(translation: “Playing Life”)
Participatory project / installation, 2020-21
@ zeitraumexit Mannheim

The well-known board game “The Game of Life” is based on very specific ideas about career and consumption, focusing on education, career, earning money, consumption, marriage, and children. Other facets of life are pretty much ignored. The stereotypical life goals correspond to conventional role models.

Das LEBEN SPIELEN (Playing Life) is a new game, a game created by a form of playful research, as well as a conversation about living together in our society, about our values, desires and goals, about forks in the road, and about important decisions.

This new “edition” of the game was created based on the ideas, wishes, and visions of the neighbors who played along.

The newly designed game is simultaneously a medium for conversation and an occasion for exchange. It exists as an art installation. It’s a space to just hang out, but it’s also a large-scale game board with scooters and ramps, with a wheel of fortune and play money.

Participatory project / Installation (photography, video, audio, texts & objects), 2006
@ Depot der Gegenwart (Depository of the Present), Stadtmuseum Dresden (City Museum Dresden)

public attic / ausgestellter speicher is a work about the things we collect, the things we keep, and the things we decide to get rid of. It’s a work that brings the neglected and the forgotten things to light, and lets us get to know their stories.

For this project, I visited 34 people who were willing to show me some of the belongings they keep in their attics. We talked about the objects, and I asked them to tell me why they keep the items in storage. I used various media (e.g. photography, video and sound) to ‘collect’ these objects, and to construct the ‘public attic’. The installation evoked the character of an attic, and the visitors were allowed to rummage through the things in the exhibition.

Following the inauguration of the Dresden City Museum’s new permanent exhibition, the ‘public attic’ was on display for six months in the Depot der Gegenwart (‘Depository of the Present’).

On the outer walls of the room, questionnaires – filled out upon each attic visit – were displayed, showing the answers the attic owners/users gave to my questions regarding the objects they showed me. To help participants answer the question “Why is this object kept in storage?”, I provided a checklist of various possible reasons (e.g. Reminder / Surprise, Narrative Potential, Investment, Connection to a Strong Emotion, Spatial Considerations, Sense of Duty, etc.; see one of the 34 questionnaires).

In the installation were many boxes and suitcases containing objects I had borrowed from the attics I’d visited (i.e. things I was allowed to share with others). The photos were affixed directly onto the paneled walls or onto the boxes, and the video sequences were presented on two monitors (with headphones). Next to an armchair in the corner, an audio piece recounted a list of all the things I had ‘collected’, in the words of their owners (narrator: Kerstin Katrin Birn).

Now and then in the course of the exhibition, new objects and stories were added to the collection. The exhibition catalogue for public attic / ausgestellter speicher (48 pages, German and English) contains personal and critical reflections, as well as images and narratives.

MORE about the institutions involved:

READ texts from the exhibition catalogue:

Video / installation, 2007
@ American Beauty, galerie baer, Dresden

After investigating the question of what is kept and what is discarded (and why) in two previous works, public attic / ausgestellter speicher and portable attic, I turned the focus onto my own personal history, and created downsizing.

When I moved to Germany in 1999, I left some of my belongings in storage in the USA. In 2006, my parents asked me to come and get the rest of my things. I sorted these belongings into two groups – what I could take with me and what I would have to get rid of – taking with me exactly as much (size, weight) as the airlines would allow.

The installation downsizing used objects, images, texts, and video to present the story of this process – as well as the stories behind the objects themselves.

Although the content was indeed autobiographical, the form and tone of the work was somewhat ironic, a bit quirky, and intentionally melodramatic.

The group of belongings that I took back with me to Germany were called the “survivors”: the actual objects – as well as the suitcase and boxes used to bring them back – were displayed in the gallery in all their mundane vulnerability. They were accompanied by documentation revealing the “reasons for being selected to survive”.

The items that had been disposed of, on the other hand, were named the “sacrificed”. These, of course, couldn’t be shown, and were therefore present only as the subject of the video. Viewers could look over my shoulder and listen as I read texts addressed to the objects I had discarded, and which contained a great deal of (trivial) autobiographical information.

Performance & installation, 2007-2009
@ Zamieszkanie / Sich Einrichten / Inhabiting, BWA Gallery Wrocław, Poland
@ Ohne uns! Kunst & alternative Kultur in Dresden vor und nach ’89, Ausstellung Prager Spitze, riesa efau. Kultur
Forum Dresden

One of the surprising by-products of the public attic / ausgestellter speicher project were the generous gifts I received from the families whose attics I had visited, including a wonderful old handmade dollhouse. I decided to incorporate this dollhouse into a second work about attics and their owners. This time, I followed a very different procedure: I asked people to describe things that they have in storage in their attics, and then I tried to replicate these objects in miniature, without ever having met their owners or seen their attics.

The work took the form of a performance and an installation-in-progress over several days. I worked in the exhibition space itself, and placed the miniature artifacts into the attic of the dollhouse when they were finished.

