Matthias Wagner K

Alberto Weber

Matthias Wagner K’s installation, entitled Bufo Viridis (Green toad, 1989), presents a seductive but threatening environment that ominously calls to mind our increasingly sterile and lifeless relationship to nature, and that seems to place survival within the distant realm of the unimaginable. Through the use of a simple formal language, Wagner K addresses the altering or taming of nature. As in many of Wagner K’s previous works, the presence of a vibrant blue light and shallow pools of water seems to distinguish the piece from the rigorously antimimetic by initiating a discourse with both the representational and the narrative significance of the materials. Wagner K’s art attempts to move through and beyond the tradition of imitating nature, in order to call into question nature’s uncertain destiny.

Bufo Viridis consists of five waist-high cylindrical constructions, which are arranged in an orderly line parallel to the wall. The forms seem to refer to the containment or display tanks used for biological specimens, but from even the slightest distance they become abstract, and this installation seems to function as an allegory of the dangers of attempting to transform nature into something else, something more profitable, perhaps, or more functional. Where the walls meet the ceiling, Wagner K has created a recess out of which flows a cold, artificial, even, blue light. Within each of the containers, under a shallow pool of stagnant water, he has inserted a backlit transparency of a shiny, red sphere. The piece evokes a horrific narrative of futuristic biotechnology. The strange blue illumination of the ceiling reads like a kitsch representation of sky. The bizarre near-emptiness of the space, and the absence of any fixed meaning, makes Bufo Viridis a monument to absence.

Wagner K’s work seems to divide itself between a mute appropriation of Minimalist sculptural practices and a desire to participate in a more traditional artistic discourse. The work seems grounded in both a sentimental and physical reaction to its surroundings. By adopting as its subject the transformation of nature, Bufo Viridis also recalls the tale of the toad turned into a prince by a kiss. In this instance, however, the results of technology’s kiss of the landscape are frightening to consider.

Anthony Lannacci