The Butler Gallery reads like a latrine in the context of Vera Klute’s work – especially considering the artist’s ‘pissing ear’ work at the far end of the Kilkenny art space entitled It’s coming out of my ears. The grey tiled floor and series of ‘alcove galleries’ force the viewer to walk to the right and look to the left. Unavoidably, the artworks are given a serial and segregated presentation, while the artist tries to form a cohesive hole. Saying that, the staccato architecture is perfect for Klute’s work, which presents the body as a series of disconnected bit-parts; divine and maybe not so divine.

The terms or literary modes of the carnivalesque and grotesque realism given to us by the Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin, come to mind when viewing Klute’s videos and kinetic sculptures. You almost have to break down her art practice into genus and species: drawings and paintings are also present. In each disconnected space of the gallery the viewer is presented with a limb, limbs or internal organs, that are being manipulated by kinetic or digital means. However, the first ‘alcove’ is ‘dead still’ with traditional methods of fabrication. A series of large drawings hang volute-like from the ceiling with a top-heavy composition of what can only be read as cherubim. However, the composition crops the heads of the figures, suggesting decapitation or Icarian hubris. The latter seems to fit Klute’s playful fabrications, which suggest the daring of science and technology to play God through cybernetic experiments. Michael Bell and Michael Gardiner promote the intriguing idea that Bakhtin's interest in the carnival and the grotesque as due in part to his own affliction with osteomyelitis (bone marrow disease), which resulted in the amputation of his leg in 1938. Following this diagnosis they write:

The phantom limb is the scene of trenchant cognitive confusion: the reality of the stump is co-existence with the reality of the phantom; that is, one indicates a manifest absence in the same/time space relations as that which indicates a manifest presence. Thus, the phantom limb asks the first question of grotesquery: where does your body end?[1]

The amputee also experiences the “phantom limb” as an “image” rather than a “copy” of the amputated limb. It is invariably “shorter” and shows more “dexterity.”[2] Klute’s own dexterity comes into question in two works – Es hat sich schon mai einer tot gerührt (German Proverb: ‘People have stirred themselves to death’), and Linkshänder (left-handed). The former kinetic work includes two animatronic left arm/hands that make a ‘stirring’ motion with spoons. The drawing Linkshänder (left-handed) is also a portrait of left-handedness where two arm/hands hang together on the one page. Both of these works are exercises in paradox: on the one hand – awkwardness, and the other hand – dexterity. One can only presume that Klute is left-handed. Provincially, in the essay, ‘Understanding Idioms’, Nancy Chang situates the idiom “to have two left hands” in German origins – zwei linke Hände haben (be a bad craftsman). [3] Kute’s intentionally awkward fabrications of ‘thought’ (another ‘phantom’) bring her themes down to earth, clipping the wings of the divine.


Phantom Prosthetics

Vera Klute, Blindgänger

Butler Gallery, Kilkenny

May 7 – June 19, 2011

Vera Klute, (foreground), Gurgles, plaster bust with sound, 2010;

(background), Public Pool, 5-panel drawing, pencil and ink on paper, 2011:

photo © Vera Klute; courtesy Butler Gallery.



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