Sketches in Steel

Sketches in Steel

by Wolfgang Längsfeld, 1989

Gabriela von Habsburg -former student of Munich Art Academy professors Jacobsen and Paolozzi- is actually a large format constructivist sculptor. With her latest small format sculptures, which she introduced at the Autoren Galerie 1, she sets out on a path of expanding her expressive means without, however, becoming unfaithful to her root principle of constituting her work from a basis repertoire drawn from geometry. Extending the concept of combinatory multiplicity of constants drawn from elementary forms in one direction, as, for example, has been pursued for some time now in Ingolstadt, a new breeding ground for concrete art, refers in turn to basic modernist topoi and their reception.

To begin with, the principle of modernist purity- in terms of pure color and pure materials -is challenged. The materials used, steel and stainless steel, are not polished to perfection, and instead are belabored and discolored by heat and fire. The volume-giving components are furthermore connected by visibly welded seams, a sign of swelling corporeality that other sculptors usually prefer to smooth away. Avowing its life, the material -metal -is no longer just the neutralized transmitter of form. The small format sculptures have been set on mirror bases, thereby allowing the viewer to gain new insights and views of their spatial presence; in this way, visual concepts and the possibility for experiencing them is expanded. The ambiguous space mirrored back to the viewer forces him or her, as the object’s “partner”, to assume unusual positions of spectatorship that require the viewer’s bodily contribution, not just his or her passive gaze. Since the sculptures stand directly on their mirror bases, they are joined to their image immediately, without offering the viewer the objectifying distance he or she can maintain to his or her own image.

Aspects usually unseen or hidden are incorporated, down becomes up as top becomes bottom, and the work gains a new dimension. “Rooted” to their perfectly fiat, mirror-smooth bases, some of these objects are constructed in such a delicate balance that the slightest touch provokes them into long drawn-out movement. In this way they incorporate the element of time, and aspect classic works of constructivist sculptures offered solely as an intellectual possibility; they do this, however, without drifting into the orbit of mobile or kinetic geometric art styles for which time, movement, and reorganization were the most important building blocks. With her new work, Gabriela von Habsburg carefully and gently probes media self-reflexive sculptures, prodding them toward a multivalent, unaggressive emancipation of life.

Her spatial investigations consequently do not refer to the pioneers and current practitioners of constructivist art, but are instead fanned into flame by such polar points of reference as Leonardo and African art embody. Intellectual dynamism and sensual ambivalence offer themselves to the viewer, not assertively and demandingly; rather, they seek to incorporate him or her by (as the great Einstein already taught us) relativizing the apparently reliable ground of concreteness. The experiment introduced here is surely not yet completed.

But if one understands these works as proposals, as sketches in steel, one will get an intimation of what it is they aim at.

Wolfgang Längsfeld in the catalog ‘Autoren Galerie 1’, 1989