contemporary art / history of art

In memory of Petra Warrass: “Wo es ist #7 – Where it is”

To recall the recently passed away Petra Warrass, we republish our Artwork of the month / February 2016. At first glance, the photo “Wo es ist #7 – Where it is” seems to show an obvious scenery. However, the closer look reveals several ambiguities like the unusual clothing of Cédric and his position. Even the title message “Where it is” remains uncertain.


Artwork of the month / February 2016

« Wo es ist # 7» (Where it is # 7)
Petra Warrass

30 cm x 40 cm

The photo # 7 is part of Petra Warrass’ series “Wo es ist” (Where it is), which contains black and white photos of young Cédric or other boys. Looking through an ajar door, we see Cédric sideward crouching on a chair. His face is half covered by his right arm so that his expression is difficult to interpret. He is wearing a trench coat like mantle and no shoes, only socks. The coat might be a little too big for him. Through the doorway we can perceive in the background a white room with a window. Under the window is a central heating and besides it a socket. There could be a desk in front of the heating, but only one table foot is visible. The floor covering might be tapestry or a synthetic floor. It is slightly patterned by lighter and darker squares. Since the chair on which the boy is crouching is typical German classroom furniture and the assumed table foot is of the same design, the photo might open the view into a classroom. The white undecorated wall and the window without curtain are contributing to this impression, even though young children classrooms are often decorated with paintings and handicrafts of its pupils.

Here is the effect of an unexpected display, so often found in Petra’s work. First the scene seems to be clear: we are looking through a slightly blurred door into a sharply captured room. But here the clearness ends. The artist gives no unambiguous reference to the key of the outlook. Not German observers even not see the allusion to a classroom and even if one does he/she would not think of a surrounding for young children because of its bleakness. The acknowledgement “Where it is” remains in the dark.

More astonishing is the situation of the child: he is not sitting on the chair but crouching on it. Is he joyfully playing or is he timidly cowering? Is he to jump or will he stay on the chair? His attributes are not helping to enlighten the scene: Cédric is wearing a coat even if he is inside a room. Nevertheless he has no shoes on. In addition the mantle is not really adapted to children. It is more an adult clothing: is it a costume or a shelter? These uncertainties were underlined in the presentation of the photo in the Kunstmuseum Mülheim a. d. Ruhr in der Alten Post in 2006. The photo of the crouching Cédric wasn’t shown in the format 30 cm x 40 cm, but larger than life size. The visitors had probably the impression to look through the door opening into a real room where they saw a huge young boy squatting on an enormous chair.


Petra Warrass

Born 1970 in Birkenfeld, Germany, († October 2020) Petra lived and worked in Düsseldorf (Germany). First she studied visual communication with the focus on photo and film design at the Fachhochschule Dortmund (University of Applied Sciences and Arts Dortmund, Germany), then photography at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam (Netherlands). She finished her studies as master student of Joachim Brohm at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst, Leipzig (Academy of Fine Arts, Leipzig, Germany). Since 1999, she received many grants and prizes. Besides several residence bursaries in Germany inter alia at Schloss Balmoral, Bad Ems, she worked as stipendiary in the Netherlands, China, France and Croatia. In 2016, she was granted for a residence at the CCA Andratx in Mallorca (Spain).

Petra’s photo series were represented in numerous personal and group exhibitions. Furthermore her videos were shown in Germany and Europe, inter alia in France, Poland and Spain. She frequently has teaching assignments at universities, art academies or in special art projects. Since 2015, she was lecturer at the Bergische Universität in Wuppertal (University of Wuppertal, Germany)

In her works, be that in photography or video, Petra is showing supposed everyday situations, which on closer look bear surprises and ambiguities. Characteristically are clear compositions; supposed main parts or the whole pictures are captured sharply. Nevertheless, there are often unexpected components in them. The images deprive themselves from all clarity regarding the content. They are fostering uncertainty so that beholders are thrown back to themselves to find a suitable interpretation.

For the series “Stay home” she took inside photos of apartments. Nevertheless, the arrangements of the furniture are not as expected: a table is turned upside down, the mattress of a bed is folded or a rack is hiding behind a curtain.

“Täuschung und Wahrheit” (Deception and Truth) has its conflict not only in its title. Here Petra took portraits of teenagers. The camera is not focused directly on the youngsters. They are looking into a mirror and the artist photographed their mirror image. In consequence, the images are in a high degree self-portraits, where the model takes direct self-control of the expression that should be shown.

Besides # 7, which was our artwork of the month in February 2016, other images of “Where it is” are as well ambivalent. In # 1 Cédric, the protagonist of the series, is dressed in jeans and a white pullover. His posture implies that he might be struck by something in the breast, but there is no blood. In # 9 Cédric is standing in front of a window, except he is looking from outside to the inside of an apartment.

Our artwork of the month / June 2018 comes from the series “Luciferine”. Made in 2015, the sequence is shot in gardens, often at night. Developed in black and white, Petra coloured the images manually to highlight certain parts. This gives a mysterious atmosphere to the photos.

During her residency in Andratx in 2016, she concentrated on a halfpipe. Due to the different light incidences, resulting from recordings at various day and night times, the unspectacular “Ramp” appears in an atmosphere, partly romantic in twilight and at night.

These two latest, formally so different series, were united in April/May 2018 in an exhibition at the Kuk Monschau (Germany). For the interactive project “clash // Open Studio” Petra collaborated with Julia Wenz. From December 2017 until March 2018 visitors could bring personal belongings to the Dortmunder U. wenz’n warras arranged them in front of projected photos of artworks from regional museums. The collages thus created where published in a printed edition.