Ricarda Denzer — To Tell A Story

Opening, May 7, 2019, 7 pm
Exhibition, May 8 – June 14, 2019

In Ricarda Denzer’s artistic practice the narrative form is open-ended in every conceivable direction. The artist’s video works, performances, and expansive installations are dominated by acoustic motifs and revolve around phenomena such as the human voice, the spoken word, and the speech act as a sociopolitical manifestation and action. Denzer addresses complex themes in a subtle fashion by using elements of her research process as recurring set pieces, as material that can be put together into changeable, ephemeral arrangements. The artist thus works with the means of analogy and assemblage, as well as with the idea of relationships and correlations and their laws.

At Kunstraum Lakeside, Ricarda Denzer is showing a new project that takes as its springboard a conversation between the British essayist, art critic, and writer John Berger and his US colleague Susan Sontag, entitled To Tell A Story (1983), which was broadcast by the British TV station Channel 4 in the eighties as part of the Voices series. Narration, as a method for recounting an event, whether fictitious or real, usually takes oral or written form. But Denzer instead formulates her narrative using audio-visual means, integrating not only spoken and written action but also the image in its manifold dimensions as a means of constructing a story. In her exhibition at Kunstraum Lakeside, the artist follows the narrative form not only in terms of what is told but above all in how it is told—a thought loop in which the narrative process coincides with its product.

“But John, don’t you think that people make a distinction between a story that is true and a story that is imagined or invented,” Susan Sontag remarks in reaction to John Berger’s opening question of what storytelling consists of. She refers to the ambiguity of the term, which in her opinion is broad enough to encompass conflicting aspects: “I am always struck by the fact that there is a kind of ambiguity in the very notion of storytelling. We think of storytelling as a truth-telling activity: We think of stories as bringing information, we think of stories as revealing secrets, true stories […] but we also think of stories as ‘That’s only a story!’ or ‘Don’t tell me stories!’, meaning ‘Don’t tell me lies!’ And don’t you think at the very center of the whole enterprise of storytelling, there is the fact that storytelling is an activity that faces in two directions: on the one hand it is connected with an idea of truth, on the other hand it is connected with an idea of invention, imagination, lies.”*

Ricarda Denzer uses formal means to transfer to Kunstraum Lakeside the whole spectrum of storytelling that John Berger and Susan Sontag discussed in terms of its content: ranging between documentary and fiction, veracity and imagination. The artist analyzes the visual stage-directing of the conversation using its own methodology, the methods the directors of the show in the early eighties used for storytelling on TV. She succeeds in this way in deconstructing the practice of storytelling by means of a meta-narrative about storytelling. Every single shot used in the Voices episode To Tell A Story, from the long shot to the medium shot to the close-up, can be found in the eponymous video work. To recreate them, the artist re-enacted the conversation between Berger and Sontag at Kunstraum Lakeside prior to the exhibition, using the furniture and the exhibition display as placeholders for the speakers and contexts. The camera tracking in Denzer’s video To Tell A Story is self-reflexive on an abstract level, rendering the process of narration identical to its product. Accompanying the video is a flip-dot display, a matrix familiar from airports, which depicts the dialogue, or more precisely, the alternating voices of its protagonists, as fleeting motion, mere floating pixels. The back and forth between Berger and Sontag, the caution in their formulations on the one hand and the density of their arguments on the other, is expressed in this communication technology on both visual and auditory levels, complementing the spatial effect of the video.

“What do I come upon, what do I bring with me?” is one of the questions Denzer frequently asks herself when conceiving works and developing exhibitions. Her artistic practice, which often reacts to the respective exhibition site and context, is exemplified not only in To Tell A Story but also in the remainder of the installation at Kunstraum Lakeside. Denzer takes up the dialogic quality of storytelling in a literal manner with the gesture of making carbon-paper rubbings. Applied either to selective or extensive areas of the walls at Kunstraum Lakeside, the paper leaves blue traces on and in the space while, vice versa, the space makes its mark on the paper by partially removing its color. Ricarda Denzer thus both performs and showcases here in exemplary fashion the reciprocal relationship between artwork and space, between artist and institution, between John Berger and Susan Sontag, ultimately revealing the blurred boundaries between reality and fiction.

Ricarda Denzer (b. 1967 in Germany) lives and works in Vienna.

*John Berger and Susan Sontag, To Tell A Story (1983), 4’39’’,
[last accessed April 15, 2019]


Ricarda Denzer, To Tell A Story, 1983/2019