[Photos: Norbert Miguletz]

In the exhibition Who has Power? Striking Bodies, the Frankfurter Kunstverein has invited two emerging Frankfurt-based artists, Gintarė Sokelytė and Sonja Yakovleva, to present their largest institutional solo shows so far. With powerful new works, they have created self-sufficient pictorial spaces in which the question of power is posed subversively—what power are bodies exposed to, and what power is exercised by bodies in public space?

Sonja Yakovleva has been creating monumental papercuts with exuberant pictorial compositions for years. She became known for her ironic pop-feminist motifs, which developed into a manifesto of self-empowered female physicality. In this current exhibition, she looks at class issues and power relations in an achievement-oriented society. Yakovleva caricatures the cult of the body, the obsession with beauty and the competitiveness of today’s fitness culture as symptoms of internalised norms. In her visual worlds, she stages and reveals the work performed on one’s own body as a means of dictating a compulsion to perform. As a counterpoint to this, Yakovleva examines labour as a necessity both for people and for the functioning of cities and society as a whole.

Who has Power? Striking Bodies is an invitation to take a sensual approach to contemporary phenomena through the works of Sonja Yakovleva and Gintarė Sokelytė. The exhibition is embedded in the Frankfurter Kunstverein’s programmatic focus, which is committed to promoting emerging artists from Frankfurt and the Rhine-Main region and presenting innovative perspectives on social issues.

[...] Sonja Yakovleva has created new works and developed a monographic presentation across three rooms. She has been perfecting the art of paper cutting for more than ten years, transferring this historical medium into the very present. For the Frankfurter Kunstverein, Yakovleva has focused her attention and her extensive research on new areas.

As the primary thematic focus of her new works, Yakovleva has worked with images from Instagram fitness feeds. The central element is the body as optimizable matter. The cult of self-presentation, expressed through contortions and overstretching of one's own body, becomes the motif and is artistically exaggerated. Yakovleva opens the exhibition with Gym bro and Pink sexy gym boot camp, two oversized figures from the cult of the body that is so prevalent in the world of fitness. These two silhouettes, one male and one female, strike a muscle flexing pose – bodies from the CrossFit world - bigger than life, muscular, strong and sculpted. Between self-presentation and empowerment, the figures embody the constraints of digital internet cultures with their body and beauty ideals. In online culture, beauty filters have shifted beauty ideals by exaggerating individual features in such a way that people adapt their real bodies to their digital image, giving rise to a zeitgeist phenomenon: Snapchat dysmorphia.

In a second room, Yakovleva creates her silhouette work as a ceiling installation for the first time. In INSTAREXIE, Yakovleva explores fitness worlds as sites and stages of such body performances. Six pictorial surfaces with a total of 240 tiles make up the monumental motif. Visitors are invited to use the scattered training equipment in the room as places to lie down. The ceiling areas display Boutique Gyms, self-contained worlds of fitness with differentiated community aesthetics - Barry’s Bootcamp, Urban Heroes, Pilates Fused and countless more. Yakovleva portrays in her silhouettes those who zealously engage in physical exertion under the gaze of others, as well as the places where quantified performance enhancement is driven by coaches, headset commands, and precise timing. The large mirrors, transparent glass facades and omnipresent mobile phone cameras not only serve as perfect settings for presenting the body, but they also serve as a means of self-control, comparison, motivation and competition. Yakovleva's monumental visual worlds condense and compress, quote and caricature fitness worlds. 

In a third room, Yakovleva has created a mural over 10.5 metres long. With State of Strike, she questions a city where workers refuse their poorly paid work, occupying the streets with their bodies. The power of the body becomes political, perhaps transformative, in this context. It depicts a dense flow of bodies and a city in which e-commerce, the meat industry, delivery services, daycare centres, hospitals, construction sites, industrial cleaners and restaurants have been condensed into a very small space. The city is depicted here as a symbol of the modern age and society at large, with all the buildings representing different production sites, and where we see a dense flow of bodies going on strike. Yakovleva is driven by the contradictions of an increasingly flexible and yet insecure work environment. People, especially those with migrant backgrounds, are often forced to take on difficult jobs characterised by poor working conditions. What would happen if not only the unionised workers, but they too were to go on strike? [...]

Sonja Yakovleva (*1989, Potsdam, DE) lives and works in Frankfurt am Main (DE). She studied at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Offenbach and the Athens School of Fine Arts (GR). She is a member of the collective KVTV, with whom Yakovleva operates the video blog KulturvotzenTV on contemporary art on Instagram and curates exhibition and publication projects. Sonja Yakovleva has exhibited in various institutions, including Kunstraum Potsdam, Potsdam (DE), Kunstpalais Erlangen, Erlangen (DE), Klingspor Museum, Offenbach am Main (DE), Städtische Galerie Nordhorn, Nordhorn (DE), saasfee pavillon, Frankfurt am Main (DE), and Neuer Kunstverein Gießen, Gießen (DE).

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