Melancholia (Systema Saturnium)
Galerie Guido W. Baudach is pleased to present Melancholia (Systema Saturnium), the fifth solo exhibition of new work by Björn Dahlem here since 2001.
As a sculptor working in the contemporary mould, the point of departure for Dahlem’s creative output is fragility rather than stability. With a profound knowledge of intellectual and cultural history, he projects complex scientific thematics into the artistic field. His sculptures and installations are usually produced using everyday materials from hardware stores and junk shops; their content takes off where our understanding of the known world comes up against its limits. They translate the great mysteries of mankind, from the origins of the universe to the nature of the human condition, into ever new variations of a unique artistic language, into a particular vocabulary whose intrinsic humour makes the boundaries of human knowledge both tangible and feasible. A lucid thinker and an artist who strives for concentrated form, Dahlem translates world models and theories that would otherwise barely be comprehensible to the layman into sculptural constructs with a lightness that virtually hovers, at once highly complex and yet always bound to quotidian life simply by virtue of their materiality. The frequent use of lighting elements such as bulbs and neon tubes epitomises the illuminating qualities of his precisely conceived work.
With the title of the current exhibition Dahlem makes reference to two important works, one from the history of art, the other from the history of science: Melencolia I, Albrecht Dürer’s wood engraving of 1514, and the work Systema Saturnium of 1659 by the Dutch naturalist Christian Huygens. But whilst Huygens’ book analysed the astronomical characteristics of the ringed planet, Dahlem sets out to systematise the mythological meaning of Saturn – melancholia – bringing it back full circle to Dürer’s allegorical xylograph. Melancholia tends to denote a mental state of depression or sorrow, though it is not generally traced back to any specific cause or trigger. The word is of Greek origin and is often translated into the German language as Weltschmerz (world-weariness). As a human characteristic, melancholia usually has unequivocally negative connotations, though antiquity also considered it a necessary precondition for extraordinary creative achievement. In Albrecht Dürer’s work it appears as state of mind peculiar to those of an artistic, creative disposition. Björn Dahlem takes up this idea in his exhibition.
Saturn, a tabernacle-like assemblage of black-painted materials under Plexiglas that transitions into an expressive, helixical pedestal, is placed beside a light and quietly buoyant sculpture, Schaum (spume), which draws on a motif whose popularity is virtually unparalleled in the history of art: the myth of The Birth of Venus. Dahlem has recourse to a sculptural icon here: the Venus de Milo – albeit in the form of a cheap plastic reproduction. Under a bonnet of plexiglass, inclined to one side by gravity and placed within a web-like, transparent polyhedral wooden construct, this kitschy little relic of the tourist souvenir trade seems to hover in space. The form of the white pedestal evokes the structure of the polyhedron, which in turn points to the physical structure of the spume from which, according to the myth, Venus was born and which, geologically, constituted the primal matter of the earth.
For all these references to cultural history, Dahlem’s goddess of beauty does not alight on a surreal beach landscape such as that of Sandro Botticelli; she appears within something that recalls a scientific model, a formation of converted flotsam and reworked building materials. Lifeless, inanimate material is transformed into living form. All sorts of things can become the primal matter of Dahlem’s creations, from art history to DIY tools. But it is the artist who breathes (new) life into these things; he does so by giving them a (new) form, a (new) veracity. And just as the Saturn and Venus of Greek mythology were born of the same father, so they remain as metaphorical brother and sister for Björn Dahlem, inextricably bound up with one another, a prototypical resolution into beauty – particularly in artistic practice – of the unhappiness of the present (melancholia) and the existential urge to create.
Björn Dahlem was born in Munich in 1974 and lives and works in Berlin. He holds a professorial chair at the Kunsthochschule Braunschweig and has participated in numerous major exhibitions at home and abroad for more than a decade (selection): Kunstverein Braunschweig; Kunsthalle Rostock (2012); Mudam Luxembourg (2011); Quadriennale Düsseldorf; Kunstmuseum St. Gallen; Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin (2010), La Conservera, Murcia (2009); ZKM, Karlsruhe (2008); Bregenzer Kunstverein; kestnergesellschaft, Hannover (2007); Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC (2006); Hamburger Kunsthalle (2005); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; FRAC, Marseilles (2004); Kabinett für aktuelle Kunst, Bremerhaven (2003); Kunstverein Hannover (2002); Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach; Van BommelMuseum, Venlo (2001); Neuer Aachener Kunstverein (2000); Fridericianum Kassel (1999).