Some topoi of contemporary exhibition practice can be deployed universally and, thanks to their pliable metaphorical scope and their simultaneously figurative and diffuse character, are used for all kinds of discourses.
The artist as alchemist, art as visualization of the invisible, or the museum as temple constitute some of these rhetorical figures that can be invoked in the most diverse contexts and (almost) always fit. The exhibition as a chamber of wonders is also one of these all-purpose art didactic weapons. In the early 1990s, the art establishment rediscovered the Baroque cabinet of curiosities that delighted the educated public in the Age of Enlightenment with its mix of bizarre natural phenomena and exquisite works of art. Due to its playful and encyclopedic nature and, above all, due to the specific illustration strategies (mostly the precious objects were exhibited in showcases or in glass and wooden barriers), this predecessor of the modern exhibition is often cited.
With the exhibition STRUMENTI in the exhibition space Q18 in the Quartier am Hafen, the viewer can expect a new Wunderkammer quotation, which makes it possible to look at the work of three artists under a certain perspective. This perspective is not the only true one and certainly not definitive; however, it opens, among all other perspectives, an interesting angle and offers a certain reading. It is certainly not difficult to look at the work of Taka Kagitomi under the aspect of the Wunderkammer. Its open character, its bizarreness, and its cranky beauty inevitably bring it close to the baroque Wunderkammer exhibits. In this tradition, Kagitomi’s objects possess a hybrid character, oscillating between nature and culture, artifact and found object, flotsam and jetsam and consumer good. In this tradition, they are extremely narrative, even if the story must be co-invented and told each time by the viewer. Like the fascinating dream stones of the Orient, whose marbling was used as the basis for miniature landscapes, Kagitomi uses found objects to alienate them and transform them into a different order. Remnants of our consumer society (pens, chairs) or found objects of organic origin (trunks, branches) are taken apart, reassembled, assembled, paired with components foreign to their essence, and given a new life.
Of course, not only the tradition of cabinets of curiosities is evoked here, but also the more recent tradition of surrealism. For André Breton, the objet trouvé was the starting point of a work of projection, a veritable dislocation of the trivial everyday object into a higher sphere – the sphere of boundless parallel worlds and enabled impossibilities.
Kagitomi’s childlike curiosity and irrepressible playfulness lead to strange constructs that seem to come from another time and a foreign culture. But they are not completely foreign. They always carry traces of their origin, remnants of their function at that time. Approaches of familiar forms mislead the viewer, recognizable connections pretend a use that only takes place in the recipient’s mind. At the same time, a physical use of the object is suggested again and again. Handles, belt-like devices or built-in seats imply the potential body of a potential user. And indeed, Kagitomi does not leave it at presenting these alienated things on a pedestal, but slips into them, makes music with them, talks to them, manipulates them, moves them, animates them. The artist thus demonstrates a consistent attitude: artistic artifacts are not added to the rest of human reality, only to be looked at. Like their distant cousins – the appliances, utensils and everyday objects – they are assigned a function (albeit not always a clear one) and are thus integrated into the world.
The power of Taka Kagitomi’s objects rests in their ability to open up a completely new imaginative space; an imaginative space filled with landscapes, bodies, and actions that trigger a “presque déjà vu.” This “presque déjà vu” is meant as a weakening and minimal alienation of a déjà vu; it awakens a sense of the already-experienced, the familiar and the familiar – but at the same time remains strange and difficult to identify. This presque déjà vu is also present in almost all of Michel Sauer’s works. Sauer has been building a library of things for over forty years. And immediately it must be made clear: It is not about the library, it is about the things. While other artists take the library – or, as related forms, the showcase, the display, the shrine – as the starting point for a reflection on the display and staging of art, Sauer concentrates on the isolated object and on its auratic radiance. And even if it is occasionally placed on a shelf, in the immediate vicinity of other sculptures, lined up among many other things, the object in its singularity and uniqueness is the artist’s central concern. Sauer refuses to be pigeonholed as a meta-discursive and institution-critical artist who questions the framework of the exhibition system. He always starts from a single object, a genuine form, a specific materiality, a particular craft technique. This object, this form exerts an indescribable, almost obsessive fascination on the artist, which only dissolves in the realization. But the fabrication of a single object is not enough; a single thing cannot be representative of a whole genre. So the object is declined through into a multitude of variations, and Sauer declines through until his curiosity is exhausted. At the end of the process, a new family has emerged, consisting of an average of twenty to thirty “individuals.”
Each series of individuals grows organically, without a blueprint or predetermined boundaries, so it is never an end in itself or a conceptual necessity. The families are highly heterogeneous; except for an undeniable sophistication of craftsmanship, as well as a reduced formal language that reveals the artist’s proximity to Minimal and Conceptual Art, there are few common denominators from one series to another. Sauer’s sculptural repertoire consists of forms he has picked up while traveling, looking at objects of daily use or works of art, or contemplating landscapes. This repertoire is not only biographically determined, but rich in art historical allusions. The range goes from Giotto to Sol Lewitt, via Marcel Broodthaers or the ornamentation of Romanesque church architecture. At the beginning there are rocks, islands, the stone floors of a monastery, corals and chimneys; in their modification these basic forms are determined by the artistic material and the specific technique of their processing. Reminiscences of other forms, earlier journeys or further works of art are integrated. From then on, the works detach themselves from their motivic origin and gain autonomy.
