Britta Thie A Selfie of a Selfie

The German media artist is gaining some attention through her unapologetic self-promotion, which is feeding a fast-growing career on the Internet. A new exhibition in Göttingen explores the limits of auto-focus.
Ms. Thie plays different roles in her work.

Media artist Britta Thie plays with the rules of art and the Internet, switching roles, media and tone.

On a recent day, she wore a short dress that looked as if someone reworked the Picasso painting “Guernica” so that it could mingle with people and see some of the world.

A Media Markt electronics store, for example. Ms. Thie, pale in the harsh light of the store, almost seemed to dissolve as she passed rows of toasters and kettles and was bathed in the light of countless television screens.

The TV images were so pitilessly sharp-edged that soft reality was dissolved. Including Ms. Thie, of course.

Watching one of her videos that shows her in the act of self-broadcasting, you suddenly think that nowadays, transcendence and even illumination are in the hands of retail media stores.

Ms. Thie gazes in wonder at the world and her rapt vision transforms the things she sees and that way, what viewers think and see, too.

Ms. Thie is a pioneer of the new availability.

With narrow facial features that make her seem fragile, in the past, Ms. Thie probably would have caught the eye of painters and found her way into quiet scenes by van Eyck or a gloomy enchantment by Velázquez.

But she became her own favorite motif as an artist herself.

At the age of 28, she has exhibited in Toronto, London and Kiev. In Germany, she talked about media art on Europe's television broadcaster Arte and showed her work in Frankfurt's Schirn art exhibition hall.

Now Ms. Thie has her first solo exhibition at the Kunstverein Göttingen gallery. This is remarkable because so far she has avoided presenting her work to the art market in the conventional way.

Her videos, photographs and texts seem to find a path of their own to their audience and bypass the classic archiving and displaying functions of museums.

Ms. Thie is a pioneer of the new availability. Unlike most artists, who market their works through galleries because anything else might damage their careers, Ms. Thie squanders herself on the Internet. She succeeds precisely because she dematerializes her art and strips it of all uniqueness, because she picks one media and then another, switching between YouTube, Instagram or Facebook, or appearing in a glossy ad campaign.

Her works at the Kunstverein gallery are more restrained, however. The pictures have to be hung on nails; things are bound, even if Ms. Thie prefers to stage many works as casually as possible, letting them sway from the ceiling and spreading cords and plugs across the floor.

The exhibition seems to show how to follow rules without adhering to them, how to retain one's ease amid external constraints.

Many of the films and photographs tell of this feat, some through small loudspeakers fixed to the backs of pictures.

In one, the viewer looks at a canyon of escalators photographed at a shopping center and hears the voice of the artist describing how attracted she feels to these sorts of places. How she likes to glide up and down, aimlessly alternating between bookstores and electronics stores. Sometimes she plops down onto one of the massage armchairs, happy to “become one with the sameness of the stores.”


Courtesy of Britta Thie and SCHIRN Kunsthalle Frankfurt 2015


Her tone isn't accusing, she doesn't bother with a critique of capitalism – but instead conveys a mild melancholy that is playfully broken when Ms. Thie interrupts herself, clearing her throat, giggling at slips of the tongue, constrainedly unconstrained.

Again and again, Ms. Thie speaks of the generation that she seeks to portray, whose moods she tries to trace.

Born in the 1980s, she grew up in an analogue world and in her youth experienced the onrush of digitalization, whose freedoms she both desires and fears.

Being switched on everywhere and constantly, always broadcasting, forming an image of oneself that should be as true-to-life as possible yet surprisingly different – Ms. Thie lets herself be guided by these sorts of paradoxes.

On the one hand, she is enthusiastic about her own ability to change when she is booked for an advertisement and, under the hands of the make-up artist, seems to become another person.

On the other hand, she longs to take on the guilelessness of childhood again.

Back then as little Britta, she wandered around her western Germany hometown of Minden with a Super-8 camera with which she imitated talk shows, sport broadcasts and hit parades.

Viewers can see these snippets at the Kunstverein in digital form. And when today Ms. Thie thinks up and films little adventures with her girlfriends, then it is as if the girl from back then is in harmony with herself. Her art becomes a place where one never grows up. The artist calls this self-nostalgia.

This would probably annoy the viewer if it weren't for her van Eyck face and the Velázquez magic.

Ms. Thie lifts even the most extreme childhood kitsch into the sphere of unexpected significance. She plays roles, but then not really.

Balanced between candor and abstruse invention, this is high art, in low places.


This article originally appeared in Die Zeit. To contact the author: [email protected]