September 05 till October 18, 2009

The Western world owes its knowledge of tribal tattoos to sailors: the conquistadors discovered the abstract, geometric or organic patterns and shapes on the bodies of indigenous tribesmen and women in Polynesia and in other Pacific regions. In Europe, the frequently religious or spiritually-motivated adornment is also appreciated as a curiosity, though the “wild man’s” style never found its way in the aesthetic canon of even the most hedonistic tattooing practices.

Tribal tattoos had their first significant influence on Western culture starting with the end of the 1970s in the U.S., when the Polynesian adornment practice was popularised in the gay and punk scenes. The first issue of Tattoo Time, titled “New Tribalism,” came out in 1982 and enlightened an elite middle class to the aesthetic of ornamental tattoo. The magazine sought to draw parallels and connections to the traditions of art and history, elucidated cross-cultural and spiritual aspects and distanced itself from the old-fashioned, Western motives most commonly associated with the working class. The magazine’s publication marked the beginning of the tribal tattoo’s victory march through popular culture, though it could be argued that its enormous popularity has trivialized the practice.

A certain schizophrenia can be seen in the European handling of ornamental signs. The completely autonomous function attributed to ornament in Arabic art, for example, is regarded as both aesthetically valuable and strange. Western art theory for one describes ornament as fulfilling a function; it plays a secondary role to the person or thing being adorned and should make the nature of the ornament-bearer more visible. On the other hand, the role ascribed to it – as an element serving only as decoration – is strongly criticized. The signs’ right to exist is thrown into question; the words “symbol” and “ornament” used interchangeably.

How has the meaning of tribal tattoos changed on its long journey from the South Pacific to the Western world? What happens to ornaments detached from their context, what relationship to they have to the person or thing being adorned? Monika Stricker estranges these forms several times over. She isolates them from their original three dimensions and enlarges them as a wall installation. Tribal tattoos marked a patch of skin. The task of the pioneers (who also give the work its title) is to open new and mark new terrains. The accompanying flutes are both played upon and made the warrior’s task. A mesh net attached to the window separates the work from the outside world.

With ›Isolated Pioneers‹, Monika Stricker’s second solo exhibition at Galerie Clages, the artist explores the fulfilling of a function that, due to a lack of connection, fails to find context.