and gazes. In Agbo Godeau’s constellations they particularly concern the notions of „feminine“ and how these are represented with certain cultural codes. Similarly, voyeurism and desire are made present within the span from the illustrated magazines of the 1940s and 50s to the here and now.

Today, we may have the Internet at hand any time, suggesting that with the help of its intelligent search engines we can satisfy all our desires with just a single click. But Stop searching (I got everything you need), the title oft he show, was already a promise in the advertisements of erotic magazines decades ago.

Frances Farmer got arrested. It happened in 1943, but you could still check her story – is the caption for the picture of the young Hollywood actress who was declared ‚insane‘ under great media attention and kept in a psychiatric clinic for years. Doesn’t this also make us think of the current debate about the paternal conservatorship of Britney Spears and her hysterization in the press for years? In any case, the drawing, if we – if I – look up Frances Farmer’s story, opens up to thinking about that particular desire: Wanting to take part in the life of a persona created by the entertainment industry, and the terrible psychological consequences that this appropiation can have for that person.

Likewise, a different noticeable overlapping suggests itself to me in another image-text constellation:

Black and White is dead it says – in an announcement for color television. It is framed by the picture of a Black women wearing an eye-catching hat, a portrait of a white middle aged man and an advertisement for a gun.

I can’t help but read this as a commentary on political „color blindness“, in the way that those who refer to not „seeing skin color“ dismiss structural racism and don’t acknowledge power relations. It seems that by repeating such phrases imprudently, those also wish they could return to a time when images were exclusively black and white.