Kerstin Honeit at Gallery 400
Berlin artist Honeit discusses her gender-bending show "Ambiguity Is My Weapon."
“When my father died,” German artist Kerstin Honeit tells me, “I discovered that I had nine half-siblings scattered throughout East and West Berlin. I saw their names, ages and addresses in a copy of his will. I was a love child, not an official member of the family. I decided that I would try to become what I imagined each of my half-siblings looked like and pose in the neighborhoods where they actually lived.”
The result is (pictured, 2007–10), an installation of photographs in Honeit’s brave Gallery 400 show “Ambiguity Is My Weapon.” Each of the photographs in Becoming 10 has a name attached to it. In one, the tall, blond artist, made up like a male biker, sits on a bench in front of a hot-dog stand. Honeit wears a gray baseball hat over tangled shoulder-length hair, sideburns, a frayed jean vest and leather armbands. The combination of the little glowing hot dog on the stand’s roof and the artist’s campy outfit is hilarious, but her set jaw signals she’s serious: She’s trying in earnest to become someone else. In other portraits, Honeit, who’s in her early thirties, becomes a young man in pajamas and a middle-aged woman walking her dog.
When asked why she didn’t try to meet her half-siblings, Honeit, a sculptor, performer and set designer, says, “I’m not ready to take that step. Maybe I will one day, but for now this was as close as I could get. It was a way for me to conceive of myself as part of the family, as the tenth child.”
Becoming 10 conveys a vulnerability as it lets viewers in on Honeit’s secret. It reminds us that trauma can necessitate a kind of distancing that feels like an awkward joke. It’s also as transfixing as Gillian Wearing’s self-portrait in the 2010 MCA exhibition “Rewind,” in which the British artist completely transforms herself to look like her metalhead adolescent brother.
In Honeit’s 2010 video installation On and Off, the artist creates a Beckett-like epic standstill as she walks on- and off-screen in a black suit and tie, trying to deliver a eulogy, waiting for a place to mourn that never arrives. “I couldn’t go to my father’s funeral, so I performed what it would have been like,” she explains. The soundtrack is composed of her friends’ descriptions of their fathers’ funerals.
The show’s third work, the split-screen video projection Position #1, continues Honeit’s series asking women to stand in neighborhoods where they feel unsafe—here, East Berlin and Humboldt Park. Though less personal than Becoming 10 and On and Off, it also reveals the elusive nature of belonging, as Honeit subverts our assumptions about identity and place.
“Ambiguity Is My Weapon” is on view atthrough March 12.