Laura Padgett

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everyday life, identity
Visual Arts (photography, video art)
America, North, Europe, Western
United States of America, Germany
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July 18, 2003
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Laura Padgett


Unusual looks at the usual

Born in the USA in 1958, Laura Padgett takes photos and makes videos and films in search of an unusual view of the usual. By fragmenting otherwise familiar surroundings, she sees them with new eyes and lends them a new identity. She lives and works in Frankfurt am Main.
While staying in England in the years 2001-02, Laura Padgett followed up a clue which she had found during an earlier visit. She had then chanced on a private museum which offered something really unusual – a ´genuine´ impression of a certain moment of English cultural history. Beside the big national collections, which are obliged to bring their presentation of exhibits into line with changing historical awareness, there was Sir John Soane´s museum, which since the death of its founder, a celebrated architect, had not been changed and offered a collection of sunny memories of English travellers. Antique trinkets, cultured comments, sketches of ruins and so on gave a lively impression of Englishmen´s longing for the Mediterranean in the early 18th century. It was a treasure trove of small accessories which often gave a more realistic view of history than did weightier items.

Laura Padgett has an eye for such accessories, mistrusting the first impression, the opulence of the monumental, and the radiance of the prominent. The fascination of her work lies in her choice of an unlikely scene or angle, debarring the humdrum. She directs our gaze not to an air-moistener, socket or nosy Japanese tourist but to the robed lap of a porcelain figure, to a crunched up piece of chocolate-wrapping or to the blank windows of a museum´s room without notable exhibits. This fragments the framework of understanding within which things are normally interpreted. The architecture of a building becomes inscrutable, and a museum loses its identity as a guardian of worthy relics, but thanks to this, each item acquires an identity of its own. It is as if Padgett, with her great concern for history, wished to say: There is no homogenous clearly classifiable visual history.

In the cycle ´morning glories´ (2000-01), which was Padgett´s first experiment with colour-photography, she shows folk more or less in their absence. She took these photos in a hotel-room where she was staying in Wales. We see an interior, amazing in its opulence yet also worrying. Flowers red, yellow and blue mingle with a flower-sea of materials and wallpaper fit to drown in. Daylight flows into the room but seems not to be enough to cheer up the haunting presence of the past. On several photos an electric lamp is burning, as if more light were needed to make daytime tolerable. The dizzying amount of pattern is surreal and stifling, and the folk who used to live with it have fled or dropped dead. Slowly, in one photo after another, the room as a whole becomes evident, like an old tale unwound in memory. A book, a coat, a used bed – here a person breathed, slept and lived. Elements, shorn of their everyday associations, acquire the aura and prestige of something special. They are handed over to the fantasy of viewers, who begin to bestow meaning on them again.

Laura Padgett often supplies her pictures, separate or in series, with texts which do not so much comment on as augment the images by supplying them with a further layer of meaning. To the cycle ´coming back´ (1996), she adds five black and white photos. On them are no humans but traces of human behaviour to be seen. There is a fountain sealed off for the winter, an empty group of stools, the numbered entrance to a barn, and a stone marker bearing the ambiguous word ´left´. The simple sentences added to or between the images open the door for viewers´ associations.

To the picture of the wrapped up fountain, opposite which is a photo of a simple pump, and to the photo of the barn-entrance with the number 5, is added the comment ´It happened again´. But what? The preparation of a garden for winter, the departure from something liked, the realisation that something is no potential home, a distaste for looking at things without evident use? Viewers are drawn into the images, and the subjects cease to be objects. Moreover, according to Laura Padgett, the images relate to each other in terms of content and also refer to other things like poems and other images. They are about leaving and the relics of what is left, and about real and romanticised memory. Indeed the works in this cycle reflect Laura Padgett´s personal past, since they were made in two lands – the USA and Germany.

Laura Padgett has not only taken photos but also made films. From 1986-88, she was involved only with film-making and made three short films and a 40 minute film about Hildegard von Bingen, some of which were shown at the Oberhauser Festival. Recently she returned to this medium.

