Alex Lebus



Alex Lebus has long since found her central artistic theme. This is by no means the mirror, which one would suspect at first glance, because the artist so often uses it as pictorial material. However, the reflections are not ends in themselves but serve as a means to an end for the purpose of formulating a question that lies behind it in aesthetic—to some extent crystal-clear—terms. Yet she is essentially concerned with the grand theme of inversion. It is delight in contradiction, in the reversal of things, in ambivalences and their exposure that drives Alex Lebus.

That she uses mirrors is fitting. Their two-faced nature leads us to believe that they are objective and reflect what is in front of them in real time. Do they therefore not serve the purpose of self-awareness and self-reflection? But mirrors slyly change sides, so that they can alienate what is being reflected to the point of recognizability. We humans hardly notice this, because by comparison our bodies are arranged relatively symmetrically—but we are stymied by mirror writing. What mysterious and dialectical tools mirrors are! They powerfully and lustrously spread falsehoods where we seek truths. Alex Lebus takes advantage of this deceitful feature. For example, she mirrors the English word "ME" in such as way that it is transformed into a "WE," both visually and in terms of content. The vile twist of the letter "M" is accompanied by a poetic and almost romantic turn. Suddenly, "ME" was always embedded in "WE," like the other way around "WE" first comes about with "ME": "ME" and "WE" depend on each other. Viewers are subject to this insight the moment they reflect themselves, which presents further confusion. Is the individual viewer at this point a "ME" or a "WE"? Does the individual get lost in the crowd without noticing it—like in the Monty Python movie The Life of Brian, in which the crowd confirms in unison: "Yes, we are all different"? Can the viewer gain insight although the mirror is lying? It is precisely these strange entanglements and paradoxes from which Alex Lebus takes her ideas and which she—again remaining loyal to the thought pattern of the contrast—artistically translates in aesthetically cool precision.

Now we have arrived at the second artistic means that can often be found in Alex Lebus's works and likewise serves to generate polarities: writing. It turns up in various ways, in many cases in combination with mirrors. The artist always avails herself of mirrors already used before by partially scratching off their reverse sides, for example to reveal terms like Lust, INOUT, or haute Créature. She uses mechanical tools and a variety of chemical agents to tackle the industrially manufactured surfaces—mirrors from different periods require different treatments, which Alex Lebus painstakingly tests each time. Here, we again encounter a contrasting pair, namely leaving something as it is and scratching something off: sometimes the lettering is removed, so that the viewer can look behind the mirror through the letters; other times, the letters themselves reflect their own shape, while the remainder of the surface, from which the reflecting layer has been removed, becomes transparent glass. It is the old subject of figure and ground that comes to bear here. This approach turns out to be a sophisticated move: the viewer is no longer sure what accounts for the existence of the recognizable word—what has been removed or what remains? Uncertainties of this kind are part of the artistic maneuver.

Alex Lebus's—deliberately narrow—choice of words is surrounded by fundamental questions of existence, by verisimilitudes. Within the scope of her Hegenbarth grant, in 2014 she worked on a mirror until all that was left was "Lust." Attached to the wall like a shelf, the curved script is illuminated in such a way that it is reflected upward on the wall and can be easily read. Lust shines there in all of its splendor and temptation. At the same time—and here the power of the opponent is exposed—a shadow is cast downward, where the word is transformed into an unreadable, if beautiful, and seductive loop. Alex Lebus makes it possible to visually experience how far-reaching the range of lust is: from light pleasure, indulgence, and playful fun to wanton desire and wild longing. Top and bottom, bright and shadowy illustrates the spectrum of the sensation of "Lust" and reveals how ambivalent a feeling can be.

She addresses something similar in another mirror work from 2014 in which the letters INOUT have been scratched out. The viewer's gaze penetrates the word—into and through the plate of glass and out again. Reading and consummating fall into one. The fact that Alex Lebus is inquiring into existence in this work, into the relationship between the individual and the world, is now no longer bewildering. In this case it is about the togetherness and interpenetration of "in" and "out" that defines our life. From the metabolism (breathing, eating, drinking, excreting) and reproduction (sexual intercourse, birth) to violence and illness (injuries), our everyday life consists of a single, constant exchange between inside and outside. Here, the physical becomes a metaphor that includes both a social and a political dimension.

Alex Lebus, a trained designer, puts an important third ingredient in the balance: the aesthetic of the sparkling consumer world designed for seduction. She ruthlessly polarizes it here and fights against the supremacy of the advertising industry. For example, with a great sense of humor and a feeling for the subtleties of design, she pointedly set the newly coined word DUTIER in wide uppercase letters, thus creating a brand that consciously orients itself toward the lettering of the fashion designer and perfume manufacturer Jean Paul "GAULTIER." Receptive to advertising messages and long since a slave to advertising strategies, the viewer quite naturally reads DUTIER like it would be pronounced in French. In doing so, he or she has already been hornswoggled by Alex Lebus—to her great delight. Because the small separation inserted between "DU" and "TIER" (German for "you" and "animal") knocks any consumer of luxury products back down a peg: Du Tier!—the human being as an animal. The fact that perfume only serves to mask an animal-like smell naturally resonates in this work. As a sticker or a stamp, but also produced on mirrors, Alex Lebus uses the aesthetic and distribution channels of the advertising industry and exposes them with her own means. The artist succeeds in causing the viewer to suddenly experience the brand of perfume as "Gaul Tier" (German for "horse animal").

The word acrobat aims in the same direction in her mirror work haute Créature. This time she is addressing high-priced upscale custom fashion, "haute couture," which is confronted with the term "creature," with which it can easily be confused. The high art of luxury clothing encounters the "creature," which is often preceded by the adjective "poor"; creature as a derisive label for an inferior living thing that is menially devoted to a superior one. Viewers cannot elude the web of relationships, as they are reflected in the work of art and therefore a part of it: they are the creatures. From the highest luxury product to a wretched living thing: the social schism cannot get any wider. Yet this work would not be by Alex Lebus if other content-related connections had not been considered. Are consumers not enslaved themselves? Are they possibly the real servants in the capitalist works? Yet the highlight of this work is the ambiguity of the root word of "Créature." It stems from the Latin verb creare and implies creating and designing. Alex Lebus has secretly smuggled in her own profession into an existing term, to a certain extent placing it on a pedestal and thus ennobling it: the "haute Créateur."

In Alex Lebus's works, viewers set out on winding paths on an expedition and are surprised by the numerous references, chasms, and highs. The artist is ruthless in her anti-consumerist stance, clear in her judgment, and energetic in her artistic volition. Her visual creations are precise in their craftsmanship, bold in their execution, and poetic in their language. In the exploration of opposites they are affirmative and subversive in equal measure; they alternate between cynical pessimism and dauntless optimism. And in this respect, too, Alex Lebus remains loyal to herself.

Text by Carolin Quermann