Over time, an impressive collection of more than three thousand objects has developed, which is constantly reinterpreted. The opportunity of an exhibition allows Michel Sauer to bring order to this collection, that is, to sort and bring together objects, to set priorities and create new contexts. If he does not show whole families at once, the artist sends representatives into the arena, lets the fireplace series compete with the group of tube corals or the baskets and lines up the most diverse genres. An articulation takes place that reveals the proximity of Sauer’s approach to linguistic practice: By reassembling his modules and combining them in iridescent constellations, he effects an infinite chain of meaning that invites ever-new readings.
While Michel Sauer attaches great importance to making, shaping, creating, and modeling, for Christian Schreckenberger it is sometimes enough to shape things mentally or to throw them onto paper in order to assert their existence. Like Sauer, Schreckenberger is also a collector. He collects forms, plastic objects, textures and surfaces, colors and materialities, visual and haptic experiences. This collection includes objects that each pass through three different states before materializing as concrete things: First in the realm of ideas, in a Platonic, intangible, and ethereal space; then as drawings, in numerous versions and variations; and finally realized as unique pieces, tangible and graspable, yet still afflicted with an irritating ambivalence. As with Kagitomi and Sauer, one can speak of a parallel universe on which Schreckenberger works ceaselessly – but at the same time with a certain unexcited nonchalance. The forms dreamed up and created by Christian Schreckenberger are concretizations of experiences, of thoughts, of things seen and fantasized. These forms, located in an area between nature and art, between the organic and the artificial, usually get their relevance in the multiplicity. Only the multiplicity of the objects manages to provoke a comparative view and thus to intend a sharpening of the perception. The view of the individual object is quite different from the view of a series of objects. The view of the unique or isolated object charges it, gives it a meaning and a value that the serially produced object cannot claim for itself. In the cultural or cultic (but increasingly also in the commercial) context, this elevation transforms the functionless object into an idol that is usually received emotionally. Schreckenberger, however, wants to offer the condition for a fine, differentiated and objective consideration rather than create an artificial sublimation. Hence the multiplicity. In the multiplicity, the variations of an object come more to the fore, numerous possibilities are played through, variations of a basic form are tried out. Minimal deviations reveal themselves and it quickly becomes clear that a closer look is in order.
In phenomenological terms, looking is a value-free registration of things. And this fact-oriented attitude, so rare in art, is literally demanded by Christian Schreckenberger’s sculptural work. Although it can seem narrative – especially when the objects are reminiscent of strange tools or archaic lucky charms – it possesses a captivating neutrality that forbids over-interpretation. This art clarifies physical principles. An elongated body is terminated at one of its ends by a wire, which, bent back, leads back to the body. That is all. To perceive this precisely is task enough. Those who wish can ponder the somewhat phallic shape or consider the possible meaning of the iridescent paint coating – a special paint mixture that is often used in the tuning scene. This is not necessary.
The question of whether these three distinct positions can really be brought under the extravagant hat of Wunderkammer is a troublesome one and helps no one. One could argue for it, and claim, for example, that both Taka Kagitomi and Michel Sauer and Christian Schreckenberger incorporate strategies of spatial staging in their sculptural work, although, as already mentioned, this particular aspect has no independent status and should not be overstated. One could point out that all three start from the power of the single object, from its hybrid nature, from its poetic, enigmatic effect, and from its ability to project the viewer into other, physical or transcendental worlds. Although the artists arrive at their things in different ways (Kagitomi finds, Schreckenberger dreams, and Sauer condenses), the object, between fetishized product of high culture and utilitarian object with uncertain purpose, is always at the center of each sculptural approach. One could also argue against the Wunderkammer concept, and again address the undifferentiated nature of the term, which fits everything. Above all, one could draw attention to the fact that objects exhibited in historical Wunderkammern usually have no authors and play on the myth of unexplained provenance histories. It is not the individual object but the collection as a whole that is particularly considered and valued. The anonymous artist, whether man or god, disappears behind the amateur éclairé who gathers and arranges the artifacts. In modern times, even the composing and arranging collector sees himself as a full-fledged artist and arranges his cabinet like a total work of art – the parallels to the self-representation of postmodern collectors who are addicted to self-esteem cannot be denied. This lack of authorship does not endure in the exhibition curated by Katharina Maderthaner. If one were to look a little further, one would certainly find plenty of arguments that invalidate the Wunderkammer rhetoric. Yes, one could, but one does not want to. There are enough affinities and enough differences between Kagitomi, Sauer, and Schreckenberger to make for a good, cohesive, yet exciting exhibition between these positions. And the label of the exhibition seems secondary – Peu importe le flacon, pourvu qu’on ait l’ivresse.
Dr. Emmanuel Mir, 2015
Photos: Alessandro De Matteis