A field in which everyone can move
WM: Well, we won´t talk about steel sculpture although I know that the material means a lot to you sculptors. Other key variables for any sculptor are the dimensions of space and time. Which brings us to your main theme: three dimensional drawing. Indeed, transforming the real material steel to the metaphoric movement of lines is the prime artistic process in your work.
RS: That is correct. The line is not only the most important means of expression in my work, it also forms the foundation of all human creativity. Man´s first artistic expressions are linear in nature: take the drawings primeval man made on cave’s walls. Each of us once scribbled simple line drawings on paper to record our first experiences. The line has always been the elementary basis for man’s means of expresing himself, it serves as a tool, a means of expression. Directs and reflects his existence in all its facets. It forms the stuff of line as a sign, metaphor and mirror of vehemence, peace and rationality but it also represents improvisation and chance –aleatory action- which liberates us from all obligations. In principle you can express everything with a line. It reflects the linear progression of time, action and movement. I also see a process in my sculptures as a linear transitional situation in my life located within a specific period of time. And as long as I work with sculpture it will be my line I write or place in a spatial context. It has to do with drawing, with describing, with defining, with guiding, with directing, with experiencing; it is shaped by my own existence. As a form, this sculptural line is both a means of expresion and a means of communication through which I can reach out to other people.
WM: While strictly speaking the line per se is a movement in space we can trace, this space is not neural, but on the contrary it is itself full of significance, whether it is a “white cube” or, say, the room of a palace suffused with history.
RS: Of course, the ideal situation would be to have a white cube at my disposal as it would allow the line to articulate itself to the viewer in a stark contrast with its surroundings. But the line I refer to must be able to assert itself everywhere –that includes a complex urban environment, a specific landscape, on newspaper paper or on a blank sheet of paper. Basically, the line exists evrywhere. My line is a conceptual phenomenon that is not restricted to sculpture but can occur anywhere and at any time as the expression of the process. As such, it can appear quite unexpectedly –as it can at a place where I am not expected, but where I need to repeatedly reconfirm my own existence by means of active participation if I am not perceived.
WM: In fact your sculpture is autonomous and responds to space as an individual entity.
RS: I am not that keen to see my sculpture in terms of spatial or sculptural. These linear phenomena –or rather states- are a central aspect for me that ca, but need not respond sensitively to real experiences. They often serve as a note of something I don’t want to forget, because I want to elaborate on it using my creative tools, so that it remains present. And that can happen eveywhere in those places where you don´t normally expectthis kind of art. In a forest, say, or on a mountain, in a urban setting but also in less public or or visible palces, around a building or inside a tunnel…This poses the question I am repeatedly confronted with in public spaces, which often has nothing to do with the hermetic setting musuems and galleries provide.
WM: What relevance does the line, the drawing, have for you when you pick up a pen and there is a piece of paper in front of you?.
RS: I want to make a note of something I don’t want to forget.
WM: …a certain movement, a certain flow, a certain linear idea - is that your artistic motive?
RS: Often I am driven by he need to visualize a certain automatism that I sense. I work like someone who, lost in thougt, jots down abervations on some notepad or other without thinking about it or considering they will ever be exhibited or serve as a blueprint for an actual sculpture. The result is a note, a reminder of sorts. What is noted is not preconceived but just happens. It is like with your own signature –something is focused, concentrated into a point. When I realize an idea is taking shape, I pursue it in the hope it will be intense enough to set off my work process in steel. What the evolves during drawing is a character of sorts. I incorporate this and employ it as an experiment with various conceptual and formal approaches I have come up with. Subsequently, I use them to construct something like a virtual theatre, a kind of choreography of linear concepts and the shapes that emanate from them.
WM: Just to re-phrase my previous question: An “iconography” is evident in your works, after all, even the notion of the angle, be it as a motive or detail, is interesting. Your sculptures very clearly stem from your hand, one could say they are indelibly yours. But allow me to ask the same question in simple terms, and I admit it is somewhat forthright: Are you describing the “ècriture automatique” method. If not. Where do you get the inspiration for your motifs, your shapes?. Are there references like theEKG as “lifeline” or other references to shapes you have experienced? Can you give me some major examples?
