Text to workgroup cubecracks.
Doris von Drathen
When the invisible becomes tangible
Among the writings of antiquity which were rediscovered and translated during the Renaissance, two in particular quickly became quite fashionable indeed. One was the legendary emerald tablet of Hermes Trismegistus which proposed analogies between the human body and the earth, likening for instance human nerves and veins to mineral and water veins, correlating eyes to the seas of the globe and hair to trees. This treatise ultimately expounded an intrinsic unity between the earthly body and the human body, an approach which still proccupies dialogist scientists such as the Nobel-prize-winners Prigogine and Stengers. The second work which excited just as much interest was Vitruvius’ ancient treatise on the transcription of the human body into geometric forms. His calculations revealed that the sum length of the extendedarms of an average-sized man equalled the height of his body, meaning that the human form could be drawn within a circle or a square. This observation was later to aid Le Corbusier in establishing the measurements of his module.
While our cultural thinking has on the one hand been shaped by perspectives which show man to be a constituent part of the world, it has also been moulded by advocates who have taken precisely the opposite approach. One such proponent is Aby Warburg, who in his studies right through mythologyand the images of antiquity and the Renaissance makes the legitimate case for dešning the “conscious creation of distance between the self and the external world as a fundamental act of human civilization”1. When Hercules or Laocoon free themselves of the monster, it is consistent with Warburg’s interpretation to regard these images as the release of the self from the external world, as an act of
individuation. It is also one of psychology’s fundamental insights to seek individual liberation particularly where the subject distances himself from the modes of existence and behaviour exercised by the external world.
What means of exit from our world are available? The desire to create signs which do not refer to the world, but point beyond it, which do not point to what is inherently human, but achieve an alien and autonomous vantage-point, demands a form of art which surpasses abstraction. For abstracted signs continue to be šgures borrowed from observed reality, as formulated by Adorno in his description of abstraction as the “caput mortuum” of the concrete world.2
For some thirty years HD Schrader has been investigating geometric forms derived from purely artificial systems. His work consists of introducing variational systems of rhomboids, series of squares and, at a later stage, series of cubes into a world of images and objects which, following a set of constant rules, unleashes new and unknown phenomena. Where as in his earlier variations and series of squares and cubes he generated forms through a process of combination, in the seventies he developed a comprehensive ensemble of polygons which were suspended within the imaginary space of a cube. Each rotation at an angle he randomly chose resulted in a new polygon which he then transposed from imaginary space onto a two-dimensional surface. It was from this corpus of rotations – produced with the inspirational logic of small sensations – that he proceeded to evolve a further body of works based on the process of division. In a subsequent step, HD Schrader freely positioned diagonals which cut through
the surface of the square or the three-dimensional space of the cube, thereby leading him to discover new series of forms.
In the early nineties Schrader then constructed his cubecuts, the first sculptures he based on the logic of such diagonal intersections. His first cubecuts are still segmented by linear cuts which traverse the outer surface. These were six hollow bodies, each one assembled from three 60 cm cubes. A seventh, projected “residue” sculpture, insubstantially emerges from the inverted cuts. In this series of cubecuts and their progressively manifest dynamism the viewer apprehends a connection between the sculptures; indeed, on longer inspection the eye even begins to add to the invisible, 180 cm high, three-cubed space, and to grasp that each sculpture forms just one part of a whole. This process thematically highlights just how much this work is determined by minimal occurrences. But these happen to be occurrences which shape the life of these sculptures; the formative act witnessed here is dependent less upon a static layout than upon a dynamic course of events. This represents a fundamental break in the formal evolution of physical bodies, a difference Deleuze emphasizes in his query as to what could be more intimate, more essential and more real for a body than the events of growing, shrinking or being dissected?3
