Skye Sherwin, 'Artist of the Week 92: Raphael Danke' (The Guardian Online, 17/06/2010)

Bodies are always disappearing in Raphael Danke’s work. Slicing fashion photography’s waifish muses out of the picture, his collages tease us with cut-outs of perfect shoulders, long elegant fingers or masses of primal brunette tresses pasted together like a sexy Cousin Itt. In place of women, we get fetishist come-ons, inviting us to substitute people for things. Danke’s own photographs of magazine spreads have a more ethereal effect than his adroit handiwork with scissors and scalpel. Here, pages are overlaid and backlit before being snapped on a camera phone, so that the models seem to float like ghostly apparitions from some half-remembered reverie. Rather than quietly slip away, the excised women assert themselves, teasingly, through their absence.

Accompanying these elusive images, Danke’s objects look human or suggest people being spirited away. In his 2006 installation Ansicht 1:1 (la différence), a man-size pair of femme-fatale stilettos awaited a wearer, like Cinderella’s glass slipper. Pedestals have been clad in laddered ladies’ tights, and Russian dolls have been carved into tribal masks, while his latest furniture sculptures, currently on show in Glasgow, seem to writhe their long open legs seductively on the floor. Fetishism looms large and mystical ideas hang in the air, as objects stand in for thwarted desires or, to put it another way, become vessels for spirits.

Born in 1972, Danke began collaborating with his brother Tobias when he first graduated from art school in Berlin at the end of the 1990s. It was their conversation, often carried on when they were caught between different cities, which sharpened his interest in “absent physical presence”. While the brothers created sculptural installations, Danke began to develop his own distinctive collages and sculpture where a supercharged version of classic surrealism and fashion marketing collide.

Some of Danke’s works from 2005 include witty homages to works of canonical surrealists including restaging Man Ray’s photo Kiki with African Mask, so that his own face takes the place of the sleeping woman’s. In place of Hans Bellmer’s life-size sexually twisted dolls, his Bellmer Box filled a plywood box with shop mannequin legs clothed in stripy tights. He’s also had a couch upholstered in rainbow hues, supposedly depicting his own aura, in a nod to the American surrealist sculptor and set designer Dorothea Tanning and recalling the bizarre regions of “aura photography”.

Fashion fantasies might be literally paper-thin while doors and furniture are physically impenetrable. Yet, like the Russian dolls he carves, Danke opens up series of things within things. Digging deep in shallow consumer culture, he unearths our own desires, nesting in its surfaces.

Why we like him: Danke’s Margot Fonteyn collages, from 2007, reconfigure pictures of the great ballerina into conflations of satin-slipper-clad toes en pointe, flexed legs and gauzy tutu ruffles, as touchingly absurd as they are alluring.

Granny chic: Danke first became interested in the mysteries of fashion photography as a boy, flicking through his grandmother’s Madame magazines as if they were picture books.

Where can I see him? Danke’s solo show, Levitation Party, is at Sorcha Dallas, Glasgow, until 9 July 2010.