RS: Essentially, my line has an additive character in terms of composition. First of all, I join together sections of steel of different lenghts by trying to give shape to a rhythmic/linear feeling. What inspires me is first of all how I feel about my own body: After all, I deal with my own body everyday, with my hands, with my fingers. They are composed of straight sections and movement would not be possible if not for the joints. You an say the same of the arms, legs and so on.
But consider that these idealistic thoughts relate to the body and basically have nothing to do with the material steel. Though the sculpture weighs several tons, it appears to be lightweight. There is a sense of movement though the sculpture is rigid, is welde together. Time seems to have stopped at the moment of observation only to continue at the next instant. Such connections between seemingly antagonistic phenomena really fascinate me. And perhaps this feeling spawns an iconography evolved from what I know as physical being, and know of my body –and can experience emotionally- as a means of confirming my existence. Everyone who experiences my sculpture can rely on their own physical experience to provide them with a very direct understanding of it, they have only to open themselves up to this language.
Naturally, the pleasure derived from movement and equally the decline in physical mobility that increasing age brings also play a key role in the development of my linear formal language: The restricted mobylity in old age that we will all experience automatically means that the physical sphere gradually declines. Consequently, the intellectual sphere has to become all the greater. With increasing age the one replaces the other.
In terms of my approach to sculpture this realization gives my work its elementary, existential character, whici is subjet to inmanent change. Incidentally, finding the right balance between physical and intellectual abilities is also one of the fundamental issues confronting dancers.
WM: Your sculptures have strange names that derive from your penchant for foreign languages and mysterious words. As a result you encrypt some of your stories or let’s say a specific experience, which is expressed in the shapes.
RS: Naturally, some of the sculptures are based on things that happened to me, specific experiences, for instance, how I felt on an extremely unstable suspension bridge spanning a deep gorge near Kathmandu, that I crossed several years ago. Legend has it that Krishna flung a streak of lighting against the walls surrounding the lake, and it produced a deep crevice. Consequently, the water run out of the lake making it possible to cultivate an area around Kathmandu. I could not get out my mind the feeling I had had making that precarious crossing. It gave birth to the sculptures ARMARI (1993) and ARMAREL (2002). By creating the two sculptures I made a “3D note” of this experince in order to keep the memory of it alive. Another example is the sculpture emsemble CABUK I produced in 1990. And the composition of which then formed the basis for my large sculptures in Moscow and in Mülheim an der Ruhr. It consists on a large number of towering tripods that appeared identical but actually deiffered in their respective angle, and were crossed by horizontal lines. It came about following something that happened in Seville in 1989. I had visited the Cathedral prior to the Goof Friday procession: The menbers of the Capirotes wearing those typical pointed hats were gathering for the procession. The atmosphere was characterized by a bustling, a coming and going, fleeting contacts, and the the individuals got together for their organizaed procession through the city. This experience also produced a series of other public works such as the EISENPIEL for Mannheim (1993) and IN VENT for Hanover (1996), in which I protrayed this group aspect. Since then topics like this have formed an important part of my work, and I use them to keep myself grounded and stay close to reality without slipping into portrayal, alongside other areas where I adopt a much more detached stance towards what actually happened.
WM: You also incorporate conceptual worlds into spatial settings: I am familiar with contemporary music from your early days as sculptura. For a long time dance, and most certainly dancers played a not insignificant role in your work. Let us talk more about these contexts in your work, more specifically the crossovers and connections between your work and other visula contexts.
Let us start with contemporary music. Your wife Erika Stauss is a musician and interprets contemporary music. Almost 20 years ago, I visited your studio and listened to New Music there. The there were the first steel sculptures that you entitled PARTITUR and for which there are visula correspondence in music scores, for instance in Roman Haubsentock-Ramati. At the time I had the impression yu were concerned with a synaesthetic experience in the sense of a parallel of music and movement, and that the notation of contemporary music created a link to your threedimensional drawings.
