Anya Harrison on Sibylle Ruppert

The opening pages of Georges Bataille’s 1928 novella, Story of the Eye, recount a violent three-way sex scene on the edge of a cliff. As the libidinal frenzy nears its peak, rain starts to fall, introducing mud and dirt into the already visceral cocktail of piss, cum, and other bodily fluids in free flow. If this literary vignette had a visual equivalent, it might well be the Sisyphean compositions of Sibylle Ruppert, in which hybrid limbs, flesh, machinery, and the natural elements all commingle and fuse into one another without beginning or end, obliterating any notion of bodily integrity. Bataille, the Marquis de Sade, and Comte de Lautréamont make up the unholy trinity who nourished Ruppert’s dark fantasies. The violent explosiveness of eroticism, desire, pain, destruction, and resurgence so dear to those authors is channeled in the thirty paintings, drawings, and works on paper from the 1970s and early ’80s that composed the artist’s first posthumous survey, curated by Pierre-Alexandre Mateos and Charles Teyssou.

The charcoal-and-crayon drawing La lune violente (The Violent Moon), 1979, shows a crescent moon tearing into the shoulder of a human figure whose mouth twists in agony as their facial features dissolve and melt into a whiplash of some viscous spray. In another drawing, Dessin pour D.A.F. de SADE, 1976, a figure with male genitalia and female breasts is strangled and devoured by two creatures whose muscled torsos morph simultaneously into the sharpened beaks of birds of prey and the head of a phallus. The composition brings to mind Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son, ca. 1820–23, or the contorted bodies of the Hellenistic sculpture of Laocoön and His Sons. Born to the sound of aerial bombardments in Frankfurt in 1942, Ruppert settled in Paris in 1976. There, she showed at Bijan Aalam, a since forgotten gallery that specialized in dark esotericism, and she maintained a lasting close friendship with H. R. Giger. (On display was a Giger-designed aluminum Urn, 2007, holding some of Ruppert’s ashes.) Her work, however, does not share his penchant for the hard-edged biomechanical forms reminiscent of science fiction. Ruppert’s bodies are always on the cusp of violently unbecoming and dissipating into ether. Her magnum opus, the four-panel large-format drawing La Bible du Mal (The Bible of Evil), 1978, for example, is like the malevolent twin of Genesis, a cosmic soup of human, insect, amphibian, and other forms that all appear as if pumped up on steroids and bathed in the light of a sanguine sun.

The majority of Ruppert’s compositions hint at spaces of nightmarishly cosmological proportions, and a latent eroticism is similarly pervasive. Forms that mutate into sexual organs engaged in acts of penetration and ingestion take on a distinctly homoerotic edge with the introduction of biker motifs and a BDSM aesthetic in some small-scale drawings and collages from the late ’70s. In Le Motard (The Biker), 1978, a metal handlebar and headlight shoot up from the tattooed bicep of a male torso with pierced nipples and leather accessories. The rubber-and-leather-clad mannequin in the painting Le Sacrifice, 1980, could be straight out of a fetish-fashion wet dream.

Ruppert’s art practice seems to have halted as quickly as it had begun. Little is known about her activity following the closure of Bijan Aalam in 1982 through her death in 2011 other than that she worked as an art teacher in prisons, mental hospitals, and drug-treatment centers. The generosity of the exhibition resides in unearthing the work of this little-known artist who nonchalantly appropriated the subject matter and language of a uniquely male canon—one often accused of misogyny and sexual violence—and built her own darkly disturbing world in the process.

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