Museum Kunstpalast, 2017
Rückenfigur #5, Bottrop 2010; Rückenfigur King Kobra, Osaka 2014; Rückenfigur #1, Nara 2012

Rückenfigur #5, Bottrop 2010
pigment print, 80 cm x 61 cm in artist’s frame, edition: 5

Rückenfigur #2, Nara 2012
pigment print, 80 cm x 61 cm in artist’s frame, edition: 5

Rückenfigur #3, Nara 2012
pigment print, 80 cm x 61 cm in artist’s frame, edition: 5

Mizuuchi« Osaka 2014
pigment print, 80 cm x 61 cm in artist’s frame, edition: 5

Salon #7, 2018

Rückenfigur #1, Nara 2012
pigment print, 80 cm x 61 cm in artist’s frame, edition: 5

Drop out Punk« Osaka 2014
pigment print, 80 cm x 61 cm in artist’s frame, edition: 5

Mariko Takeuchi in Photoworks 23, Kyoto 2016

Katja Stuke and Oliver Sieber are artists ‘on the street’. They are photographers, artists, editors and designers in a unit called Böhm, and curators and organisers of the photography event ANT!FOTO, which they co-founded. Whatever they engage in, the sources of their inspiration are always people and images they encounter in public spaces. Based on continuous efforts to research and interview, they produce artworks for galleries and museums, along with printed materials, website projects and interventions in the streets.

Japan has been an important location for their creativity for over a decade. Japanese Lesson started as a collection of their favourite images from Japan. After the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, it evolved into videos and objects showing the past and present of protests and activism in the country, which they felt had not received enough recognition. In 2016 they began to juxtapose parts of their solo projects, to create a new chapter for the project. Katja took street photos in places all over the world where she left stickers of Minami Minegishi, a member of the popular Japanese idol group AKB48, who is crying with shaved hair; Oliver took portraits of individuals from subcultures, seen from the back.
At first glance, these two series appear quite different from each other. The background of Katja’s series Crying Minami is a unique and sometimes controversial part of the Japanese entertainment industry. Just like many other idols, members of AKB48 have ‘no dating’ rules, to foster the idea that they belong to the fans and so keep their interest. In other words, the members are unable to decide their future by themselves. When Minami broke this rule, she shaved her hair to express her deep regret, and immediately released a video of herself on YouTube. Shaving one’s hair is akin to suicide for Japanese idols, by destroying their ‘femininity’, but surprisingly she also begged the fans to keep her in AKB48.
This behaviour can easily be criticised for its melodramatic invocation of an altogether more tragic history of women’s shaven heads. And, as we can see in the photographs, some of the stickers are scratched and damaged by people who found them offensive. But viewed from a different angle, her crying face also reminds us of how difficult it is to escape from the idealisation of women, especially in public spaces, where it plays out, daily, across screens, billboards and posters. Like a graffiti writer, Katja leaves these stickers on the streets to expose her crying face to various lines of sight, crossing the border between pop culture and subculture, as well as between street and fine art.

Oliver’s portraits can more immediately be recognised as concerning subcultures. These photographs depict the young people the artist encountered at clubs and streets in Tokyo and Osaka. Seen from the back, they can only be identified through their hairstyles and clothes—some are evidently into punk or heavy metal; others are less identifiable. Finding multiple elements of influences from Western culture, some viewers might regard these subcultures as ‘fake,’ but this ignores the fact that culture is a hybrid form. The street is the primary site for this hybridisation to occur, and it stands out here more than in any other places. Oliver’s photographs precisely describe the details of individual members of different subcultures as though witnessing the ongoing transition of culture itself.
The new chapter of Japanese Lesson, which combines these two series, evokes the idea that culture is fundamentally grounded in transgression and hybridity. By moving out of our comfort zone, viewers are led to a new interpretation of the world we live in.

Rückenfigur King Kobra, Osaka 2014
pigment print, 80 cm x 61 cm in artist’s frame, edition: 5

Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz, Musterung 2020

Innerhalb seiner fotografischen Arbeit nimmt das Porträt seit vielen Jahren das zentrale Interesse von Oliver Sieber ein. Als Genre, das mit Aspekten der Identität in vielschichtiger Weise verbunden ist, interessieren ihn besonders »Phänomene wie Gruppenzugehörigkeiten und Identitätsbildung (…). Geschlechterzugehörigkeiten, das Erwachsenwerden, Sich-zueinander-in-Beziehung-Setzen.« Er porträtiert Jugendliche, die ihm auf Partys, Konzerten und Events begegnen und die sich die Freiheit nehmen, ihren Weg jenseits des Mainstreams zu gehen, darunter Punks, Psychobillies, Gothic Lolitas, Transgender oder Künstlerfreund:innen. Sieber zeigt Menschen, die ihn inspirieren und die sich nach außen den Habitus der Subkultur zulegen, gleichzeitig aber bereits selbst wieder identitätsstiftende Muster und Zugehörigkeiten erkennbar werden lassen. In den auf das Gesicht konzentrierten, bisweilen Schulter- und Brustpartie einbeziehenden Bildnissen vor dunklem, neutral gehaltenem Hintergrund fallen insbesondere der Kleidungsstil, die Frisur und der angelegte Schmuck der Dargestellten auf. Jedes Detail kommt so zur Entfaltung und entwickelt seinen eigenen Klang. Sieber reflektiert die unterschwelligen Gruppenzugehörigkeiten, indem er lesbare Chiffren für Gleichgesinnte fokussiert, präsentiert die fotografierten Menschen in der von ihnen bevorzugten Gruppe jedoch höchst individuell und sich von jeder Konformität distanzierend.
Durch die Gegenüberstellung seines seriellen Ansatzes und das Herausarbeiten von einzigartigen Persönlichkeiten in seinen Porträts, befragt er die Konstruktion und Konstitution von Identität und (non-)konformen Lebensentwürfen. Ein weiterer Aspekt ist die Endlichkeit des Lebens, der sich Sieber mit dem fotografischen Festhalten der Jugend entgegenstellt. Sabine Maria Schmidt

Die Krupps« 2018
pigment print, 80 cm x 61 cm in artist’s frame, edition: 5

Exhibitions (selection):
2020 Musterung« Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz
2019 Sequence as a dialogue« Kunsthalle Gießen
2017 DIE GROSSE« Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf

Stadtmuseum Düsseldorf