Julia Emslander - Nocturnal Fantasy

19.04.2023 - 02.06.2023

Images of the Exhibition


With the exhibition title "Nocturnal Fantasy", Julia Emslander entices us into the conceptual depths of her materially and technically experimental artistic work. In her first solo exhibition at Galerie Wolfgang Jahn, she creates a productive dialogue between a selection of large to small-format painting works and her drawings and prints. The exhibition reads like a foray through the huge creative diversity of the young graduate from the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, who creates her own vocabulary of contemporary painting with an alchemist-like knowledge of reaction processes between pigments, paint binding agents, metals and textiles.

Julia Emslander's works are characterised by her use of paint as a material. In mixing her own substances, she constantly probes the boundaries of the production of paintings, deliberately transcending any preconceived notion of painting. For example, she adopts the rusting property of metal pigments as an artistic effect, where the painting develops autonomously. Not only the paint substances, but also her choice of painting surfaces and tools literally go beyond the scope of conventional painting techniques: she scratches the surfaces of previously coated canvases with her own fingernails or turns a household broom into a brush. Her processes are less actionist than choreographed, while at the same time expressing a spontaneous lightness. The quick broom strokes with acrylic paint over a canvas frame covered with artificial fur in the work "Sober" quintessentially embody this. She also uses the same materials, acrylic paint and artificial fur, in the exhibition title work "Nocturnal Fantasy". Here, however, the fatty consistency of the paint is laid over the artificial hair fibres using gentle brushstrokes. There is something taming about the gestures, perhaps also because the fur directly recalls a living, animal counterpart.

In "Freedom and Danger", the largest work in the exhibition, Julia Emslander has enriched epoxy resin with black pigment and then pushed it over the painting surface horizontally in a liquid state. The result is a structure rich in associations, threatening  to spread over the edge of the picture like running lava or reminiscent of already solidified rock from a thousand-year-old formation. Shifted back to the vertical as a picture, the light-absorbing depth effect of the black, uneven mass also implies the parable of a portal inviting us to cross over into unknown spheres.

Julia Emslander's paintings, however, are far more than poetic gimmicks. They also express a profound study of material as a conveyor of symbolic-political content. For the artist, metals or concrete are materials that are also representative of urban industrial construction: they refer to ever greater growth and man-made dominance over nature. Through the artistic study of these materials at the level of the smallest pigment particles, Julia Emslander questions both their durability and their porosity. What decomposes supposedly stable material? Can the interplay of resistance and resilience on a material level also be read as a metaphorical implication for human interaction with chemical and natural substances? "Oil Spill" is one of the works that carries strong socio-economic connotations. Although the artist does not use actual industrial oil here, the allusion to it arises all the more as the sticky texture of the pigment mixed with resin stretches like a net over the matted canvas surface.

Most of Julia Emslander's works, however, extend beyond such a direct reading of material textures. The common theme of many works is rather the study of the surface as an abstract symbol of border landscapes – skinscapes, where skin is the setting for socio-political conflicts. Transferred from the sociological to the artistic context and applied specifically to Julia Emslander's works, we can call it an experimental exploration of surface structures, which also aim to express a psychological concept: "Middleclass boredom", "Tears of time", "Fear of fear" or "Messy realities" are not to be understood as titles created purely to be aesthetic. They resonate with the artist's reflections on the world's state of mind.

Julia Emslander's oeuvre is captivating precisely because of this tension between quickly produced, intuitively experimental practices, which characterise her drawing work in particular, and her paintings. The latter are influenced by more protracted  preparation, creation and reflection processes simply because of their material density. The works on paper visible here in the exhibition, particularly in the form of frottages, are to be understood not least as essential bridges to the paintings. This is a key factor in the artist's basic understanding of her oeurvre – everything is one continuous work. They are not independent individual objects. The physically perceptible boundaries are and remain permeable.


Text by Tatjana Schaefer