Ancient Egyptian books of the dead often show Anubis weighing the hearts of the deceased against a feather. Anyone too heavy was promptly consumed by Ammit, devourer of souls; those light enough would pass on to the eternal afterlife. Centuries later, the Iliad reports that Zeus twice packed out his scales to weigh deaths, not lives, as he decided the fate of the Trojan War. In medieval christian iconography, it’s usually the Archangel Michael weighing souls against each other. There, those deemed overweight on the day of judgment are lowered into the jaws of some little beast. In contrast to the modern ideal where subjects are expected to govern themselves, these images of psychostasis, or the weighing of souls, have historically emphasized a more absolutist view of the world—one where human lives are measured against external standards, far beyond individual interpretation or control.

Fast forward to 21st-century Berlin, and the world conjured in Agnes Scherer’s My refuge, my treasure, without body, without measure sees people as piggy banks held in the balance by opportunistic candy counters, eagerly awaiting the moment when one of their sweet little assets can be cracked open and liquidated. The pale cast of characters that populate her architectural paintings and plaster sculptures are all conceived as containers, carriers of some exchangeable value. Egg-like, their fragile forms always point to a future crack up—from within or without—on the way to becoming something else. This iconographic labyrinth underpinning Scherer’s work is filtered through the diagrammatic vernacular of comic illustration and folk sculpture then laced with cloying colors. But despite their upbeat tone, the works insistently point to the same sombre horizon: the final day of judgement, or even redemption, inevitably imposed from the outside; the threshold between one world and the next.

Date: April 30 — June 262021
Photography: Trevor Lloyd, Andrea Rossetti