Nándor Angstenberger, 2016
born 1970 in Novi Sad (former Yugoslavia) / German and Hungarian nationality; lives and works in Berlin
Susanne Burmester Galerie, Putbus / Rügen
Between throw-away culture and world model: Transformation, utopia and memory
100 stir sticks made of polystyrene, pure white, and 11 cm long can be got in a grocery store for as little as cents. Usually they are used for a few seconds – one or two stirs of the coffee or tea – then their purpose is fulfilled. The length of time from the new product to trash is extremely short, and even the money value of these objects comes very close to that of a twig on the ground. Equally small is also the amount of attention paid to such a short-livedarticle as regards its aesthetic design. At the same time closer inspection certainly gives rise to questions about the form of the plastic stirrers: for example, they may be provided with an elongated opening, with two holes, or with oval eyes separated by a web; formed like a darning needle, a paddle, or a tennis racket, with groove, beaded edge, or rounded and so on …
In the work of Nándor Angstenberger these stir sticks play a not insignificant role. His architectonic constructions are, in their material richness, exuberant growths, object worlds with powerful imagery. Starting from a pure white, synthetic abstraction, over the years these have become loaded with more and more colour and amalgamated with natural materials. Common to all the materials used is the fact that they are more or less worthless, already thrown away, no longer serving their actual purpose, or materials found in quite different contexts. Especially in the case of the synthetic fabrics is that so; in the case of plastic, however, this transition from valuable to worthless – the plastic stirrers, for example – is virtually a flowing continuum, since the pecuniary significance of the objects only becomes at all worth mentioning when the quantity is large. When – as more recently – pieces of wood, mussels, fabric remnants, stones or dead insects are added, the valuation of these components of the sculptural installations gets ever more involved.
Hence Nándor Angstenberger’s works are not simply recycling art: he is not so much concerned with the maximum reuse of our consumer waste to conserve resources, but rather with raising the awareness of these unnoticed things. The magic that, on closer examination, can be conjured out of the all too often strange looking throw-away articles; the magic that slumbers in the signs of wear of objects which have become used and dysfunctional – is what intrigues Angstenberger: the formal richness, as well as the utopian potential that resides in their unexpected meeting – and he stages that with great meticulousness and passion.
Starting with the apparently neutral white of all these objects from very different usage and appearance contexts, he takes the almost inexhaustible diversity of these finds as point of departure for an exuberant passion for worldbuilding, for dreamlike models of aesthetic and architectonic construction in which coloured objects set their poetic accents sparingly and with great effect. And so in his sculptures and installations a second further reinterpretation takes place beyond the economic transformation process, and is carried by shifts in perspective and optical illusions. The stir sticks already mentioned several times now turn into windows and pillars, panels and struts, while plastic beadsappear as cupolas and dew drops; and combine with white Lego bricks, stoppers, and paper balls to form universes of meditative building lust. It is not uncommon for threads and bracing, lines stuck on the floor and walls to continue this interconnectedness tangibly into the picture and out of the picture, combining the individual artistic objects into a complex overall installation.
It is astonishingly obvious to get from the idea of worldbuilding, the God mode of model constructions with the countless decisions about rise, splendour and fall of individual materials to the world of gods itself, especially in view of the often so characteristic light – frequently experienced as mystical – over Lake Constance, where heaven and earth, water and sun at times seem to merge. In Greek mythology, there arose out of such an energy charged meeting of heaven (Uranus) and earth (Gaia) the Titan Hyperion, who in 2016 not only provides the title for Nándor Angstenberger’s presentation in the Zeppelin Museum Friedrichshafen, but also denotes a central work on the end wall of the exhibition room. It is a large wall relief in which an unknown civilisation appears to be sunk in the white depth of a polystyrene block with cave dwellings, wickerwork nests, with walkways, bridges and arches. Like root or vine strands, artistically woven branches situate this world between heaven and earth, shimmering rock-cut city and floating fantasy in one, populated only by some inert spiders and moths. The gaze becomes dizzy in the light of this exuberant diversity of materials, which pupate and expose themselves and each other, sometimes space ship and sometimes burrow, simply incalculable in the richness of possible forms.
