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Venske & Spänle
In the art of the last decades we have seen a gradual distancing process between artists and the people who find themselves before artwork, essentially based on the increasing elusiveness of the former, for whom the fact that the latter can place some kind of trust in the work is nothing more than slightly anecdotic. Traditionally, and well into the last century, artists were considered to be leading members of all societies, people who embodied the ideals of such valuable progress in Modernity through their personality and their creation. Today however, artists do not only easily elude that responsibility but they also insist of putting forward a complex perceptive system in which what is real is only revealed in a fleeting moment, an elusive illusion. Something which in itself is vitreous, emerges in slippery situations in which artists do not provide a great deal of help. More than putting forward answers to alleviate us, they invite us to carry on asking ourselves.
Julia Venske and Gregor Spänle are sculptors, but, is their language solely and purely sculptural? No. It may appear to be, yes, in view of the materials they use and the way they proceed with their work, but their work not only centres on terrain that could belong to other disciplines, but rather, it appears to contradict the basic principles of the discipline itself. The fundamental subject that runs through their discourse is the material, a type of marble extracted from the Italian quarry of Lasa. From what the artists tell us they usually make the first cuts in their study in Munich and then finish off the sculpture and polish it in the New York neighbourhood of Brooklyn. It is undoubtedly the extraordinary malleability of these abstract entities, their elasticity and dynamism which can lead viewers to some worrying crossroads. Where do these shapes emerge from? Do they really have life?
There are several sculptural typologies in the work of the German duo, which have visible similarities to each other but which also show aspects that set them apart from each other. On the one hand we are able to see the items in the Wanderlust series, an Anglo-Saxon meaning implying a kind of hunger or urgency for knowledge, a number of organic structures with vertical direction that, as the artists themselves suggest, try to “explore the capacity of sculpture to interact with human beings”, in other words, to accompany us in our journey through life. It would therefore appear to be true, as suggested earlier, that these shapes do have the ambition of existing in the world on parallel lines to us. In order to do so, they (and we) must break down and extend the limits of culture to make it a wider, more flexible space, capable of holding the powerful perceptive flow that the new norms bring with them.
A major part of these new stimuli are reaffirmed in the relationship between viewers, space and the sculptures themselves. It is an obvious hidden message to the minimalist practices of the sixties, those reviled by Michael Fried through his excessively theatrical character. Venske & Spänle suggest that each sculpture has its own character and this allows them to behave differently depending on the pieces that accompany them or the space they are displayed in. Sometimes, they even introduce allusions to nature, landscape photographs that complicate even more, if that is possible, the complex plot of relations between sculpture, image, reality, figurative, tangible and ethereal…
Many of these sculptures interact with objects pertaining to daily heritage. Thus, one of them holds a dialogue with a radio-cassette player, another examines a box of beer bottles, and another is inside a shopping bag. Two names immediately spring to mind when we observe the relationships between these living shapes in everyday contexts. Both of them, by chance, are Austrian. The first, Franz West, conceives a major part of his sculptural work to be handled by viewers. This work has a fairly significant psychological content in that they force one to adopt anti-natural and forced postures. There are plaster prosthesis that one can touch with ones hands and adapt to your body. There are also abstract shapes and benches inviting us to sit on them. Through these pieces of work we see the world in a different way, definitely a more uncomfortable way. What would it be like to live like that on a permanent basis?
The second, Erwin Wurm, arrogant and corrosive, forces us to think again about what a sculpture is, with work that demand careful reflection on its limits. This is the line that is explored by Venske & Spänle, that of elusive nature and contradictions of the material, which, through Wurm or Urs Fischer, date back to hidden messages and traps by Claes Oldenburg. The anthropomorphous character of the Wanderlust sculptures and their visible proximity to forms in nature (the sculpture in some way appear to be stratified) unchaining frank and open dialogue with viewers, who amazingly attend their idle pursuits, their constant uprightness and contours, an impressive, seductive dynamism, while they fly over an unavoidable sensation of banishment.
The stony quality of Lasa marble is also systematically and conceptually subverted in the Smörf series, another determining typology in the career of Venske & Spänle. They are shapes which are not easy to rest your eyes on, since, as they are so organic, they appear to dodge the attention we pay them. Sometimes they are facing mirrors but their dynamism is such they do not even appear as their “doubles”. Likewise they are given to interacting with ordinary day-to-day matters, they arouse powerful narrative currents, and thus, contradict all minimalist impetus. Their presence in their different sites, whether private or public, inside or outside, generates a blend of scenography that underlines their own temporality. They are sculptures that happen in space. They are not conceived to be installed in specific places, but rather to live in them, that gradually forge their own identity in our daily lives, and which persuade us that they can easily live with us in this increasingly strange world.