(Translation: Phil Stanway)
Author: Stefan Zednik


Laura Padgett was born in 1958 in Cambridge in the USA. From 1976-80 she studied painting at the Pratt Institute of Art and Design in Brooklyn in New York, from 1983-85 film-making and photography under Peter Kubelka and Herbert Schwöbel at the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Kunst (Städel College) in Frankfurt am Main, and taught from 1990-92 photography and art theory at the Hochschule für Gestaltung (College for Design) in Offenbach. She took an MA in art history at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, taught photography from 1994-99 at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, and from February to March 2000 was a visiting lecturer at the Falmouth College of Arts in Britain. She has also given lectures at Yale College in Wrexham and at the Mount Ida College in Boston in Massachusetts in the USA and from 2001-02 taught at the Akademie für bildende Künste (Arts Academy) of the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz. The artists or photographers whom she esteems as predecessors are Eugène Atget, Walker Evans, Charles Sheeler, Ben Shahn and Garry Winograd.

Laura Padgett lives and works in Frankfurt am Main.


Group exhibitions

Exhibition / Installation
1989 „Kunst in Frankfurt“, Frankfurter Kunstverein 35. Internationale Westdeutsche Kurzfilmtage, Oberhausen 1990 „Women’s Films of the 80s“, Melbourne und Sydney, Australia 1991 37. Internationale Westdeutsche Kurzfilmtage, Oberhausen 1992 „Listen im Portikus“, Portikus, Frankfurt am Main 43. Internationales Filmfestival, „Film Video“ Montecatini Terme, Italy Viper Filmfestival, Bern 1994 „Fünf x Fotografie aus Frankfurt“, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt am Main 4. International Week of Experimental Film, Madrid 1996 „Prospect 96 – Photographie in der Gegenwartskunst“, Frankfurter Kunstverein/Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt am Main „fototextfoto“, Museum für Moderne Kunst Bozen/Bolzano „3x3 Stipendiaten des Künstlerhauses stellen aus“ 3.Teil, Künstlerhaus Schloß Balmoral“, Bad Ems 1997 „essentielle Nebenprodukte“, Haus am Lützowplatz, Berlin „fototextfoto“, Frankfurter Kunstverein and Fotomuseum Winterthur 1999 „Pleasure principle“, Kunstamt Kreuzberg / Bethanien, Berlin „Focus Trier“, Städtisches Museum Simeonstift, Trier „Die Liebe zu den Dingen“, Kino Arsenal, Berlin 2000 „Heimat Kunst“, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin „Baggage“, mit Joanna Jones, The Gallery, Falmouth College of Art & Wrexham Arts Centre, Gréat Britain „From Bauhaus to Boston“, mit Bill Kipp, The Gallery at Mount Ida College, Boston, Massachusetts, USA 2001 „Desire“, Ursula Blickle Stiftung „Mega Pearls,“ Haus am Kleistpark and Galerie weisser elefant, Berlin (CD-Rom) Recovered and Restored Film Festival (S-8 Section), Cineteca di Bologna 2002 „Desire“, Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Bologna, Italy 2003 „D’Après“, Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin, Italy „Art Cubicle“, Galerie & Projekte Mathias Kampl, Berlin „Kleine Formate“, Galerie Martina Detterer, Frankfurt am Main 2004 „Art Cubicle“, Galerie & Projekte Mathias Kampl, München „Querschnitt_Sezione Trasversale“, GAS Art Gallery, Turin, Italy Galerie Seitz & Partner, Berlin „Relating to Photography“, Highlights aus privaten Sammlungen, Fotografie Forum International, Frankfurt am Main „Kleine Formate“, Galerie Martina Detterer, Frankfurt am Main 2005 „Wohnen“, reel to real Filmprogramm, Mousonturm, Frankfurt am Main „Stabwechsel“, Galerie im Park, Burgdorf, Switzerland