One might say that the six cubecuts were forerunners for the cubecracks, the cube sections which in 1995 Schrader for the first time dared to place in the path of the people living in the small town of Herne. Seven-and-a-half metres high, built of steel and conspicuously red, they are twelve cubecracks whose
sequence discloses the imaginary space they were derived from, three stacked 2.5 m cubes. While the viewer follows the dynamic movement of these alien motifs from sculpture to sculpture, and from the horizontal to the vertical quickly discovers that each one represents a single part of a whole, an aura can be sensed spreading up from the very invisibility of the whole, an aura which constitutes the mystery of these sculptures and marks their uniqueness. As Schrader points out, “It is of course what has been omitted that determines each single piece”.4
For his first cubecracks Schrader had constructed a cardboard model, folded down the sideflaps and calculated each cut individually – an extremely time-consuming procedure, since the angle of incision through the cardboard’s width also had to be taken into account for each each cut. For his new cubecut series, “Eleven Cubecuts”, the computer has opened up a completely new dimension. Schrader no longer divides his square blocks in a linear fashion, but can now achieve a virtual section following a surface cutting right through the entire volume. The basic elements are provided by five cubes wich put together make up a cross meassuring 3 x 3 x 9 m and is then dissected by the first two diogonal cuts. What is new about these cubecracks is not just their spatial division, but also the inclusion of the sculptures’ design in the way they are presented. As a work ensemble, “Eleven Cubecuts” represents an ongoing process which evolves out of an expanding numerical series of cubecuts and cubecracks subject to successive subdivision from one exhibition to the next. In doing this, Schrader directly takes into account the dynamic qualities of his work by demonstrating
the permutational character of the divided and divisible bodies. This series of divisions could be pursued to infinity, were it not for the hand of the intervening artist who intuitively knows which forms he requires for his work – those which offer the sharpest contrasts and which are the most spatial. This selective process is informed by the same artistic instinct which also tells a painter when his painting is “just right”. Accordingly, this maxim ultimately releases a certain energy which approximates that eternal artistic enigma described by Blanchot: “L’extraordinaire commence, quand je m’arrête”.5
Schrader’s work differs from contemporary sculpture in two key aspects. Firstly, he is not an abstract sculptor. The large, emblematic sculptures by the likes of Tony Smith or Anthony Caro can be traced back to observed objects. Schrader seeks absolute, concrete forms. Secondly, his work differs in that he does not think in terms of the surrounding space. When Brancusi installed his “Bird in Space”, he sparked off a theme which thereafter became a new point of departure for all sculptors: the spatial context. Richard Serra maintains a dialogue with surrounding space; Susana Solano sees her work as an interlocution with spatiality; Carl Andre opens up the sky above his plates or dissects space with his timber lines. Schrader’s figures also undoubtedly relate to their surroundings, though this tends to be more of a by-product. But the space which really plays a role here, highlighting the alien character of the figures, is the imaginary artistic space within which they are contained and from which Schrader has directly derived their various forms. What is being shown here is an insight which Spinoza intones in various guises such as: “Space and body do not differ in
essence”; and elsewhere, “Gold and air both contain equal amounts of material or physical substance.”6
Emptiness can be substance. It was this insight of architectural research – which in the recent past has again turned its attention to “spatial substance”, “spatial matter” or “solid spatiality”7 – that Heidegger approximated in his poetic essay “Art and Space”: “And what might be made of the void of space? Often enough it appears to be merely an absence. The emptiness is thus regarded to be the lack of filling for cavities or interstices. Yet presumably, the emptiness is precisely related to the specific nature of the place, hence not an absence, but something which brings it forth. […] Emptiness is not nothing. It is not even a lack. In its physical embodiment, emptiness acts in the manner of a seeking-designing creator of places.”8 For Schrader, such considerations stem from a different, very concrete and elementary context, from his training as a typesetter in the early sixties when, prior to his studies, he learned how to handle lead type. The printed page interested him less than the case containing the lead types, in which each word space was made by inserting a positive reglet and each interlinear space and paragraph indentation was set using a solid element of considerable weight. Reminiscing about this period, he characteristically summarizes in one laconic sentence what inspired him about his activity as a typesetter: “Dealing with what you can see and what you can’t”.9
