Basel

View of “Erik Steinbrecher,” 2016.

View of “Erik Steinbrecher,” 2016.

Erik Steinbrecher

STAMPA

View of “Erik Steinbrecher,” 2016.

In a show at Stampa’s suite of rooms, you always experience everything twice: once on your way in, and again on your way out, your journey usually interrupted by a side trip to the bookstore that sends you off on further jaunts of the imagination. I’ll begin this tale in the gallery’s back room, as one might run a film backward: A red parasol, set in a white plastic stand and adorned with a glowing lightbulb dangling on a long cord, cheerfully arched above a loose assemblage of found and artist-made objects arranged on the pale wood floor, as if the sun were shining indoors. Scattered elements made of ceramic (both fired and raw) lay beside a microwave that might potentially have altered the aggregate state of these plastic forms. Wide-mesh crocheted shawls in a mildly nostalgic eggshell white hung from gleaming-white ceramic tiles attached to the walls. But this idyllic arts-and-crafts atmosphere was misleading, and not only because of the presence of a small aluminum beer keg from the supermarket next door. This playful arrangement was instead what Erik Steinbrecher calls a “construction site”: in this case, an installation revolving around ceramics, in which sanitary porcelain is lightly doused with a cascade of ready-made connotations.

The second room housed a collection of persons and faces depicted in various media (photography, offset prints, a mannequin sporting a striped shirt), but particularly striking were two curved pipes, one pink, one yellow, sticking out from the wall like a pair of characters whose bright, colorful, expansive statements abstractly influenced the silent discourse of the other objects—for instance, a framed pinkish monochrome photograph that turned out to show an extreme close-up of Kasper König’s nose.

In the third room, near the entrance, two sets of electric hair clippers buzzed and vibrated on the transparent surface of a small drum, along with a microphone that transmitted the sound to a mobile amplifier. On the wall, looking like a pitch-black rock-and-roll homage to John Cage, hung an electric guitar with prepared strings, while the perforated matte aluminum surface beside it reflected the viewer’s shadowy, half-toned image in iridescent hues, like a painterly mirror. Fire and water—two of antiquity’s basic elements—appeared in a wall-mounted display case, as at a fancy druggist’s or perfume shop, in the form of repeated pairings of cigarette lighters and PET bottles.

Indirectly, these works recalled Steinbrecher’s contribution to Documenta 10 (1997), which consisted of a group of posters mounted in a public space near Kassel’s old main train station. That effort already displayed certain aspects of paradoxical intervention: hermetic images presented in place of advertising messages. Steinbrecher disrupts familiar scenarios, images, objects, and architectural and urban environments. He lends selected objects the same freedom over their static meanings that jugglers enjoy in relation to gravity. In the gallery’s bookstore, one found some of his many books filled with collages and small interventions via objects.

Steinbrecher seems to be a descendant of the Situationists; he understands and utilizes every space both materially and symbolically as a zone of new possibilities. His playfulness is subversive in the tribute it pays to his materials, always adding new chapters to the extensive and appealingly digressive narrative he has been presenting.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.