Amelie von Wulffen has always engaged—in the widest sense—with realms of remembrance. When this German artist first made a name for herself with collages that marry two different systems of representation—photography and painting—her subjects were drawn from her own life and immediate surroundings. In these works, photographic fragments of Biedermeyer interiors are seamlessly combined with traumatic architectural scenarios: teenagers’ idols are brought to life and reinvigorated by splashes of paint or gestural brushwork, thereby creating a mind-space that only memory can elicit.
In her works on paper and in her stylistically varied paintings von Wulffen turns her attention to her own life, without any hint of narcissism, and entirely without nostalgia. Her bourgeois background, her grandmother, family gatherings, and her own education loom into view both as fragments of factual and fictive memory and as an expression of her own critical self-observation. In her compositions, now with light-hearted, bright colors, now somber, von Wulffen demonstrates how ineluctably our life stories are tied into our origins and how we are in thrall to our own particular constraints and circumstances—in the knowledge that we can never escape our own history.
In her series of strikingly agile vegetable-and-fruit watercolors (2010–2013), apple and pear dine together, a popsicle goes skiing, bananas debate with a strawberry, and a couple—two red-wine glasses—lie back watching TV. Von Wulffen’s colorful fantasy world inevitably recalls illustrations in children’s books, but it also serves as a reminder that many books read out loud to children in West Germany in the 1960s were just as ambiguous as her series of watercolors. In her work von Wulffen creates her own realms of remembrance, as if she were transposing books she has read back into her childhood world.
Von Wulffen’s exhibition catalogue, “This Is How It Happened”(1)—the first publication that provides an overview of her watercolors—is dedicated to her grandmother Elisabeth von Wulffen, and right at the beginning seemingly presents the reader with a historic illustration from a subtly authoritarian-looking children’s book; it is not stated whether the artist was also the illustrator. The catalogue’s dedication allows Amelie von Wulffen to explicitly locate these playful watercolors in the realms of her own existence, the outcome of her own history and biography.
(1) Amelie von Wulffen, This Is How It Happened, ed. Alex Zachary, exh. cat. Greene Naftali Gallery, New York 2011.