RS:Without doubt contemporary music is important to me. I have the good fortune to be married to a woman, who, since I have known her, has been strongly involved with contemporary music. As a result, I already had contact to composers and musicians when I was still studying. An early on it was a decisive factor that sparked my interest in the graphic notation of music. I realized that here was a medium in which rhythms such as I had addressed in my work could also be portrayed visually. This inspired me to produce stell “spatial calligraphies”, which resulted from the connection to the music. It has to do with pitch, length and rhythms, that is what my work is about. And it motivated me to get involved con contemporary music and musicians. In 1994 for instance I cooperated with Hans-Joachim Hespos to develop the room for the performance TAN, in which sculpture, music and dance came together at eye level. In the text you wrote in 1988 for the exhibition catalogue for thr Thoma Gesellschaft Reutlingen you cited Roman Haubenstock-Ramati in connection with the sculptures I created in 1986, and which I calles FELD or RHYTHMUS.
WM: What is more fundamental, the listening experience or the visual handling of scores that display a graphic notation?.
RS: Naturally, that depends on the extent to which this graphic score come across to me as a listener. Some scores interest me much more than the musical realization. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that I am more of a visual person.
On the other hand, the graphic notation defenetely loses out to actually experiencing the interpretation of the “Sonata and Interludes” by Bernhard Wambach, which he performed as part of my collaboration with Susane Linke in “Dialog mit G.B.”
WM: Partuculary with graphic scores a really essential factor is the interpretation, which can vary tremendously each time owing to the liberty the composer allows the performer. That is also a question that arises with your sculptures. When you see such a line the essential thing is how you experience it and the interpretation you place on it.
RS: In this respect contemporary music is like my sculpture: the momentary mood is highly influential in determining whether you wish to open yourself for certain forms and their nature at that given moment.
And in my line I also have a broad range of expression that continues to expand as my experience increases. This line is extremely fickle. I can touch on differente situartions that may not have any relevance for the respective viewer at the moment of encounter. Basically, I am like a choreographer orchestrating the movements of steel actors to create a performance, and naturally, when I am creating the spatial choreography for certain exhibitions I also try to set something in motion, given that he (the choreographer) can also repeatedly alter his relation to his surroundings.
It is perhaps evidente from what I am saying that I want my viewers to be critical counterparts and do not wish to simply turn out art products that are marketed withou any emotion. Now I think of it that might explain why I am also reluctant to part with my works, given that theya are part of my lifetime and of myself.
My sculpture is not something sacrosant, hermetic, or self-referential as with Brancusi or Arp. I want my sculpture to challenge the viewer to a point where he is capable of taking a stance –in a very elementary manner- which in turn results from his particular mood at the moment of encounter. This is the only way sculpture as a contemporary phenomenon can repeatedly encounter the viewer anew and act as a mirror, a platform for both his doubting but also his acceptance of himself. And this produces energy and timelesness for the works, which never become boring because they deal with the fundamental questions facing man.
WM: Let’s switch to your work’s connection with dance: I really liked what you did with dancer Gerhard Bohner. I suppose your collaboration began with you simply sending him a piece of your steel.
RS: In the late 1980s, gerhard Bohner brought about a decisive turning point in my work. We got to know each other through the Freiburg Theatre, where he was giving guest performances, “Schwarz Weiss Zeigen”, the “”Bauhaustänzen” and his reworking of the “Triadischen ballets” by Oscar Schlemmer. I knew straight away I wanted to collaborate with him. At that time I had no experience of working with contemporary dancers nor did I had any idea just how our collaboration should be. All I had to go on back then was my experience of interactive collaboration from the time of Russian Constructivism. I wanted to construct a stage for Gerhard Bohner on which he would become the figurine of my ideas. However, when we met for an intial discussion in my recently completed tunnel installation in the Landtag building in Stuttgart he asked ‘why should I dance here? –it is already dancing!’ and his response made me doubt all my ideas.
