Nadin Maria Rüfenacht

"Le Voyage"
"Feu Pâle"
Le roi se meurt
"Chambre sauvage"
"La Curée de Lilith"
"Le verre de Cocteau"
"Le jardin des plantes"
"Nature Morte II"
"Le jeu de Brigitt"
"Nature Morte I"



by SUSANNE ALTMANN on Nadin Maria Rüfenachts Photographs (in Nadin Maria Rüfenacht Blaue Dose)

The lights go out, everything is drowned in a deep black and only a single spot throws some light on the direct place of action: Le Cirque de Jeanne - Johanna's Circus commences. This Circus is a silent spectacle, a visible reality transmitted from a mute beyond. These still lifes are not only still because they belong to that particular genre, but rather because their stillness and silence is elevated to a stylistic device - creating a sharp contrast to their subject: a circus, commonly characterised by a great variety of sounds. Yet also in a circus we find moments of tension and great excitement when everybody holds their breath: moments of uncertainty whether the daring balancing act will be a success, whether the trapeze artiste will grab the rope or whether the tiger will condescend to ump through the burning hoop. It is such instances of collective silence that Nadin Maria Rüfenacht captures in her fragile compositions. These moments are preserved in static safety. The strategy to exaggerate ordinary things into the extraordinary recalls an artistic method already perfected by Peter Fischli and David Weiss in the 1980s. In their series of photographs A Quiet Afternoon they presented nondescript items from the periphery of life and assigned them with a balance that appeared to last only for the split second of exposure. The acts the Swiss performed with found household objects clearly had a circus quality and provided an early example of the suggestive power of staged conceptual photography, which is still an inspiration to the creativity of many artists today. The auratic charge of artificially created or found arrangements of materials can be traced for instance in works by Gabriel Orozco, Richard Wentworth or Laura Letinsky.
Nadin Maria Rüfenacht's current cycle can safely be located in this context, but Le Cirque de Jeanne is additionally characterised by a narrative approach, a sub plot that is referred to in the title. It is eventually Jeanne's, actually: Johanna's estate, that is presented in the scenes. With a garden plot in Leipzig, the photographer inherited the belongings of former owner Johanna: tables, chairs, tools and tableware. Rüfenacht has used these to carefully reconstruct the story of an imaginary circus. At her studio she created shifting constellations of the found materials in eventually 32 different arrangements which redefined the objects as circus performers: A black background, occasionally emphasised with a sparingly use of colour, analogue photography and glossy prints add a three-dimensional presence to the objects.
Two tables and a foot rest make up an elephant (elephant), three tables form a horse (cheval) and atop the furniture pyramid coloured mugs become acrobats (acrobate) involved in a balance act. All of this is controlled from behind the scenes by Jeanne, the directrice, whose belongings from the garden house are charged with dignity and timelessness - while all the same speaking of the transience of life, in particular material life, very much like a classic still life.
The objects are weighed like words; their thriftiness, their utmost economy speaks for itself. These props excavated from the sediment of an unknown life illustrate what Peter Richter has called the outer effects of one's own biography, the biographical debris even, in his book Deutsches Haus - Eine Einrichtungsfibel (2006). An artistic investigation, as carried out by Nadin Maria Rüfenacht, can yet find treasures in the debris. The recontextualised bits and pieces of scenery trigger associations and make visible an unrestrained poetry far beyond the boundaries of language.
The high degree of formal abstraction used by the artist for her new cycle is strikingly different from her former photographs, in particular the nature mortes, which were produced around z005. In often exuberant, baroque-style settings animals capture the imagination of the viewer. The fact that these primates, parrots or tortoises are not living but stuffed specimens is almost irrelevant for the impression of the exotic scenes. The animals are fascinating as part of an apparently allegorical role play, illustrating the strangeness and familiarity which have not lost their appeal in four centuries. In a photographic continuation of John Berger's theories formulated in Why Look at Animals? (1980) Nadin Maria Rüfenacht has in her sequence of photographs examined the magnetic attraction that turns us into astonished observers of our fellow creatures and furthermore made us aware of the compulsory act to compare human behaviour with that of animals.
The phenomenon of anthropomorphism has surely undergone much change since the archaic animist beliefs; yet the basic human desire to project oneself into the fellow creature has never ceased to exist. Even more so, once - in Berger's words - the disappearance of animals from everyday life had become the norm, compensated only by the conservation of animals after the advent of the zoos. Rüfenacht's animal tableaux are playing on this effect of longing conservation, even when she is working with live dogs or horses and puts her focus on civilisation's alienation from animals and the simultaneous excessive interest in cuddly animals. Despite the inclusion of baroque post-modern alienation effects a la Peter Greenaway, these rarely lead to a lasting ironic distancing from the subject that could influence the viewer. A slightly melancholic interest in animal nature and a will to get hold of the mysterious other are always there to bridge the clinical calculation of the photographs.
The turn towards the subject of the circus shows Nadin Maria Rüfenacht's empathic attitude. Just as the zoo, the cultural roots of the circus lie in the wish to be close to the creatures of the animal kingdom and admire their abilities in a time when such opportunity has vanished more or less completely from our everyday lives. The actors of the circus are transformed without any distinction of species into both animal and human furniture sculptures: the trumpeter (trompetiste) and the bear (ours) share the brown side table with the drummer (tambour), the shabby footrest belongs to the elephant as much as to the animal trainer (dompteur) or the tiger (tigre). An exercise in combination carried out with clear focus and discipline by Nadin Maria Rüfenacht. The result is the creation of phenotypes that are shaped from the same elements in a nicely democratic biological process (recalling the shared basic structures of the DNA). In this way the trenches of curiosity and fear, of pure utilitarian thought and love are overcome by means of allegory, providing a common ground for a shared relationship between human and animal life. Therefore, Johanna's Circus not only transfigures the assumedly sad remains of a life to an event of common interest, it offers further anthropological insight and shows great artistic style. Nadin Maria Rüfenacht's current works are set to meet not only the expectations of others, but also the standards set by herself: It means a lot to me when my works surprise me and teach me things I did not know before. (N.M.R.)