The decisive factor in placing the diagonal cuts is the entirely pragmatic selection of forms. The imaginary space can only be erected if steel elements
are chosen as cuts which still show evidence of the corners of the original cubic forms. One aspect of the surprising intuition involved in a work process regulated by such a strict set of rules is Schrader’s adaptation of the size of the cracks to the dimensions of the space and location where they are to be installed. So the rigid rules on the one hand are mirrored by an almost aleatoric and highly spontaneous approach to his work on the other; for freedom does not automatically flow from freedom. If Spinoza teaches that geometric forms are a point of departure for an idea without a subject10, in other words, for an idea of absolute freedom, this geometry appears to be offering the very means of escape towards that “depotentiated subject”11 outlined by Adorno. Almost as if, in the final instance, the solid doctrine of cube sequences, of rotated surfaces within the cubes, of divisions of cube edges and of cube volumes could actually be a “emergency exit [Notsteg]”12 ushering us out into a different kind of freedom. As autonomous figures which abandon the imaginary space of the assembled cubes and, alien and disconcerting, put themselves in our everyday paths, HD Schrader’s computed sections are reminiscent of a particular human capacity described by Paul Valéry: “The living have a body which allows them to depart from and return to knowledge. They are made of a house and a bee”.13
Translated by matthew partridge.
1 Aby Warburg in E. Gombrich, Aby Warburg, An intellectual Biography, London, 1970, S.288
2 Theodor W. Adorno, Ästhetische Theorie, Frankfurt, 1973, S.53
3 Gilles Deleuze, Logique du Sens, Paris 1969, S.14
4 HD Schrader, Unveröffentlichtes Gespräch, 28. Sept. 97
5 Maurice Blanchot, Arret de Mort, Paris, 1948, S.53
6 Baruch de Spinoza, Descartes’ Prinzipien der Philosophie aus geometrischer Weise begründet, Hamburg, 1987, Teil II, Lehrsatz II, S.60
7 Jacques Sautereau, in dem Vortrag: “Modes de spatialités” (Seinsweisen von RaumhaΩigkeit), Paris, Collège International de Philosophie, 1991
8 Martin Heidegger, Die Kunst und der Raum, St. Gallen, 1969, S.12
9 HD Schrader, Unveröffentlichtes Gespräch, loc.cit.
10 Baruch de Spinoza, loc.cit. Teil, I., II. S.90
11 T.W. Adorno, loc.cit. S.57
12 Martin Heidegger, loc.cit. S.8
13 Paul Valéry, Eupalinos, Paris, 1944, S.11 (Les vivants ont un corps qui leur permet de sortir de la connaissance et d’y rentrer. Ils sont faits d’une maison et d’une abeille.) Übers. R. M. Rilke, Frankfurt, 1973, S. 41
The programme is being further differentiated: Thirtyone cubecuts
As works which in recent years have become the most admired achievements in constructivist art, HD Schrader's projects are all based on a common sphere of activity, the platonic body of the “cube” whose potency is largely rooted in the imagination. Indeed, its overall attraction seems lately to have increased, whereby its present application is directed at more or less discriminating perceptual interpretations of static objects. HD Schrader has set his sights on something entirely different. In his imaginary “artspace cube”, which through drawings and graphics has lost none of its ideality, HD Schrader develops dynamic operations which greatly surpass all previous processes and, coinciding with the closing stages of this century, generate visions of renewal with similar revolutionary effect as Robert Delaunay achieved at the turn of the century with his images of the Eiffel Tower.
In the wide-ranging programme “artspace cube” several work groups have so far been brought together which all demonstrate - from the the virtual dimension to the pragmatic red steel sculpture - that the body as we know it is far from being exhausted, and, particularly in terms of the present, offers a rewarding epistemological model. An overall survey of all the projects also shows that the “cube” is conceived both as a transparent constellation of edges and as a hollow body surroun-ded by surfaces. In both approaches HD Schrader has produced spectacular demonstrations and has even explored the cube in terms of Mallarmé's enigmatic remark, that throwing a dice will never suspend chance. The wealth of possibilities resulting, for instance, from the contortions of the “Elastic cubes” surpasses the imagination.