Solo exhibitions

Exhibition / Installation
1991, 1993 Galerie Sequenz, Frankfurt am Main 1994 „Telltales“, Forum der Frankfurter Sparkasse von 1822, Frankfurt am Main 1995 „conditions of contingency“, Galerie Hübner und Thiel, Dresden 1996 „common occurrences“, Galerie KunstRaum – Klaus Hinrichs, Trier 1998 „systematische Erneuerungen“, dirty windows, Berlin 1999 „Marginalia“, Goethe Institut, Warsaw „Foto-Text Arbeiten“, Galerie KunstRaum – Klaus Hinrichs, Trier „ein Moment der Klarheit – an enlightened Moment“, Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek, Weimar „surface reduction“, Presse- und Informationsamt, Frankfurt am Main 2001 „Raumaufnahmen“, Paul Galerie, Bremerhaven „morning glories“, Ausstellungshalle Schulstrasse 1A, Frankfurt am Main 2002 „don’t miss“, Frankfurt am Main 2003 „conversation pieces“, Städelmuseum, Frankfurt am Main „improbabilities“, Galerie Seitz und Partner, Berlin 2004 „vorübergehende Ortschaften“, Galerie Martina Detterer, Frankfurt am Main 2005 „inside-out“, Galerie Seitz und Partner, Berlin

Publications on Laura Padgett

Published Written
„Kunst in Frankfurt 1989“, on „150 Jahre Fotografie“, Frankfurter Kunstverein 1991 „Listen“, magazine no.25, autumn 1991, Frankfurt am Main, (Foto/Text works see pages 1, 4, 18, 28, 34, 52) 1992 „Frauen/Kunst/Wissenschaft“, magazine no. 14 (photography), October, Jonas publishing house, Marburg (Laura Padgett on her work, pages 101-104) „Listen im Portikus“, Catalogue of the exhibition Nr. 41, ed. by Listen and Portikus, Frankfurt am Main 1994 „Laura Padgett“, in: „Telltales“, Forum der Frankfurter Sparkasse von 1822, Frankfurt am Main „Telltales“, Catalogue of the exhibition in the Forum der Frankfurter Sparkasse, 1994, Frankfurt am Main „Kunst in Frankfurt: Positionen aktueller Kunst der 80er und 90er Jahre“, Catalogue ed. by the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main, 1994 1995 „Found Object“, issue 5, spring Center for Cultural Studies, City University of NY Graduate Center, New York, NY 1995 (Beitrag von Laura Padgett, S. 102-105) „Found Object“, issue 6, fall 1995 Center for Cultural Studies, City University of NY Graduate Center, New York, NY (Umschlagfoto und Fotografien auf S. 2-7, 14,33, 126-27) „Sequenz Katalog“, Documentation of the exhibitions 1-10, Sequenz, Frankfurt am Main 1996 „Laura Padgett: home made“, Bad Ems „Prospect 96 - Photographie in der Gegenwartskunst“, Catalogue of the exhibition of the Frankfurter Kunstverein and the Schirn Kunsthalle, Edition Stemmle „foto text text foto“, Catalogue of the exhibition in the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Bozen, Frankfurter Kunstverein and Fotomuseum Winterthur, Edition Stemmle 1997 „home made“, ed. by Künstlerhaus Schloss Balmoral, Bad Ems, 1997 1998 „Photoconcept“, Catalogue of the exhibition of the 50th Frankfurter Buchmesse, ed. by Frankfurter Buchmesse (Curator Klaus Honnef) 1999 „Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek – Kulturgeschichte einer Sammlung“, Fotobeitrag zum Rokokosaal, ed. by the Foundation Weimarer Klassik, Carl Hanser publishing house, Munich 2000 „Heimat Kunst“, Catalogue of the exhibition, ed. by the House of World Cultures, Berlin 2001 „Desire“, Catalogue of the exhibition/ Ursula Blickle Foundation, Kraichtal and Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Bologna, ed. by Peter Weiermair, Edition Oehrli, Zurich 2002 Laura Padgett: „Badengehen“ in: Frauen und Film (Stroemfeld publishing house) Heft 63 2003 „D’Après“, Catalogue of the exhibtion, GAS Art Gallery, Turin, Italy „conversation pieces“ – Catalogue of the exhibition, Stroemfeld publishing house, Frankfurt am Main/Basel, 2003


Balmoral Stipendium, Künstlerhaus Schloss Balmoral, Bad Ems

Atelierstipendium der Hessischen Kulturstiftung in London


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

Homeland Art (HeimatKunst)

Cultural Diversity in Germany

(01 April 00 - 02 July 00)


Laura Padgett - morning glories

The artist´s website

"Sir John Soane´s Museum in London"
"Sir John Soane´s Museum in London"