  • 1980 born in Burgdorf (Switzerland)
    1999 Studies of photography at the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig
    2005 Diploma
    2005-2008 Master studies with Prof. Timm Rautert, Leipzig
    lives and works in Leipzig and Bern

Solo shows

  • 2018 Radar, Städtisches Museum und Galerie, Engen
  • Feu Pâle, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
  • 2017 Garde, Bühlers, Fürth
  • Alias (with Tilo Baumgärtel), Galerie Schimming, Hamburg
  • 2015 Backstage Gossip (with Henriette Grahnert), Kunsthalle Giessen
    Bataille, Gallery Beatrice Brunner, Bern (Switzerland)
    2013 Chambre sauvage, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
    2012 Höhlen und Gemächer, Gallery Beatrice Brunner, Bern
    2011 Bummelnde Raketenträger (with Tilo Baumgärtel), Philara e.V., Düsseldorf
    Heads and Tails (with Carsten Tabel), art association Essenheim
    2010 Voltaire, Galerie Beatrice Brunner, Bern
    Jelaengerjelieber, (with Rosa Loy), Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
    2008 Blaue Dose (with Sebastian Stumpf), Villa Katzorke, Essen
    2007 Arche Noah - Instant, Galerie Beatrice Brunner, Bern
    2006 Nature Morte, Metro 4, Basel
    Marks Blond, Room of contemporary art, Bern 8Switzerland)
    2005 Nature Morte, Galerie Sammler, Leipzig
    Diplomausstellung, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
    2002 Da und dort (with Rolf Sommer), Museum Salzbütte, Huttwill (Switzerland)

