The Event of a Thread | Das Ereignis eines Fadens

Ulla von Brandenburg

Ulla von Brandenburg (b. 1974) lives and works in Paris. She graduated from the University of Fine Arts of Hamburg in 2004, and studied scenography and media art at Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design from 1995 to 1998. In 2016, von Brandenburg was appointed professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, Karlsruhe. She works at the intersection between performance and the fine arts: in her films, installations, performances, textile works and drawings, she addresses social and historical questions using methods and approaches drawn from theatre. Boundaries between the actor and the viewer, between reality and illusion, are blurred by aspects of staging and theatre, here acting as metaphors for human interaction. Central themes in her work include mirrors and shadows, as well as cultural and historical references. Her works have been internationally exhibited, among other venues at the Biennale di Venezia (2009), the Lyon Biennale (2011), the Sydney Biennale (2014), the Centre Pompidou, Paris (2016) and Power Plant, Toronto. Forthcoming solo exhibitions include the Produzentengalerie Hamburg and the Whitechapel Gallery, London (2018).

Ulla von Brandenburg: Flying Geese, 2017, three patchworks, various fabrics; photo: Uwe Walther, © Ulla von Brandenburg
Ulla von Brandenburg: Flying Geese, 2017, three patchworks, various fabrics; photo: Uwe Walther, © Ulla von Brandenburg
Ulla von Brandenburg: Flying Geese, 2017, three patchworks, various fabrics; photo: Uwe Walther, © Ulla von Brandenburg

Flying Geese, 2017, three patchworks; photos: Uwe Walther, © Ulla von Brandenburg

The point of departure of this series of patchworks is the history of African-American quilts in the Underground Railroad, an informal network of secret routes used by enslaved people of African descent in the United States in the early nineteenth century to escape to free states with the help of opponents of slavery, both black and white, free and enslaved. Quilts were encoded with visual information, containing visual advice for the fugitives. The wagon wheel pattern, for instance, indicated to prepare for fleeing. The routes led from the southern states to the north, as well to Mexico and overseas. Von Brandenburg has a personal relationship with quilts and thus a strong fascination for the visual language of these objects. And she refers to fabrics’ potential for memorizing history and stories. The compositions are created using old clothing, curtains, tablecloths, and other fabric remnants, recalling quilting aesthetics and techniques and the Pattern and Decoration movement in the United States, as well as modernist uses of forms. In her series, von Brandenburg excerpts parts of the pattern, using it to develop a new patchwork that highlights formal compositions, which in turn can be linked to the history of modern art.