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Built Textiles

Alke Reeh’s Subtle Art of Form Analogy


Alke Reeh’s ability to discern resemblances and differences, which according to Walter Benjamin is based on an “appreciation for similarities,” was sharpened by her use of photography. Her juxtapositions of photographs, even if their subject matter originated in locations remote from each other, show resemblances of forms and structures, which might otherwise go unnoticed. Around 1900, an increasing number of pictorial atlases emerged which drew their fascination from such resemblances. A famous example is Karl Blossfeldt’s photo volume Urformen der Kunst (1905-1925) in which the austere black-and-white photographic studies of diverse plant forms frequently juxtaposed, resemble precisely formed ornaments and architectural details.
Even if Alke Reeh is not in search of universal Urformen [basic forms], her art rests on a discernment of observation, which, inasmuch as it is largely informed by photographic imagery, is essentially based on an analytical and associative analogy of forms juxtaposed beyond the context of their origin and relative proportions and compared by association.
Alke Reeh photographs architectural elements that particularly interest her and in such a way that the visual form itself becomes a reference to unusual new relationships. The cupola of a Russian Orthodox Church taken out of scale for example appears like the convex form of a cup.
Again and again the artist examines the relationship of inner and outer as in the photo- or collage series “Einblick – Ausblick [Insight – Outlook]” for which she scanned ornamental elements in Antwerp lace, mounting them over photographed motifs in such a way that the lace creates the impression of a semi-transparent rectangular window through which that lying beyond it can be distinguished only faintly. The concept of architecture as a membrane between the inner and the outer, conforms with the system-theoretical definition established by Dirk Baecker: "Regardless of how architecture is designed, presented, used, and inhabited we only recognize it as architecture when we can enter and leave and when while entering and leaving the relationships change, that certain happen or may be expected to happen inside rather than outside.”
Thus “architecture itself can be considered as the difference between inner and outer.”

Other images in the series “Einblick – Ausblick”, present views that are not rectangular but consist of circular connected decorative forms resembling rosettes, these forms also correspond to this definition. While on the one hand photographs allow architectural elements to appear like small objects or even textiles, textiles themselves on the other hand may appear to have the substantiality of architecture. In the same series, some images of interiors and building facades photographed in Germany and India, architecture and textiles are intertwined. All of them have been overlaid by embroidered threads, which often continue beyond the lower boundary of the picture frame. The embroidered patterns appear in the same size that we usually find in tablecloths, curtains, and clothing, however, in relation to the photographed interiors and buildings, which in the photographs are greatly reduced in relation to their actual dimensions, compared to their actual size, the lace ornaments, especially those in front of the facades, appear like thick ropes, evoking associations with robust construction elements such as iron gates through which one views the motif.

A subtle play of associations and expectations resulting from the forms and materials employed occurs especially in Alke Reeh’s sculptural works. Numerous “Skirts and Patterns” do not consist of textiles but are nevertheless often covered or partly covered by them. The white, curved hollow forms are constructed of plaster and are not only reminiscent of clothing but also of cupolas. This formal analogy of clothing and architecture is a reference to various forms of “dwellings” or “skins” which have a more or less immediate relationship to the human body. This pertains not only to the analogy of the form but also to the position of the body in our perception. For cupolas and skirts are similar in that one can look into them from below although this is accompanied by very different associations: sublime and religious feelings on one hand and rather the opposite on the other, shifting not only the rule of scale but also the social rule.
It is not possible to wear the “skirts” since their plaster forms are as rigid as the walls of a building, however a series of sewn blankets patterned after stalactite formations are made from soft textiles. Spread out, these blankets that Alke Reeh has realized in various colors and sizes yield rosette-like circular forms whose regular, kaleidoscopic internal structure formed by the seams is reminiscent of a church rose window. When not mounted spread out on a wall, the blankets can also be allowed to collapse irregularly like sacks, resulting in associations of a quite different but distinctly familiar form of dwelling, namely the tent that we might carry with us and temporarily erect when traveling.
The formal analogies, which Alke Reeh repeatedly establishes by taking elements out of their context and usual scale, are not arbitrary. Resemblances exist not only extrinsically, but refer almost always also to function. The fact, that the artist finds her motifs in various cultural contexts, does not result in a suggestive universe of alleged universally valid basic forms but is rather a modest artistic suggestion that we perceive the world as though it is permeated by a musical rhythm and to let the forms correspond to each other like sounds. This way of seeing is surely influenced by the potential of photography but is sculpturally and extensively adopted by Alke Reeh in various materials in such a way that not only the eye but also the entire body of the viewer is drawn into a visual rhythm.

Ludwig Seyfarth



Dirk Baecker, “Die Dekonstruktion der Schachtel, Innen und Außen in der Architektur”, in: Niklas Luhmann, Frederick D. Bunsen, Dirk Baecker, Unbeobachtbare Welt. Über Kunst und Architektur, Bielefeld 1990, S. 67-104, p. 83.