Group shows

  • 2023  Mashup 8, Gosh, Leipzig
  • Warrant of an Unreal World, Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig
  • Chicken is off the menu, Villa Heike, Berlin
    Image of Thought, Villa Heike, Berlin
    Lux. 28. Leipziger Jahresausstellung, Spinnerei Halle 12, Leipzig
    Lebenszeichen, Galerie Beatrice Brunner, Bern (Switzerland)
  • 2019 Building a Dialogue, Museum of the National Bank of Belgium, Brussels
  • 2018 Depot #9 Photography, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Leipzig
  • 30 ziehen durch die Stadt, Affenfaustgalerie, Hamburg
  • 2016 Zerlegt! Montiert!, Museum Ratingen
    2015 Drawing, Gallery Dukan, Paris
    MASH UP 2, Hardenbergstraße, Leipzig
    VOLTA 11, Markthalle, Basel
    2014 BGL#2, Kesselhaus, Bergisch Gladbach / Cologne
    2013 Cliché verre reloaded, Spinnerei archiv massiv, Leipzig
    Crossing Views - Photography from Leipzig, Marburger Kunstverein, Marburg
    Menagerie - animal art of the Würth collection, Kunsthalle Würth, Schwäbisch-Hall
    Zwickau meets Dresden, Kunstverein Freunde aktueller Kunst, Zwickau
    2012 to get here, Wendt+Friedmann Gallery, Berlin
    Die Erben Goyas, Opelvillen Rüsselsheim
    2011 18. Leipziger Jahresausstellung
    Auslöser, art hall of the Sparkasse Leipzig
    Leipzig.Fotografie seit 1939, Museum of Visual Arts Leipzig
    2010 Donor, art association Leipzig
    Making Nature, Rubicon Gallery, Dublin
    Die Magie des Alltäglichen, Kunstzeughaus Rapperswill (CH)
    2009 Close the gap 2, Werkschauhalle, Leipzig
    Beautifull Illusion, Galerie Maurer, Frankfurt
    Close the Gap 3, city gallery Speyer
    Close the gap 4, art association Paffenhofen, cultural hall in Pfaffenhofen
    Stoffe der Eitelkeit, Parrotta Contemporary Art Stuttgart
    2008 Wir sind nicht hier, um uns nett zu finden, Galerie Löhrl, Mönchengladbach
    Drawcula, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
    Close the gap, city gallery Kiel
    2007 Zeig mir deinen Katalog, du Schwein!, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
    Ohne Schatten, Galerie Eigen+Art, Leipzig
    2006 Foto kann alles, art museum Bern
    Vor aller Augen, Festival, Bâtimentd‘art, Genf
    Reiz und Risiko, Haus der Kunst Uri
    Alles ist Wunderland, Galerie 14-1, Stuttgart
    Art hall of the Sparkasse Leipzig
    Annual exhibition Leipzig
    Alte Meister / Junge Künstler, Casa Volterra, Frankfurt/Main
    2005 Galerie Rainer Wehr, Stuttgart
    Aeschlimann-Corti-Stipendium, Museum of art Bern
    Swiss Art Awards, Kiefer Hablitzel, Art Basel
    Kalte Herzen, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
    Unter 30, Centre PasquArt, Biel
    Diploma exhibition, Galerie Kleindienst
    Nützlich – süß – museal, das fotografierte Tier, Museum Folkwang, Essen
    2004 Art award of the Stadtwerke Halle/Leipzig, Kunstraum B2, Leipzig
    Kalte Herzen, Kunstbunker Tumulka, Munich
    Kalte Herzen, Galerie Van Zoetendaal, Amsterdam


  • 2005 Aeschlimann-Corti-Scholarship (AC-Scholarship), Art association Bern
    Award or the Kiefer Hablitzel Foundation, Swiss Art Awards Basel
    2004 Art award of the Stadtwerke Leipzig/Halle
    1999 Swiss Art Awards (Kiefer Hablitzel), Art Basel
    Award for photography, city of Bern


  • 2018 Radar, catalogue, editors Städtisches Museum Engen und Galerie / Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
  • 2013 "Chambre Sauvage", texts by Sebastian Hartmann and Markus Stegmann, publishing house Lubok, editor: Galerie Kleindienst and Galerie Beatrice Brunner
    2010 Andreas Platthaus "Willkommen zum Sommernachtsstaunen", FAZ vom 23.10.2010
    Alice Hankes "Aus dem Garten des Candide" Berner Zeitung, 26.5.2010
    2008 Close the Gap - Studium bei Timm Rautert, Kerber Verlag, Editor: Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig, Galerie Löhrl, Mönchengladbach
    2007 "Blaue Dose", texts by Susanne Altmann and Alfred Maurer, editor: Galerie Kleindienst and Galerie Beatrice Brunner