Five Thoughts Towards a Bilingual Sculpture, 2014

How to Live


Der Lebensbaum / Arbor Vitae
Die Opfergabe / Offering
Die Gebetsperlen / Prayer Beads
Die Aussicht / Outlook
Die Verzierung / Adornment

Claudia Sarnthein, Missing Narrative, This is Art/Into-the-Fold, London, 2014


Flechtwerk / Connective Tissue

A fascination with multilingualism is one of German born London-based artist Claudia Sarnthein’s underlying interests. In her work she employs a variety of media such as photography, found materials, objects and drawings, which she combines into spatial installations resembling display structures, theatrical settings or simply an open choreography of space. Take, for example, the work Five Thoughts Towards a Bilingual Sculpture (2014), consisting of a moulding, a tree trunk, beads, a wooden relief of a deer head, and a painting on glass with moiré effect. At first sight it seems a casual composition of materials, presenting the viewer with an almost accidental mis-en-scene. But the longer one views it, the more the subtle references and associations between the different elements unfold. There is a tension between what is present and what is represented, which allows the components to question each other rather than being explanatory.

Sarnthein’s approach extends from the issue of representation to the process of reading, rendering the space of the ‘other’ as an integral part of her formal arrangements. In this sense the composition and its syntax serve not only as a method of assemblage, but also create a space between the different elements, a space for in-betweenness. In Sarnthein's recent work Episode (2015), the concept of an assemblage is extended to incorporate the entire exhibition space, oscillating between different positions and an overall situation. The space between the different elements is stretched to such an extent that the viewer needs to move continuously. In this way Episode also shows a different composing feature, one of rhythm and choreography, which relates to a force field rather than to a three-dimensional assemblage.

Transforming formal elements for dynamic presentations in this way reminds me of the curatorial approach of art historian Alexander Dorner (1893–1957). In 1925 he initiated a series of exhibitions at the Landesmuseum Hannover that translated avant-garde practices into new methods of presentation. One of the focal points was the integration of the invisible space between different aesthetic regimes. An integral concept of his was the ‘Raumbild’, referring to a spatial image as well as an image of space. Being a representation as well as having a presence in space, it describes a position between the material and the immaterial or the perceived and the imagined. It is the concept of a space of simultaneousness, where a tissue of relations unfolds between the audience, objects and abstract concepts like history. And it is this connective tissue that is featured in the work of Claudia Sarnthein, an invisible yet palpable structure that we are inevitably part of.

Alexandra Landré, BE 23 Magazine, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin 2016