Eye-Opening Statements

A series of identical eyes, tear-stained with blotchy makeup, stares at us, one-by-one, from an LED panel. The first three are blurry, but we get a clearer picture by the third shot. A series of imperatives is written below each pupil; the words “Remember me”, “Dismember Me” and “Dishevel Me” morph into “Ensnare Us”, “Embrace Us” and “Replace Us.” The chilling piece is called Untitled (Remember Me) (1998/2020). It’s in the signature style of renowned American conceptual artist and collagist Barbara Kruger (b. 1945). Her work is instantly recognisable with its use of black and white images overlayed with red and white text. Remember Me is one of the striking videos in her new exhibition at Serpentine Gallery. The show, titled Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You, will include numerous installations and moving image works. These include some projects that reference earlier productions as well as others that are completely new. Soundscapes will also address attendees across different parts of the building, and the digital exhibition space, Outernet Arts, will showcase her work on large-scale, immersive wraparound screens from 4 March. It marks Kruger’s first solo institutional show in London for 20 years.

Kruger borrows the language and visuals of advertising, graphic design and magazines to illustrate the mechanisms of power, gender, class and capital. A prime example is one of her most famous pieces, Untitled (I shop therefore I am), (1987/2019). Here, we see a hand that extends from the bottom right corner of Kruger’s signature scarlet border. On top of this found photograph is a text box that states the name of the artwork in bold letters. The words play on 17th century philosopher and scientist René Descartes’ (1596-1650) often-referenced dictum: “I think, therefore I am.” The image-maker returns to this piece in this show. It’s amongst four other “replays”. Now, the original is shattered into puzzle fractures. Slowly, they reassemble into new sentences: ‘I shop therefore I hoard’ / ‘I need therefore I shop’ / ‘I love therefore I need’ / ‘I am therefore I hate’ / ‘I sext therefore I am’ / ‘I die therefore I was.’ Kruger breaks apart her initial declaration of consumerism, using the fragments to engage with timeless themes of love, hate and death.

Kruger is known for simple textual and visual combinations that challenge audience’s ideas about complex and prevalent societal issues. Another “replay” is the moving image work Untitled (Your Body is a Battleground),1989/2019. The earlier edition showed a woman’s face cut in half vertically. On one side is a black and white photograph, whilst the other shows its negative. The title statement is plastered on the subject’s brows, nose and chin. Your Body is a Battleground was made in in 1937 as new anti-abortion laws threatened women’s reproductive rights and bodily autonomy. It was the poster for the Women’s March on Washington and has since been translated into many languages and used in protests across the globe. The image is a rare but powerful anomaly in an oeuvre typically dedicated to “ongoing commentary” over “issue-specific” topics. The poster has become prominent once more following the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe V Wade in June 2022. Reflecting on the enduring relevance of her art, Kruger states: “It would be great if my work became archaic, if the issues that they try to present, the commentary that I’m trying to suggest was no longer pertinent. Unfortunately, that is not the case at this point.”

New work on display confronts audiences in different ways. For instance, Untitled (Forever), 2017, is an immersive site-specific installation. White walls are covered in quotes from George Orwell and Virginia Woolf. They envelope the viewer. The pronoun “You.” appears magnified at the end of the room. Thinking ofYou. I MeanMe. I Mean You tracks the evolution of the artist’s practice from past to present – whilst looking towards the future. In an interview with Serpentine’s Artistic Director, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Kruger discusses why she chose to re-examine the images that became so “iconic.” She reflects: “It’s very complex how so-called histories are made, who becomes visible and who is not visible, who is central and who is marginalised, who is major and who is minor – all the binaries, which I really disagree with.” What words and images stay in our memories? What (and who) fades over time? These questions ring with the Untitled (Remember Me). Discussing this piece, Kruger explains that “we all have our ‘use by’ dates, so Remember me, 1988, is both a very honest overture and a kind of ironic stating of the case that we’re just not going to be around forever. Who is remembered and who is forgotten is also a result of social hierarchies.”

Serpentine, Barbara Kruger: Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You. | Until 17 March


Words: Diana Bestwish Tetteh

Image Credits:

  1. Barbara Kruger: Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You.,(Installation view, 1 February – 17 March 2024, Serpentine South) Photo: George Darrell.
  2. Barbara Kruger: Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You.,(Installation view, 1 February – 17 March 2024, Serpentine South) Photo: George Darrell.
  3. Barbara Kruger Untitled (No Comment), 2020, Three-channel video installation, colour, sound, 9 min. 25 sec. Installation view, BARBARA KRUGER: THINKING OF YOU. I MEAN ME. I MEAN YOU. The Art Institute of Chicago – AIC, Chicago, September 19, 2021-January 24, 2022, Courtesy the artist and Sprüth Magers, Photo: The Art Institute of Chicago.
  4. Barbara Kruger: Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You.,(Installation view, 1 February – 17 March 2024, Serpentine South) Photo: George Darrell.