Stefan Burger at Kunsthalle Bern
Quite a few artists have been seeking the resistance of material in recent years. Apparently, this search not only has to do with escaping the boredom caused by the now all too familiar surfaces of a digitally-shaped world. What is also being sought is the moment that eludes one’s control, the moment when the material and the employed tools start speaking on their own and intervene in the artwork’s formation process.
The artistic quest for withdrawing one’s authority touches upon the question, dealt with in philosophy under the keyword “speculative realism,” of how much human intervention is necessary and does planet Earth good. But the artist Stefan Burger is dedicated to analog photography created in the laboratory for entirely different reasons as well. Perhaps there was initially no reason at all for this step, and he only let go of who he believed to be and the art audience was allegedly familiar with. In any case, the path led via the lab to a new side of Burger and opened up a surprising corridor in his creativity that distinguishes itself significantly from what one believed to know from him.
The “famous Burger humor” in his pictures is now replaced by the subtle charm of the botanical object and, in some photos, by a surprising depth. A depth that still deceives, however, for it seems to also consist of almost magical surfaces. Flat depths, which may not directly resist verbalization, but from which the attempt to put them into words repeatedly slides off; for example, one can describe how an extremely scanty tendril appears as a being possessing a character, or how entrancing certain manifestations of light or luster in the pictures are, since analog photography can achieve a different diversity than digital photography; one could also speak about the chromatic auras, about the moods created by chemical processes. But the attempt at verbalizing formal manifestations, at translating the material into language, reaches its limits. For what can language add to the intensity of these photos? Their power is based on something that can unfold only beyond text and external content, and solely in the joy of contemplation. Yet the images also lead away from themselves, their self-referentiality shifts and intertwines with other realities. The pictures are anything but pleasant, yet they bear the potentiality of beauty in that they open themselves up to the uniqueness of something—a plant, the light. They attempt to penetrate reality by drawing from sensuousness, to then return in the form of an artwork. Stefan Burger’s pictures remind one of the aesthetic ideas of traditional Chinese art, in which beauty is deemed an unfathomable mystery, because its necessity does not appear evident at first sight. But there, beauty also has to do with the uniqueness of the moment, it is an urge and an event that can captivate one, but it is not a state. There is no static notion of subject and object, but instead of abundance and emptiness, breath and rhythm. In between lies the artistic place of “middle emptiness,” it is a space to pause, albeit one that can also lead to transformation.
at Kunsthalle Bern
until 10 December 2017