As though spider’s web and cocoon were the godparents of these slender agglomerations, so here not only things and objects are interwoven, but also meanings and memories. A structured chaos arises solely according to the rules of the artist, full of images and personal references, not sentimental, but full of warmth and vigour, a store of untold stories between refuge and defence. Not only sun forms, halos and sanctuaries are to be discovered here, but also shards and debris, fortifications and death threatening constructions. In this way – and without biographical references being explicitly formulated – the drama of Hyperion becomes the universal image of the polarity of heaven and earth, day and night, life and death in which Nándor Angstenberger’s experiences between Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Germany determine only the very personal blueprint.
A counterworld of a quite different stamp is the black skeletal tower further to the front of the room: a lattice structure that appears as if frozen in motion, almost like a melting collapse that has been arrested at a certain point. One discovers only relatively late that this extremely fragile construction actually consists of charred matches stuck together at their ends. The burning has caused the thin squared pieces of wood to assume highly individualised bent and twisted forms. They seem to hold together almost naturally and once in combination find an apparently firm structure: still, black, actually perished, and yet full of formal life – and at once threatened by complete destruction at any moment.
This new life out of used materials also draws on the juxtaposed fabric composition. It consists entirely of discarded black pieces of the artist’s clothing, and draws its diverse shades from the various degrees of fading of the textiles that have been worn. Very similar to the match sculpture titled Cinis (lat. ashes) there seems to also be a warmth in this fabric: here not that of the consuming fire, but of the living body that has registered its traces and experiences in the textiles. Both works draw on the destruction of material – in our modern civilisation that is simply one-time use (matches) or throwing away (old clothes) – that elevates them phoenix-like to a new, transformed life, and perpetuates their story.
What appears in the fabric composition as not so easily deciphered lines of various textile strips, resembling in their different shades sedimentary layers of earth, is presented in the red streaked fabric tower Ignis (lat. fire) as a construction form, as simple as it is functional. To be specific, Nándor Angstenberger cuts the collected textiles regardless of type into small rectangles (mostly about 3 × 4 centimetres in size), and folds them twice – like laundry, each held by a drop of adhesive – into small fabric elements. These are then piled high, carefully layered into a block that remains hollow inside but shows perfect geometry outside: a fire tower of discarded body coverings, defensively protecting an individual space hidden inside, and really breathing the spirit of the worn clothes.
Almost like a mediator, however, is the large bracing Caelum (lat. heaven) in the centre of the room, two different size cone segments drawn from threads, partly accessible and open, arching over two sculptural elements made out of polystyrene and wood. This place appears almost like a material breach: everything is temporary, built for this room, and the moment of the exhibition. The non-degradable foam seems only loosely connected with the dead branches: like the clash of technical production and natural growth, just as the coloured threads and the brightly coloured adhesive strips are a hybrid combination of mathematical precision and improvised construction.
The references and associations that Nándor Angstenberger creates always appear multifaceted and open: images and ideas mixing with stories and memories; the individual and personal with objective factuality and common knowledge. At the same time the model-like aspects of his installations play an important role: they are structures of the possible, precarious constructions of material resurgence that shimmer in their allusions to Greek legend between triumph and fall, between fate and temptation. In the model, small becomes big, and one sees the details, which develop a life of their own; they act as though they are part of their own, new world, in which life seems strange and mysterious, yet also manageable. For a moment in an increasingly confusing present, the rules and dependencies again appear more tangible, and hence also more comprehensible. Imagination and expectations, hopes and dreams are superimposed on physical structures, which themselves consist only of the waste of our all too careless everyday life. Nándor Angstenberger is no advocate of the ecological moral suasion culture, but his model structures deal with social discourses and concerns in personally coloured as well as universal contexts. He is a world builder for the unlimited possibilities that we must constantly keep in mind in order to have faith in the power of change, in the potential of imagination as a life skill, and the constructive possibilities of taking a close look – and then to act …