Clemens Ottnad – Rankenwerk (the intertwining of climbing creepers)
Stadtbibliothek Stuttgart, Graphothek 23rd October 2014 – 11th April 2015
Opening of the exhibition on Thursday, 23rd October 2014 at 18:00
When Anne Römpp arrives to set up an exhibition, she generally brings with her a large assortment of crates, cases, bags and bundles, just as one would expect of a sculptor. Even so, bystanders watching the unloading of the vehicle might well be surprised at the objects that are carried past. Apart from inevitable tools like electric screwdrivers and drills, bench saws and other technical equipment, the diverse objects emerging from the boot of the car appear much too light, not bulky enough and seem somehow too insignificant in their dimensions, mass and volume for a solo exhibition. But there is barely time to cover up the initial astonishment and to appear well-informed, before being yet again confused, following the artist on her way to the exhibition rooms as she casts a practiced and critical eye over entrance halls, elevators, stairways, passages: carefully scrutinizing, closely examining, constantly finding, valuing and discarding material and vernacular potentials. After once having seen recesses and wall projections with Anne Römpp’s eyes, it will completely change our view of the hitherto completely ignored and at best as negligible or superfluous considered nooks and crannies, which she has so carefully selected and lifted from their obscurity to great importance.
In the exhibition rooms the artist does not roll out a well-oiled machine park to work, for example, on some specific material – which would be an obvious choice given her training in technical and artistic craft. Instead, just as she would in her studio, she spreads out an astounding variety of objects, choosing from a vast treasure trove of the lost and found, the discarded, the seemingly useless and the apparently worthless, of litter and other items whose former use may no longer be apparent.
The title “Rankenwerk” -roughly translated as the intertwining of climbing creepers– already suggests to the mind’s eye the artistic nature and special character of her work. Piece by piece, fragment by fragment, the installation seems to be growing in an almost organic form and of its own volition (although, of course, we are well aware who is the creator in this process). As a whole, the piece grows and grows, seeming to twist and wind over the boundaries of tableau, frame and room, and yet is built tectonically as a supporting structure. In contrary to photography, which is paradoxically able to capture a fleeting moment in print (evanescence, the short-lived moment, can never truly be captured), Anne Römpp does not generally fix her work – assemblages, sculptures, installations or whatever you would like to call it – to anything, which lends an inner dynamic to the whole solid and fixed seeming world of things. Electrical conductors (found in the assemblage in industrial manufacture), arranged in serial and only held in place by the frame and glass, thus form a fragile work of lines, where at most only the odd component dances impatiently out of line.
When Anne Römpp uses discarded material, broken objects or the sediment of daily life, we are by no means talking about so-called readymades, known since Dadaism as objets trouvés, not -or barely- touched by the artist. Our artist might well appreciate, for example, the enchanting beauty of a “chance meeting of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table”, which the Comte de Lautréamont praises in his Songs of the Maldoror, published in 1868; But her intertwining and climbing work, her Rankenwerke, rather represent unreadymades. Human artifacts should not be seen portrait-like and as complete works of art in themselves: Only by being detached from their original function, meaning and conservation as a whole, can the objects develop in free-floating connections and gain an independent self-will and sensuality. In their mobility, these are recognizably closer to the concept of composition than the inert setting of rigid pictures.
This particular self-will of objects which Anne Römpp lends her work also emphasizes the difference between Rankenwerken (intertwining of climbing creepers) and Ränkeschmiede (schemers or plotters), as she does not show them as constantly conspiring against mankind. Some days might, indeed, lead us to believe in a downright mutiny of things, as described 1878 by the notorious philosopher and writer Friedrich Theodor Vischer, aka Deutobold Symbolizetti Allegoriowitsch Mystifizinsky: “From the break of dawn until the dead of night, as long as one man be about, the objects ponder malice and spite … Thus, all objects lie in ambush, pencil, quill, inkwell, paper, cigar, glas, lamp – all, all await their chance when our guard be dropped.” This rebellious independence where the useful and familiar objects which surround us every day come to life, rising up against us, has since fascinated countless scientists the world over and finally found it’s literary climax in Erhart Kästner’s novel, “Aufstand der Dinge”, the mutiny of the things (published in 1973). Here, Kästner describes a forced attempt to “set up a contract with the things. Thus, the things will have no choice but will be forced to answer.”
Anne Römpp has clearly set up this contract and is making the things speak: If walking through the cemetery generally seems like a pleasant evening stroll through the suburbs of a small German town – the pristine front gardens with their well-kept borders, always showing off the ostentatious facade (so much for “equality in death”) – she concentrates instead on what goes on behind this Potemkin setting. In a series of photographic work she shows the flip side of the highly polished surfaces of the ornately gilded grave stones -the plein-air back-room of Death, as it were- revealing private biographic traces, personal singularities and family histories, which become apparent in the gardening tools for the care of the grave, gloves, vases and holy water, all stacked elaborately and protected from the rain.
Without hesitation, Anne Römpp thus establishes a new building type of small-scale architecture with her spade sheds (Schaufelschuppen), creating functional housing for the intimate meeting between the living and the dead in public spaces. Based on the individual system of (un-)organizing (as found in basement hobby rooms and garages in lifetime), these housings give a far more personal impression of the private life and environment of an individual than the representational facades of what has been could ever hope to do. This prototype of living monuments (instead of sepulchral tomb stones) – made of painted wood and other materials – she passes on to other artists, so that they may evolve the idea further. These presentational models by other artists can be found here between the shelves, in the labyrinthine search, having once again picked up Anne Römpp’s way of seeing and working.
The catalog made on occasion of her stipend and consequent stay in the manor house at Edenkoben, also “works” in this way. The neon-green title on the outside cover is barely legible (it seems to flicker gently in front of the eyes), while the words on the inside are only visible as a faint pattern on the white background in daylight. But having grown tolerably accustomed to her hidden images, an idea dawns on me and I hold the translucent words under the artificial light of a desk lamp – clear letters and words appear immediately, just like the magic lemon juice ink from our childhood days. The author Nina Jäckle, who wrote a wonderful text on the exhibition at Edenkoben (2011), expressed it thus: “We absorb the place itself, collecting from the context into the context.
Perhaps the found objects are already defined afresh on the way home, placing one Next-To to the other Next-To, making us find something new in the Found; There is a constant movement, always something is discovered that will stand out in the Next-To-Each-Other, as neighbouring objects.”
Clemens Ottnad M.A., arthistorian
Director of the Baden-Württemberg Association of Artists