Robert Fleck

Early spring 1991. The press opening of Metropolis, an internationally heralded major exhibition in Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau, right next to the Wall separating East and West Germany, overrun by demonstrators only a few months previously. It still almost completely surrounded the building, in which a third major Berlin exhibition was to take place following Zeitgeist in 1982 and Zeitlos in 1988. Unseasonably, it snowed on 11 April. At the press opening two unknown, unusual creatures suddenly appeared in the hall, sexless, hybrid beings of an angelic appearance. They had invited themselves, and they intended to stay.

Their clothing was extravagant, and impossible to define in terms of fashion, bizarre and comprehensible at the same time, most readily comparable to costume experiments from the early twentieth century, in Russian Constructivism for example. Were they a bridal couple that had inadvertently strayed into the international exhibition on its pre-opening? Their entrance was too perfectly executed and deliberate for that. Or were they a new artist pair engaged in a life and work project like Gilbert & George from the 1970s and, on another plane, since never united in their private lives, Peter Fischli and David Weiss? You had the overall impression that this was no coincidence. The way the two were identically dressed and behaving like hybrids from the future showed that this was a concept, a work in progress. Two artists whose existence was previously unsuspected, were demonstrating a new concept of artistic presence, artistic activity and artistic behaviour.

The professionals at the Metropolis press opening – media people, gallerists, museum people – were not at all happy about their unannounced appearance. You could hear all sorts of comments. The first appearance of EVA & ADELE could not be overlooked. The most common response was that “two unknown performing artists have crowded into an exhibition to which they were not invited.”

The nervous art professionals’ first reaction missed the point. They also underestimated EVA & ADELE’s staying power. Today, more than thirty years a er that inaugural scene, their concept is unchanged, and they persist as important figures at the centre of the art scene and contemporary artistic reality. They are accordingly an outstanding example of the fact that you do not have to work your way up in the art business or curry favour with it in order to be recognised as an artist.

To this day EVA & ADELE have preserved the novelty, the unforeseen nature of that beginning and the unpredictability of their work. Theirs are among the rare works that are already “finished” on first appearance, that do not initially appear to be talented but still tentative approaches, but are fully perfected from the start, aesthetically, conceptually, in formal idiom, design and expected reception, but without being inflexible. In the intervening three decades they have steadily continued to develop. More and more interrelated groups of works have been added. Yet the original concept, the original form of the work required no correction. That is very rare, the sign of a very special quality.

That quality is expressed on three levels. The work of EVA & ADELE is performative in nature, but at the same time picture-oriented, based on a pictorial culture. This connection is particularly interesting. During their appearances at exhibitions and art fairs as well as in everyday life, EVA & ADELE do not have a lot to say. They do not refuse to speak when spoken to, and are always friendly. But they do not explain their work, which consists of their appearing like “beings from the future” and intersex creatures, in earlier times called “angels.” Instead they have catchwords, like “FUTURING”, that summarise it without truly explaining it, so that its meaning remains ambiguous. The freedom to interpret EVA & ADELE’s appearance is part of the a raction for all kinds of viewers, who starting from the art scene are found in all realms of society and in the most varied cultures of our globalised present, whether in face-to-face encounters or via the media.

They readily allow themselves to be photographed with people who wish it. Such interaction was predicated from the start, and is standard practice. Historically, this comes at the time of an epochal democratisation of the picture, extending from the analogue disposable cameras of the early 1990s to the portable analogue video cameras later carried by the majority of tourists, to the first digital pocket cameras around the turn of the century, and on to smartphones, which have been taking photographs and making films at no cost whatever for fi een years now. The number of photos and films being made worldwide has multiplied exponentially.

EVA & ADELE’s routine has remained the same. People ask “May we take a photo of you with us?” – and they respond: “Of course. Please send it to us.” We see the degree to which their performance-based work is media-driven. This work is titled CUM – Latin for “with.” In it, people become active collaborators, eager fellow-actors. The pair’s request for a copy of the picture as they provide their address on a postcard is crucial; the process is what ma ers in this interactive picture production.