The concept derived from the “artspace cube” that has hitherto proved most compatible for public presentation was the twelve-part series of cubecracks evolved from the dissected surfaces of a cube measuring 2.5 x 2.5 x 7.5 metres. The cubecracks shown in the German towns of Herne, Ingolstadt and Lübeck transcended all traditional notions of sculpture; accordingly, they were treated as trans-medial works and incorporated in a whole range of creative activities. They were viewed less as sculptures than as an entirely new category of material objects. The singular morphogenesis of a work paradoxically composed both from a whole entity as well as from distinctly separate parts was of course reminiscent of certain psychological principles governing formal-aesthetic perception. However, although the aim of these principles is to establish formal immanence and suggest an overall form that constantly emerges from disparate parts, HD Schrader himself clearly places greater importance on differentation, on the perception of different individual objects, on distribution and, indeed, on something as pragmatic as the manner in which a cut is carried out. The logical development from division to distribution is an objective which has seldom been pursued on such a scale. The artist sees himself represented by the separate elements. Their overall diversity is an expression of the formal vocabulary of his conceptual system. Thus, instead of pursuing a total formal immanence the artist insists on an irreversible process of division.
It must have been tempting to lend additional assi-stance to the genius of this concept. His new and most recent concept uses 31 cuts to create 32 cracks. They are intended for interior and exterior locations in the course of five
successive exhibitions. This time the basic artspace is a body composed of four cubes measuring 2.5 x 2.5 x 2.5 metres. “Any two cubes make up a rectangular parallelepiped measuring 2.5 x 2.5 x 5 metres. One parallelepiped lies horizontally, while the other stands upright and both fused into a single volume” (from HD Schrader's own description). This large volume, a hollow body made of steel, is diagonally dissected by a flat surface into two segments. This creates two very substantial steel sculptures which the artist has designated for an outside location. On each leg of the exhibition tour the resultant segments are further divided until, in the fifth exhibition, 32 cracks have evolved and the planned end of the process has been reached.
However impressive the endeavour which generated twelve elements or steel sculptures in the first cubecrack series may have seemed, the new concept involving 32 cracks or parts spawns such a diversity of forms as to make any detailed des-cription or inventory a highly painstaking business. The original assemblage of two parallelepipeds from which they were derived can no longer be perceived. It is as though each one had been individually cut out with a large pair of scissors, with certain bits folded down here and there. One or two of their corners have been flattened, and sometimes they are presented in one way, sometimes in another. Something here arises that Niklas Luhmann examines (in “Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft”) concerning the theoretical difference between system and context, a phenomenon which too seldom is taken into account where art and its inter-pretations are concerned: “It is no longer a question of objects, but of differences, and moreover, instead of differences
being perceived as existing facts (distinctions), they result from the demand to be carried out; without which nothing could be defined, nothing observed and consequently nothing continued.” He further states: “Accordingly, forms can no longer be viewed as (more or less beautiful) figures but as boundaries, as markers signposting a difference that forces us to clarify which side one is defining - in other words, on which side of the form one has chosen to be and hence from where one intends to pursue further operations.”
The difficulty caused by characterizing all the gene-rated sculptural parts (including all those created following the first and second stages of the operation) in a purely formal way is obviated by performing the act of differentiation. This distinction, however, is already established and decided on at the opening stage chosen by the artist, the creator of a morphogenetic process. As is true of all far-ranging programmes, this too is based on relatively simple premises: the parallelepiped and the undertaking of a flat diagonal section. While a comparison with the rigorously geometrical construction of a Gothic cathedral window, the rose or the concentric development of flowers is not fully appropriate to describe these “distinctions”, what these cubecracks do have in common with such ambitious projects is that not a single element can be removed from the ensemble, not even from the total sum of 32 sections. If one did, its absence would be imme-diately felt. But precisely which part? What did this (missing) piece look like, how different was it?