As I had previously done in public attic / ausgestellter speicher, I asked the participants to tell me why they have kept the item(s) in storage. To make it easier for them, I provided a list of possible reasons, as well as space for adding new reasons, if necessary. These documents were on display as well.

I performed this piece twice: first in Wrocław, Poland (as part of the exhibition Zamieskanie / Sich Einrichten / Inhabiting and then in Dresden, Germany as part of Ohne uns! Kunst & alternative Kultur in Dresden vor und nach ’89.

MORE about the institutions involved:

Installation with photography, video, drawings & objects, 2014
@ Atelier und Künstler, Kommandantenhaus Dilsberg

I Think I Know What You Want To Say is a work that plays with the idea of collecting something that is essentially immaterial – namely our body language, our gestures and signs. How can I build such an imaginary collection? How can I organize it and show it to others? Which discrete “non-objects” will I include in my collection? Can I perhaps organize my (as yet non-existent) collection, in order to then systematically collect according to my own preconceived classification? How do things like desire or coincidence play into this process?

This work is about human communication and about the process of working together. It’s also about understanding (or misunderstanding) each other. How do we attribute thoughts and attitudes, or even urges and intentions to other individuals? Do I really understand what you’re saying to me? Do I understand what you WANT to say to me?

The gestures presented in videos and images were collected according to 13 predetermined categories (which themselves – as text drawings – make up a part of the installation):

I worked with more than 40 people from Heidelberg and the region to create the collection.

Dr. Hans-Jürgen Buderer (former Director of Art and Cultural History for the Reiss Engelhorn Museums in Mannheim) wrote in the exhibition catalog:

“Behind the playfully poetic title lies one of Janet Grau’s typically subtle and cleverly thought-out performances, which becomes tangible for the viewer in a media installation for the exhibition in the Kommandantenhaus in Dilsberg. […] If you take a closer look at the catalogue of gestures which Janet Grau has developed…[it becomes clear that the] classification criteria she has created for her collection of gestures is not derived from a scientific structuring scheme based on observable forms of gestures. In an obvious analogy to Italo Calvino, the categories she has developed stem instead from a reflection upon the possible subjective needs and expectations of an imaginary onlooker. […] The work I Think I Know What You Want to Say implies one of those basic ideas that has time and again inspired the artist, namely the question of whether (and if, then how) we even understand each other at all when we communicate using our current modes of communication.”

Long-term project (photography, needlework)

Endless hours invested in a piece. Cross-stitch embroidery as an extravagant (and absurd) way of reproducing images.

The process is complex, multi-layered and extremely time-consuming—but that’s the point. It’s about time, and it’s also about taking a step back from the photos. It’s also about playing with perception. I experiment with the level of detail and the accuracy of the colors, until someone who knows the original photo can immediately recognize the embroidered version, whereas for others, it remains vague.

I transform selected old family photos into simplified pixel designs, reduce the number of colors from millions to a random number (like 27 or 56 or 84), match these to the embroidery floss colors, and work systematically with very complex patterns. All of which contrasts sharply with the content of the images, which always only depict a single moment – a split second.

For me, the embroidered images are more like objects. That’s why I plan to show them together with the working drawings, color charts, etc., as well as with other objects together in an installation (working title: I’ll Fly Away).

Performance, Installation, 2022

The Mattering Instinct is a lecture performance and installation in which philosophical ideas are conveyed not only through language, but also through objects and staging, movement and gesture. Instead of a PowerPoint presentation (typical for academia), the possibilities of artistic performance are explored.

The work is based on the well-known U.S.-American philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein‘s “mattering theory”. I compiled the script for the lecture-performance from her essays, speeches and interviews. An installation is occupied by the figure of a philosopher and two dancers. They embody these philosophical thoughts using various objects and dramatic scenes, putting them into action and commenting upon them. Abstract facts are thus made visible and accessible to a wider audience.

Furthermore, the performance unfolds additional dimensions: It transforms the philosophical ideas light-heartedly and with humor, without losing sight of the conceptual core. The first performances will take place on May 6 and 7, 2022 in the Heiliggeistkirche Heidelberg. Afterwards, a video installation of the performance will run there until October 2022, with a booklet for visitors (English original script and German translation).

As soon as we know we are, we want what we are to mean something, to matter. This “mattering” is essential for human beings:

“We can’t pursue our lives without thinking that our lives matter…Clinical depression is when you are convinced that you don’t and will never matter. That’s a pathological attitude, and it highlights, by its pathology, the way in which the ‘mattering instinct’ normally functions. To be a fully functioning, non-depressed person is to live and to act, to take it for granted that you can act on your own behalf, pursue your goals and projects. And that we have a right to be treated in accord with our own commitment to our lives mattering.” (Excerpt from the interview, The Mattering Instinct: A Conversation with Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, the Edge Foundation, 2016).