In many respects, the work of Thomas Kratz (born Waiblingen, 1972, lives in London) defies summation. Kratz operates across a variety of media, and his approaches can appear cyclical – not necessarily generating an ordered structure but one in which reoccurring facets are placed alongside one another across spaces, exhibitions and works.
Kratz has an interest in the early twentieth-century Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, who devised a means of writing from multiple points of view. These different identities are heteronyms – rather than simple 'nom de plumes' – as he gave them distinct characters, each with its own biography and physical characteristics. Kratz does not go so far as to nominate plural identities from which his work emanates, yet his approach to making art is founded on a set of positions, each with clear material and conceptual characteristics.
Kratz's performance for the ICA, entitled Strawberry Camouflage (2008), contains within it actions, objects and fetishes that have appeared in various incarnations in his previous works. The processes at play link back to the artist's 2006 performance How I Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, an action reprising Joseph Beuys' iconic 1965 performance How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare. The piece by Kratz – like that by Beuys – involved the artist moving through a gallery whispering to the eponymous animal, his face plastered in honey and gold leaf. However, Kratz's version also contained significant departures from the Beuys orginal. The audience watched from behind glass doors, with the artist's whisperings relayed to them via loudspeaker; and the 'pictures' at the centre of narrative were absent (a poster detailed the list of imaginary works to which the artist referred). Joining Kratz were two surreal additions to the Beuysian score – an exercise bike, and a small robot singing Daisy Daisy. The artist redefi ned Beuys' materialbased shamanism through theatre and artifice, using the iconography of the original performance as the basis of a new ritual.
Objects, both constructed and pre-existing, are reincarnated throughout Kratz's work. Bicycles appear frequently: propped against the gallery wall, as if offering a means of escape; or leant against a set of glass doors, preventing entry to the gallery beyond. The layering of such elements creates a ritualistic amplification, taken to the point of overload, and Strawberry Camoufl age forms an almost perverse extension of How I Explain Pictures..., with Kratz 'in communion' with a hybrid hare/android fi gure in garish Beuysian garb.
Kratz' action, however, is also a poised, aesthetic composition that revels in the communicative possibilities of an archive of objects and gestures. This style of identity formation – drawing on sources that range from visceral painting to refined architecture – is recurrent throughout the artist's work, often highlighting the false constructions that commonly occur within art and exhibitions. Kratz creates a language of objects and gestures that is highly diverse, but which in total speaks of the contingencies and rituals of art.