Tommy Støckel

There’s a story about Max Bill, the director of the Ulmer Hochschule für Gestaltung, which after 1945 aimed to follow in the tradition of the Weimar Bauhaus. It is said that he could be driven into a state of white-hot fury by a bouquet of flowers placed in one of the school’s rooms. The plants’ exuberant forms went against the strict clarity of modernism, based on the principle of the square and the view that this form has eternal and universal validity; flowers, by contrast, wilt and fade. In his sculptures and installations, the Danish artist Tommy Støckel questions precisely these two basic principles of modernism: its right-angled rigidity and its insistence on the universal, eternal validity of this module.

Støckel’s deconstructive riposte to the principles of modernism was the final show in a series of four—ironically titled “Ist das Leben nicht schön?” (Isn’t Life Beautiful?)—that was the first project by the Kunstverein’s new curator, Chus Martínez. The first three exhibitions showcased Turkish video artist Esra Ersen, Polish painter Wilhelm Sasnal, and Lithuanian photographer Arturas Raila. Unlike the Minimalists, who produced their objects with machines, Støckel cuts, bends, and glues everything with his own hands. He uses paper and cardboard to create walls, passages, and shapes that divide and multiply, proliferate and sprawl, in all directions. The model for these works is the Mandelbrot set; Støckel believes that if the Minimalists had been familiar with chaos theory, they too might have produced fractals rather than boxes and cubes.

In the smaller room of the exhibition space at the Kunstverein, Støckel’s fractals grew wild in every corner, on the walls, on the floor, and around a row of “columns”—that mainstay of architectural classicism, here rendered in cardboard. In the second, larger room, things looked more Romantic. Ruins were a recurrent motif: In Clash of the Classics, 2006, forms arranged using fractal calculations fall apart atop plinths. On cardboard walls, collages created from model-railway catalogues were arranged in decorative geometric patterns; other collages featured colorful human figures taken from magazines—though Støckel had cut dangerous-looking gashes into some of them. The walls of the room appeared to be crumbling; everything was tipping over, collapsing, or exploding. The uncontrollable chaos created by this fantastic growth, which Bill had seen in a bouquet of flowers, seemed to be the only durable element in the exhibition. In fact, the title of one of the sculptures is It’s Never Forever, 2004.

Støckel’s work might sound a bit didactic, but the luminous colors he employs in his fractal formations lend a lightness, even a cheerfulness, to the objects. And the maniacal precision of his handcrafted objects creates an ironic undertone that vibrated throughout the space. The clever arrangement constantly allowed for new and unexpected views, emphasizing playfulness. Surrounded by these shapes, the viewer had no choice but to abandon any attachment to modernism, now definitively in ruins. Yet despite this—or because of it?—one left elated rather than depressed.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Wendy Gosselin.