Since its beginnings in 1991, the form of the picture provoked by EVA & ADELE’s performative appearance with other people has been that of a solo or collective self-portrait together with EVA & ADELE. The smartphone brought with it a new term for such a snapshot, the “selfie,” one of the most widespread picture forms in present-day popular culture. EVA & ADELE had anticipated and systematically cultivated this new picture form and how it related to their own identity and appearance by more than three decades. At the same time, with the accumulation and interrogation of the self-portrait in various forms, an analytical quality is added to their work for exhibitions, collectors, galleries and museums – the daily Polaroid self-portraits and the reflection on their image in drawings, paintings and videos with the stamp and the logo EVA & ADELE.

In a further respect the work of EVA & ADELE involves a comprehensive restructuring of life, an experimental transformation of the sexes and a reversal of the dimension of time in both personal and artistic ways. For my own part, the scales fell from my eyes in late 1998 when I first visited EVA & ADELE in their studio-apartment in Berlin-Schöneberg. Only

in conversation did I come to recognise that they not only appear at exhibitions and art fairs in their self-designed garments, which cannot be situated in the history of fashion and at most have precedents in avant-garde art from the first half of the twentieth century and the Performance movement of the 1970s: they spend their entire lives in them, from dashing across to the bakery to visiting to the Turkish, Greek, and Russian seamstresses of whom they are the main customers, and even while jogging.

During a joint stay in Brittany in 2001 it became clear that their way of life is not entirely without its dangers. They are constantly aware that objections to their appearance can lead to violence. Accordingly, they have developed various defensive techniques, the most eðective of which is simply approaching offenders and handing them a postcard. This problem is especially apparent if you have a chance to spend time with EVA & ADELE outside the art scene.

Their work, which makes no distinction between everyday life and the art business, takes on the features of a life wholly conceived as a work of art. Nietzsche’s exhortation to “make your life a work of art”, fundamental to Happening and Fluxus or the Body Art of the 1960s and 70s, has here been radically and consistently obeyed in ways that “political correctness,” fomented around 1990, failed to foresee.

Their costuming plays a significant role in this, seeming to come from some diðerent planet. Viewers who become co-conspirators by way of photographs find it impossible to place. It evades all references, and at the same time its flamboyance, its eccentricity, the totality of its colours and sculptural forms give it the quality of a manifesto. Within their comprehensively designed lives it conveys the transformation and negation of genders, or their boundaries and their fusion – a central message of EVA & ADELE, and key to their artistic work. When we consider how concealed such subjects were in artistic and social discourse around 1990, although anticipated by a few subcurrents of avant-garde art like the “Transformers” of the 1970s, and how openly they are debated today, we come to appreciate EVA & ADELE’s pathbreaking role in raising issues touching on a younger generation’s innermost identities.

Importantly, they do so constantly in their art and lives, although deliberately without reference to themselves, leaving their own relation to gender theory undisclosed. This is made possible by the reversal of the dimension of time so crucial to their whole project. In 1991 EVA & ADELE amiably but assertively announced: “We come from the future.” This suggests that we consider our own lives and society in such terms. At first glance it strikes us as a dizzying challenge. Only at second glance, from their work, which has something light-footed, altogether easy-going in its aspirations, does it become clear how greatly it can benefit artistic activity to think of yourself as coming from the future. Legitimation of their own artistic creativity and thinking within the more recent and older art tradition becomes unnecessary. How liberating! And in fact, there is something liberating about EVA & ADELE’s “FUTURING” as well. It relieves viewers, at least momentarily, of the burden of past and present.

The work of EVA & ADELE is exemplary in a third respect: the way it has erected on a performative basis a three-dimensional work of complexity, stringency and inner tension. This could hardly be foreseen during EVA & ADELE’s first purely physical appearances on the international art scene during the course of the 1990s. Most people thought their work consisted solely of those appearances. Since they made them as uninvited artists at certain exhibition openings, they were controversial. In the art business EVA & ADELE were strongly a acked. Only with the first exhibitions of their sculptural work, as at the Sprengel Museum Hanover in 1997 and at the important Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont in Paris in 2000, did the whole range of their work created on a performative basis became apparent. And

then there is the fact that their work demonstrates how a complex three-dimensional work that would be unthinkable without this prerequisite can be developed from carefully conceived performative work coinciding with a lifestyle.

If we accept EVA & ADELE’s “FUTURING” standpoint, their work will possibly stand at an intersection of multiple trends that cannot be clearly identified as yet, but that will define the art of our future.