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Deutsche-Version          Literatur

The Harmony of Opposites: Primal Nature and High-Tech

The stone wagon clatters and roars over a simple bridge structure at eye level. An electric amplifier in the middle of the three-meter-long steel rail intensifies the noise of the rolling wheels and the vibrations of the rail, creating strange acoustic sound experience, rendering audible the various noises produced as the wagon slows and accelerates, approaches the middle and moves away from it again. The viewer is figured into the scheme as an active force. In order to accomplish the transition from the static-pictorial level, he must make a physical effort and intervene in the installation. As he pushes, he feels the resistance of the material, the inert weight of the granite block, its ponderous mass. The expansion of the self-enclosed visual work into a mechanically and linearly mobile, kinetic and acoustic object is a function of the viewer’s willingness to act. The production of sound correlates directly to his pushing behavior. For the first time in his career as a self-taught artist, the Ulm sculptor Felix Burgel, born in 1964, is not concerned with a visual negation of the heaviness of granite but with opening it to sensory experience through the arduous process of its ponderous movement along a steel rail and the clamor produced by vibrations.

The combination of stainless steel and stone—initially marble and later more often rough hewn granite—of industrial produced and natural materials began to emerge in Burgel’s art as early as the late 1980s. This fascination with the polarities of nature and technology, the archaic and the modern, geologic history and civilization gave birth to a first group of works devoted to the theme of “Settings”. “My stainless steel objects are shells and casings around stone forms that live within them.” The organic stone is set in the smoothly polished steel like a jewel. The metal serves as a protective framework but also as a constraining vice, a corset for the foundling (Kerleskan). Burgel’s minimalist, geometric formal language enters into synthesis with a “primal-natural” form of evidence preservation and archaism with affinities to Arte povera. In a work complex completed around 1995, the artist confronts the tension to be expected in this process with “states of suspension.” Granite cubes are fastened with large bolts to a steel swing; a seemingly weightless, swinging granite block is hung in a metal frame. Heavy, earthbound things become light. The law of gravity appears to have been suspended. The endless loops and “control circuits,” self-contained pipe constructions, oblong-ovals bent in the shape of tuning forks realized around 1995 bind the contrasting materials of stone and steel, stainless steel and corroded construction steel together to form a stringent, minimalist unity. The underlying idea is the concept of the self-contained nature of systems in which, although the characteristics of materials may change in different aggregate states, they always revert to form and ultimately return to their starting point. Here, the precisely ground stone is subjected to the rational geometry of the steel pipe. Burgel sees the manual, mathematical, and technical difficulties that arise in this process as a challenge. Although they exhibit stylistic similarities, the group of slim cylindrical steles with their emphasis of the vertical dimension serves as a kind of counter-image. The upright tubes, some of them intersected by a middle segment, appear thin and fragile, threatening to tip over. Burgel deliberately incorporated the tendency to tip as a process of self-destruction in a stele with a corroding natural steel cone. Over a period of some thirty years, organic decay hardly apparent to the viewer, as it is in works by Joseph Beuys and Dieter Roth has advanced to the point at which the steel tube above the tip of the cone will buckle. The chemical-physical processes at work in this temporary sculpture questions our desire for material permanence. In the medium of steel, which is regarded as indestructible, Burgel succeeds in developing a contemporary vanitas allegory that is all the more uncanny by virtue of the fact that its processes of decay are hidden from view. The balancing act and suspended law of gravity are exposed as artistic illusion. As time passes, the pull of the earth regains its power. Thus the telescoping tubes packed carefully in wooden cases (Aufbewahrung 1-3, 1997), objects which evoke associations with geological bores and have the look of fragmentary positive forms of Walter de Maria’s Erdkilometer in Kassel now bear witness to a conceptual interest in probing the earth-core, rather than denying its power of attraction.

Dr. Barbara Renftle

ã 2001

Article on the Ulm sculptor Felix Burgel (*1964) for NIKE, Special Sculpture, Munich, fall 2001

Translation by John S. Southard, Groß-Umstadt, Germany

Translation by John S. Southard, Groß-Umstadt, Germany