The astonishing result is a situation where each crack, regardless of how “unknown” and difficult to characterize it might be, nonetheless gains crucial significance, a certain “value”. Whereas in the previously mentioned large-scale projects in pure geometry or biology it is relatively easy to calculate a single missing element and, ultimately, thanks to stylistic knowledge, even to replace it, when it comes to the cubecuts and the cubecracks the entire operation would have to be repeated right from the beginning in order to attain the missing elements. The system of 31 cuts and 32 cracks is a primarily self-referential system that also plays a particular role within the genre of art it belongs to (displaying from the outset characteristics unrelated to art), possessing its own dramaturgy. As a system, it is - according to Luhmann - assigned to a context, on which it is indeed dependent. It is this “dependence”, or interrelation, that ultimately motivates HD Schrader's entire programme. It is more than a constructivist demonstration, even though the “artspace cube” is certainly more than just an “auxiliary aid”. The new concept is capable of propagating the system more transparently than even the 12 cubecracks concept could. In terms of sheer variety of phenomena and sensual perception there is little which art offers that is able to provide its environment with so many “points of attack”. This form of constructivity as a “means of creating the world” with a pragmatic approach offers confirmation of former visions of compatibility with one's environment - while also provoking new ones.
Translated by Matthew Partridge.
The whole is not the sum of its parts and its parts are not the whole
Are they signs connoting nothing other than themselves or signs indicating a context or meaning beyond them? Are they tipped surfaces or sections of open space? These steel edifices of varying height, always multi-surfaced but in some cases upright and tapering to a point, elsewhere horizontal and extending over a broader plane, have a way of initially confusing the viewer and, consequently, annoying him through their combination of features that are both familiar and unfamiliar. Their geometric forms imply a rational system from which they were developed, while the red paint they are all coated with additionally invests them with a signal function, though without any hint as to how one might ‘decode’ their meaning. They are free-floating signs that evidently share the same origin but, as Bernhard Holeczek observed about HD Schrader’s work as early as in 1992, ‘how the things are made is clear to see, but not the idea they are derived from.’
In 1995/96 HD Schrader first presented his Cubecracks in Herne, Ingolstadt and Lübeck; there were twelve of them, of which six were installed outdoors and six indoors at each of the exhibiting museums. Two years later, describing the audience’s reaction, he said: ‘Initially dismissive, later (after several months) positively enthusiastic. There are twelve Cracks, which add up to a cuboid but are equally twelve autonomous sculptures.’ The Cubecracks are, as the name implies, fragments, but only in terms of their origination from a notional cuboid. At the same time they are hybrid entities in their own right, somewhere between open spatial constructs and autonomous sculptural symbols that are as much the result of accidental discovery as they are of intentional conception. The objects
demand great effort on the part of the viewer in order to envisage them simultaneously as integrated sculpture and fragments. If that succeeds, the viewer gains insight into a fascinating artistic concept that, in a manner both as simple and fundamental as it is complex and multifaceted, conjugates and articulates the issues related to space and spatial subdivision, component and sculpture.
The basic unit and all-embracing, all-engendering artistic space in HD Schrader’s work is the cube – whereby artistic space is here meant in a variety of ways. As the ultimate and all-encompassing monad, the hexahedron is the primary source of all spatial constellations and wall images; in this function it is not meant in the sense of real space but as a constructively plotted and ideational artificial space composed from right angles and equilateral sides. This is an imagined space, represented as a drawing – not in the illusionist manner consistent with vanishing-point perspective but conceived according to parallel perspective. It is primary space, a circumscribed cosmos, whose theoretical surface spawns an unquantifiable number of possibilities for cutting out planes as corner or edge sections – either as incisions made through a real hollow body of steel, or as sections removed from a virtual cuboid and transformed into a real sign; or, again, when projected on the wall as a ‘fragment’, thereby creating an image or a pictorial object. The cube and its compounds that make up rectangular parallelepipeds or other combinations of volumes constitute the central axis of his work in which the boundaries between drawing, painting and sculpture are fluid. The cube is a virtual entity yet,
repeatedly, as in each of his Cuts and Cracks, also real. But as a whole it has no sculptural significance in its own right. As Uwe Haupenthal has observed, ‘Schrader’s cube space has no sculptural valences; specific forms result from selected surface cuts. As such, they neither lead existences of their own nor do they assert themselves as autonomous entities in space.’
