When you walk into “Ins Büro!”—a collection of German-born, Antwerp-based artist Kati Heck’s paintings, drawings, and sculpture at Corbett vs. Dempsey—the first thing you see, right near the entrance, is a painted wooden human hand on the wall with a small flagpole protruding from its pointing index finger. A flag hangs from the horizontal pole with the title of the exhibition on it in big, round, red text (English translation: “Go to the office!”). For Heck, “going to work” means drifting off into whimsical dreams in her studio-based bed. “Heck gets a lot of her best ideas when she is sleeping, and mines her dreams for ideas,” says John Corbett, co-owner of the gallery. “The line between work and play is obviously very porous for her, and I think that is part of what this work explores.”
The exhibit is an exploration of the subconscious mind of the artist. Heck is often the subject of the work. In the wall-size painting Der Süssliche Erinnerungsmehrwert (2015) she lounges in bed while her husband casually retrieves coffee from an ostrich, the scene—including the detail of her husband’s arm subtly disappearing into the room’s floral wallpaper—is somehow simultaneously realistic and absurd. These same characters return in one of a series of drawings featured in the gallery’s adjoining room: in this work Heck, her husband, and the ostrich appear on a beach, a nude Heck riding a miniature unicorn and the word “easy” penciled in cursive English text against a hazy pink sky.
The multiple appearances of the same characters seems to refer to the mystery of repeated dreams, with Heck’s subconscious thoughts infusing the works. In another drawing at the back of the gallery a busty pig with Heck’s haircut waves good-bye to animated cigarettes that twist and do the splits, assumably an allusion to the artist’s recently quashed habit. It’s her way of skewing her desires and temptations—even her vices are animated.
The drawings are small sketches that signal the larger, more elaborate paintings in the main gallery. The painting Uberhaupt: Was Macht der Zeitgeist? (2015) depicts a gang of beautifully drafted characters that surround a partially cloaked figure, a large human nose secured on his chest jutting from within the garment’s opening. Again the realism of the figures distorts their fantastical qualities, like the faded second head painted on the back of the woman on the top left (pictured above); the absurd appears subtly, not as pure spectacle. In Als Ob (“As If”) (2015) a worried man lounges on a blanketed chair next to a distorted bubble positioned near his head containing a detailed narrative in which Heck, her husband, and the ostrich show up once again, the artist caught in one of her dreamer’s dreams.
My favorite piece is Schutzengel (2015), a large puppetlike sculpture of a woman’s severed torso and head (with a nightcap on it) placed in the center of the space. The sculpture’s cartoonish quality deviates from the style consistently seen within the 2-D works; its exaggerated facial features and bright pink skin contrast with the realistic elements of the painted characters’ forms. Yet the sculpture isn’t an outlier—it completes the exhibit. Heck paints herself with a matching nightcap and purple nose in the painting Prozess (2015), which hangs directly to the sculpture’s right. In this work she flashes a briefcase to the audience while in a nightgown, as if she’s being captured on her way to bed. Or rather, the “office.”