bis der Kopf den Geist aufgibt (transl. “until one’s head releases it’s mind”) is the title of Stefan Vogel’s first solo exhibition with SCHÖNEWALD in Düsseldorf. What initially appears to be a less than promising prophecy for a visit to the exhibition reveals a special dynamic in connection with Vogel’s imagery. The artist’s studio as a leitmotif runs like a thread through all three exhibition spaces. The understanding of the studio as a place where conventional attitudes towards productivity and economic viability are suspended has shaped the self-image of artists since the 1960s. It is not merely a workshop or working space but also fulfils the function of a free space, beyond social notions of efficiency and reason.
‘Let things come to you. They will indeed come; they’re getting closer already’, is how Jean Améry begins his novel-essay “Lefeu oder der Abbruch” (transl. “Lefeu or the demolition”), published in 1974. Here, Améry sketches the image of a shabby live-in studio in Paris as a statement of protest on the part of the artist against the senselessness of reality brought about by materialism: a the washbasin held together by glue-encrusted sink, the rotted floor, the dirty dishes, the cracked and peeling walls, ‘stained like the picture to which they give shelter, like the grey, unshaven face that gazes out of the mirror’. With the help of his protagonist, the painter Lefeu – who, in the course of the narrative, he describes as a “Unglücksvogel” (transl. “unlucky fellow”)– Améry deconstructs the norms and notions of society based on usefulness and processes of optimisation. It is with great pleasure that he conjures up the decline of bourgeois splendour, for only ‘decay is the essence of life; de-functionalised life’.
Entirely in line with this literary image of the studio as the site of the artist’s mental localisation, where life itself takes place, Stefan Vogel weaves constellations of social structures and states of consciousness into complex visual images. The reference and starting point for his work is his own studio in the Plagwitz district of Leipzig on the site of the former Baumwollspinnerei (cotton mill), where all traces come together and are bundled. Here, bed sheets come into close physical contact with concrete. Mental maps transferred onto actual maps point the direction. The head collides with the interior and exterior walls. Dirt and grime encrust the studio floor as creative fertiliser – inevitably, an arable land of arbitrariness. Flat and clean it would be completely useless for artistic processes, feuds and other scenarios.
The specific material and colour aesthetics of Vogel’s works are based on the use of natural and building materials, industrial textiles, everyday objects and photographs. A refrigerator, table, clothes-drying rack and shower, combined with a garden hedge, a venetian blind and paved walk create a panopticon of objects of daily use that are suitable for a narrative of domestic order. Rows of staples rotate clockwise, measuring time at ten-minute intervals. What gets dirty has to be washed. What is wet dries overnight. What should stay fresh longer should be kept in the freezer. It is a pitiful attempt to preserve memory. Time cannot prevent oblivion; things get covered in mould. In the artist’s cosmos, these elements combine to form metaphors for the existentialist restlessness of the mind in the continuous loop of life. Vogel’s studio pictures can be read as a humane counter-project to the absurdity of time and as projection surfaces for insoluble, deeply rooted conflicts, fragile relationship patterns and repetitive behaviour mechanisms, as well as communication structures. The last resort out of habit is decay.
Leipzig, July 2019