The cube space, in and through which the entire repertoire of Schrader’s art evolves, is a logical quantity, a stereometrically defined elementary space serving as a logical figure. It is only through the artist’s systematic treatment, through his incisions and constructively generated ‘fracture lines’, which then assume concrete form as canted objects made of space, open bodies and planes, that each of his specific sculptures – extracted from the whole and isolated by him – can materialize. And even this totality, such as it can still be recognized in the juxtaposition of sections of a cube in Cubecuts, the precursors of the Cubecracks, is not itself the most basic model but just one of its derivations. Cubecuts and Cubecracks are formed from a rectangular prism, which in turn is the result of the compound of three cubes. It is only on these terms that the preconditions are set for incisions and for the subtraction of partial volumes, which once transformed into steel bodies are not merely component parts of a whole, but also develop aesthetic substance and a symbolic dynamism of their own.
Again and again, it is the ambivalence between being an autonomous sign and a segment of a possible whole that creates the particular tension in Schrader’s
work. His method is dissection by diagonal cuts through a virtual whole, the number of which is determined by the artist. Once subtracted from this whole, the cut not only materializes into an autonomous form but also adopts the character of an aesthetic symbol. This might already have been subsumed in the source, albeit as yet undefined, but was at this stage still not evident – in fact, without the necessary working drawing for the cut (or, these days, for computer imaging) it would not even have been possible to envisage it with any precision. The prototype module – a bounded volume or circumscribed emptiness – is subject to a process of division which does not impair the ideational whole yet nonetheless relentlessly yields real forms. As sensory phenomena, these do not conceal their kinship, but they nonetheless set themselves apart as aesthetic ‘individuals’, engaged both in dialogue and in competition with one another. The method underlying this creative process is systematic and logical only in terms of the principle of a given module and its division by means of a defined number of cuts through its surface. The true artistic act, however, lies in his search for and choice of the productive moments spawned by certain cuts, in his selection of those concrete forms capable of being charged with tension and, consequently, intensity, whose potential reaches far beyond mere geometrical vocabulary to constitute the essential spiritual and psychological dimensions that distinguish a work of art.
Exploring these dimensions on the basis of a formal language which, though rationally founded, cannot be evolved from deduction alone, has been a key theme of constructive and concrete art from the very outset, a way of thinking
which is at the root of Schrader’s own work. Only thus can one grasp the extremely varied and, due to societal development, inexhaustible debates about tranquillity and dynamism, stability and fragility, variation and modularization, or about deduction as opposed to induction, that characterize aesthetic discourse in this realm of art. Far from being a personal passion of someone who chose the wrong profession but can now at least work in close proximity to what had earlier been his dream, this affinity to mathematics stems from the idealistic approach of adherents of constructive and concrete art. On the one hand, a work of art should not derive from a model – that is to say, it should be free of all tendencies to represent; on the other, orientation towards rational preconditions and orders should offer a generally comprehensible and recognizable basis for each particular manifestation of form, together with its psychological implications. Although the treatment of elementary geometric forms and all their variations is grounded in mathematical thinking, neither mathematics nor pure geometry is the theme of this art, let alone the underlying source of interest. To quote Max Bill, ‘Just as Euclidean geometry now possesses only limited relevance for contemporary scientists, it is now also only of modest value for art. Similar to how the concept of infinite finitude now serves as an essential tool for thinking in mathematics and physics, it now also acts as an essential tool for artistic processes. In this sense art today serves as a means by which new symbols are created, whose emotional sources may go back to antiquity but, like almost no other means of human expression, which are also capable of satisfying the emotional needs of our own times.’
