Stefan Kern Ė Sculpture as Catharsis

Jan Winkelmann

Stefan Kern is a maniac. On Saturdays he gets up at four in the morning, on Sundays he sleeps in until half past six. It could be an inner restlessness Ė or unbridled energy Ė that denies him the supposedly so healthy eight hoursí sleep. In any case, few artists are as uncompromising and ruthless with themselves and their own resources as Stefan Kern. Far from constructing a romanticised cliché of the artist as a restless being driven by boundless creativity, I only mention this because it reveals an attitude Ė also evident in Kernís work Ė best described as cathartic purism.

Kernís sculptures are beautiful, noble and above all disturbing. The precisely finished forms, reduced to a functional minimum, emphasise the static quality of their decidedly sculptural appearance. However, harmonious shapes and monochrome, neutral colours underline their industrial character, blurring their contours and making them part of the environment in which they are situated. Kernís sculptures are rarely conceived as autonomous units, and although their relationship to a location is not always immediately obvious, their precise forms are based on a formal analysis of the place for which they are created. This relationship to a specific location naturally influences the sculpture, but is not so much an integral part of the work that it could not be exhibited in another context.

The purism characterising both the visual appearance and the material presence of Kernís work owes as much to the formal achievements of the Minimal Art movement as it does to an awareness of the way art works are perceived as an interconnected relationship between viewer and work of art, object and subject. In Kernís sculptures, the minimal artistsí idea that a work of art is perceived not only for its formal characteristics, but also in the context of the space in which it is exhibited, the way it is lit and the perspective of the viewer, is extended to include a performative dimension. Apart from these performative and sculptural characteristics, Kernís works also have functional qualities, as they are conceived as a physical experience for and with the viewer. But flatteringly comforting they are not. The resulting ambivalence between autonomous sculpture on the one hand and user-friendly functionalism on the other not only makes the viewer aware of his own physical presence; interaction with the sculpture exposes him, temporarily making him part of the work.

Apart from possessing these performative qualities, Kernís sculptures are also always oriented towards communicative processes. When several people interact with his creations, individual perception becomes a collectively communicative experience. Yet because this takes place in a context characterised by aesthetic constants, the formal, functional characteristics of the sculptures and the perception of a communicative situation are combined in a joint experience. This subtle perceptive process enables the viewer to experience Kernís work in the context of time. In this sense, another Dimension is added to the visual and receptive perception of his work. As Merleau Ponty expressed it: ďTime is not a real process [...]. It is created by my relationship to things.Ē

(Translated by Toby Alleyne-Gee)

Published in: German Open. Contemporary Art in Germany, Cat. Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg (Cantz-Verlag), 1999.

© 1999 Jan Winkelmann

German version