Manfred Stumpf

A few years ago, Manfred Stumpf’s schematized drawings consisted of fine, exact contours that mimicked the slope of his own handwriting. Now Stumpf has made the computer his own, moving from a sense of personal intimacy to an emphasis on communication. With the help of this objective medium he combines and confronts elements of traditional Christian iconography with technical symbols, juxtaposing palm branches or a donkey with a computer, telephone, or television. The donkey doesn’t merely carry a palm-holding savior but also the icons of modern communication.

In the computer-generated image of Saint Hieronymous, Christian symbolism meets the techno age. This rigorous monk, who glorified flight from the world and asceticism, sits at a table on which lies a portable telephone, a built-in computer, and a sheet of paper, facing the viewer; at his feet rests a lion. He does not seem to be rapt in contemplation or to deny the world. On one side of the background Mary nurses Jesus and on the other appears a modern-day skyline. Stumpf does not deny the possibility of creating a parallel between the divine and the worldly. Hieronymous’ studio is no longer a hermit’s hut, rather it is connected to the outside world through modern technology. In this image of the studio, Stumpf communicates his idea of the connection between a time-specific conception of art and the role and purpose of the artist today. The artist as thinker, as one who records his feelings and his environment, but also, like Hieronymous, as a translator of tradition, as an intermediary between past and future, as the one who reconciles worldly and divine symbolism. At the same time it is an image of a possible step into the future that never enters the realm of sci-fi.

Stumpf not only views the artist as ascetic, but also knows how to make the viewer enter into a meditative state. He plans to send a 20-foot structure around the world called the “Contempler,” a kind of traveling chapel intended as a space of meditation. Inside hangs a drawing based on the depiction of Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem that is constructed using several geometric principles. Once inside this moveable, quasi-religious site, the viewer is engulfed in darkness, the only source of light a window on the roof.

In his work, Stumpf offers various architectures, geometric patterns, and accompanying figures, but for him the image is no longer the illusionistic reflection of reality, rather, it is understood as a puzzling ceremony of teaching and contemplation. Again and again in Stumpf’s works, the technological establishes a connection between past and present, between the image as religious icon and its role in an increasingly complex network of.signs and values: it becomes an esthetic and technical stage that enables him to offer the beginnings of a foundation for the future.

Frank Alexander Hettig

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.