In these terms HD Schrader’s insistent preoccupation with the cube over many years is rendered comprehensible as well as highly stimulating, on the one hand as a conscious restriction of the model for thought and action, on the other as the progressive discovery of a new notion of freedom of choice through sheer endless thematic variety. And this also embraces drawing as well as painting and sculpture, which evolve as distinct but successive work stages, while nonetheless remaining visibly linked through the idea of a given task.
Schrader differs from the minimalist approach in that he refuses to consider the cube solely as a primary object in terms of a correspondence with its formal progressions and surrounding space, and instead regards also as a space defined by its own proportions. The cube is not interchangeable with other geometrically prescribed bodies but is both an elementary building block and mode of thinking. This view is shared by Walfried Pohl, who identifies Schrader’s cube as a universe unto itself: ‘HD Schrader inquires into the boundaries of the cubiform world. He has constructed his own cube space, a finite cosmos that is revealed from the outside inwards and where he unleashes processes capable of reflecting the boundaries of the cube space.’ The reference here is to the real outer limits set by the cube’s walls, as well as the delimitation of a theme that is seemingly limitless in its proliferating complexity.
Another aspect of this are the open spatial elements, as well as the sculptural signs and wall objects which together with the Cubecracks are conceived as an installation. Similar to the steel sculptures, the forms of the wall objects have
also been derived from segmentations of the three imagined cubes; here they are projected onto a two-dimensional plane, with the outer section of the theoretical body painted red and its inner, hollow form black.
The conceptional forerunners of the Cubecracks installation in a public and museum context were the Cubecuts, installations in indoor spaces comprising upright and plane objects. They evidently also evolved as diagonal cuts through a single hollow body assembled from three cubes. Consisting of six vertical and six horizontal dissected hollow bodies of equal size, their cuts were plotted in such a way that, if put together, the removed sections in each row of six would make up a seventh body of the same size.
A labour of removal without loss: changing the form does not mean losing substance. In his essay about the Cubecuts, Eugen Gomringer emphasized this as a key moment of constructive thinking: ‘Ruling out a priori the problem of remnants or envisaging a symmetry of division and assembly without any gaps is a touchstone of constructive thinking and design. Properly understood, constructive art is art without any leftovers and undesired gaps. Everything about it is positive.’
This positive approach, which does not simply waste when performing change, and constantly bears the segmented whole in mind when making divisions – like a new whole composed of the individual segments – is what guides the idea of the Cubecracks in all their aspects and constitutes a fundamental principle
underlying artistic thinking and decision-making. It does not come down merely to the formal results of a cutting or a dividing process, nor is it even solely about the ambivalence between being a segment and a new, single, autonomous entity; instead it is a question of the manifold consequences of this approach, which also include all those ‘moral, ideological and political implications’ that Richard Paul Lohse once discussed in relation to constructive and concrete art. Constructive and concrete art have preserved a large body of idealistic thinking, particularly concerning the issue of the whole and its differentiation. The romantic notion of ‘all in one, one in all’ still persists, despite being dismantled and subdivided into variations, progressions, mutations, etc. The primal form of wholeness is no more than a reflection of the range of necessary differentiation that also determines art. But nowhere other than in art has the conceivable basic module, the primal image, been preserved – at least in this reflection.
Having been achieved through division and thereby exposed to changes, the individual segment will always intrinsically embody the idea of the original whole. Yet we know that the simple act of reconstruction is de facto tantamount to regression because the possibilities and powers of differentiation would thereby be reversed. The original, immaculate whole belongs to mythological memory which, under the influence of Enlightenment, was subjected to analysis, dismantlement and inquiry. In dialectical terms, this can give rise to the quest for a new wholeness, but one which would also need to harbour that previously acquired knowledge about difference and subdivisions, as well as about the disparity between idea and reality.