Gerhard Bohner did not want a stage set in the classis sense, nor did he want any physical contact to my steel sections; what he was looking for was an intellectual alliance in a spatial setting. The outcome of these requirements was that I as a sculptor had to accommodate his wishes in both a pragmatic and fragmentary way. It became clear to me that I could not simply present him with a finished sculture. And I saw that the only means of collaboration would be for me to give him what amounted to a construction kit of scale-model sized steel fragments so he could create his own environment using those sections he had chosen and incorporating my suggestions. Preparations lasted for almost one year.
The result was not an exhibition situation but a room whose fragmentary design is only legitimate in the dancer’s presence, and the dance only functions if the dancer enters into an alliance with the room.
Both media were to mesh with each oher in order to become a whole but without the one dominating or commenting on the other. In this dialog the dancer became a living sculpture and the sculpture started to ‘dance’ in the mind. Something very interesting happended particularly as regards the dimensions and radius of movement. Gerhard Bohner used dance to calculate the room’s dimensions. He used his body to develop his very onw geometry of movement, which formed the basis for how he moved in the room. And dispite his rational approach these movements correponded to my own idea dispite the automatism, the aleatory development of forms in space on which I based my own proposals. I devloped my shapes out of my automatic sense of motion and Gerhard Bohner accepted them and evolved his own composition from them, which involved his body radiuses entering into symbiosis with the sulptural setting. He was open to very wide radiuses and his expansive movements extended into the room, but there were also movements when he withdrew completely to a place where his body radius was reduced to a minimun, and then he opened ou the room for the intellectual. This gave rise to the sort of contrasts that are very similar to what I seek in my sculptures: there were block-like shapes that effectively retreated into themselves, but also extroverted movements and forms, which pass through the room. And in this resptect Gerhard’s idea coincided with my own. He did not comment on the sculptures but united with them to create a whole. As I see it Gerhard Bohner had a very sculptural approach to his movements.
WM: You have collaborated with several dancers. Did the all respond to your sculpture in this way?
RS: No, Susanne Linke had a much more classic relationship to my work. In iur duo “Dialog” my installation was more of a stage set for her. Before that I was more a supplier of ideas she could use in her piece “Ruhrort” that she developed during my stay in Duisburg. It deals with male worlds in the steel industry –but seen through a woman’s eyes.
By contrast, Fine Kwiatowski, whom I have collaborated with for years, has a sculptural approach to her work similar to Bohner’s. I find this approach much eassier to work with than if dancers expect me to provide them with a stage set.
WM: We have talked a lot about movments and in actual fact all your sculptures, all your 3D lines are essentially your movements. I remember ocassions on which you moved through the exhibition rooms and used your hands, your entire body to draw your sculptures in their spatial setting. That means there must be some inspiration in the room within which you can express your movements.
Furthermore, three-dimensional drawing has increasingly become integrated in your conciousness into your “lifeline”.
RS: For me movement means identification and preoccupation with myself. Body posture as expressed in body language, say in the maner people walk or gesticulate with their hands reveal an awful lot about the person’s character and mood. You can use gestures to fill and shape spaces and –let’s say as an actor on stage- you can create highly distinct places and moments.
The lifeline viewed as an oscillogram extending from birth to death accompanies me for an entire life. I cannot discard it, nor do I wish to ignore it.
People ask “Are you still working with 45 steel?” It is not a question I can relate to. I opted for this line at some point, back when we were planning our first exhibition I 1988 in Reutlingen, since it gives me the greatest scope as regards expression, and presumably this scope will never be exhausted. It is not the nature of the line that is importantbut how it responds in the spacial setting, Just imagine that you at some point opted for a particular pen and you used it for years to express all your linear ideas on paper. You will notice that over time the form and expression of your line changes.
I can clasp 45 steel, my hand encompasses it. It is solid and the resistance I sense is a challenge, it spurs me to overcome it by working it. This constant relation to my own body size enables me to inscribe my life into the spatial setting and consequently allow it to be experienced physically. In cross section I experience it, possibly, in a similar way to the black square of Malevich. This reduction opens up to me every conceivable liberty. Just to remind you: In the beginning I wprked with right angles. They no longer figure in my work