In thought and artistic creativity such objectives cannot be resolved by mathematical means nor attained purely in terms of regulation; they gain their power from their growing capacity to make formal distinctions and sublimate thematic content. As in constructive-concrete art, this is about fusing rational operations with psychological potential, with the aim, for instance, of defining a field of inquiry and events and its various segments, or of ascertaining the extent of subjective decision-making within the accepted coordinates.
Subjective choice acquires particular significance. It is the one factor that transforms actions taken within chosen parameters into an artistic process. But at the same time choice is subordinate to the construction. The artist selects or rejects, but his intervention leaves no individual traces. ‘Schrader’s decision to turn to concrete or constructive art,’ Rosemarie Pahlke writes, ‘was guided by the notion that this is ”art of the kind where the artist steps back behind the image” (HD Schrader in an interview in January 1992). On the one hand this means that such art is anonymous and the artist leaves no evidence of a personal signature. At the same time, Schrader associates his approach with the idea that art can effect direct change on society.’
So in this sense the aesthetic process of division and assembly also yields consequences for the moral, ideological and political domain that point beyond the work of art, yet without constraining the work’s autonomy or even causing it to be misinterpreted as a mere sign connoting something beyond it. Works of art of the constructive-concrete genre such as HD
Schrader’s various Cubecuts and Cubecracks are the outcome of systematic development performed under the conditions of subjective decision-making. Their aesthetic added value is the work’s manifestation of a visibly and sensorially perceptible and, within the work at least, indissoluble fusion of intellect and psyche. Analysis and differentiation do not automatically always result in a greater degree of abstraction, nor do they necessarily culminate either in a lack of vivid plasticity or in chaos. Drawing insights and consequences from this art for other walks of life is one possibility available to the viewer. But the work of art itself refrains from making any kind of instructive and referential message.
HD Schrader’s art is an emanation of the virtual into the real. Nowadays a computer can to some degree calculate possible surfaces of intersection or segments with greater ease and speed. But it cannot make artistic decisions. In an animated film titled Cubecuts Schrader succeeded in creating such a perfect match between, on the one hand, the virtual and, on the other, the real appearances of his spatial bodies that we as viewers manage to directly identify the nascent realm of forms with the actual, solid Cuts and Cracks made of steel, yet without ever losing the sense of ungraspable immateriality they convey to us. But it is precisely this that opens us up to new perspectives. It is not us, but the virtual objects, that are revolving with deliberately reduced speed in their virtual being: untouchable and removed from the viewer’s grasp but, for this, all the more intensely disclosed to his eye. More than just to the eye, however. As Ingo Bartsch said about this film, ‘With all the (even by his standards) exceptional
technical effort of a computer scientist, Schrader breathes, so to speak, a different, unfamiliar soul into his cool, provocatively calm and extremely ”concrete” sculptures: this is none other that what the Latin word anima means – a gentle breeze, breath, soul, vitality… His film is truly an animation of the space that nonetheless remains beyond our grasp.’
Translated from the German by Matthew Partridge
Beate Reifenscheid, Ludwig Museum Koblenz
Woodwatchers and others
'The din that goes into the wood is the din that comes out,' is a traditional German saying. What would happen if nothing came out anymore? If what we expected there did not answer? What would happen if the wood – full of life and its affirmation – went silent or was even dead? If an element that is so intimately associated with the world were not to exist anymore? Would life still be conceivable – would it still be worth living?
In his newest video work, the sculptor and conceptual artist HD Schrader investigates this question about nature's way of life and stages his enquiry in a decidedly mystical form. Like his sculptures, these works make use of his rigorous concept of cubic form, which he applies, reconfigures, and transforms into other forms by means of mathematical refractions, and then finally composes these within the chosen natural environment. Almost no other artist is so directly attuned to the natural environment of his work. The sculpture adapts itself to the space without having to contort or modify itself. At their best, the sculptures enter into an intensive and mutually reinforcing dialogue with nature. Ideally, this situation should seem so 'natural', simple, and self-evident that it is as if the sculpture had entered itself into the natural environment – even in those cases where the sculpture is identified as 'other', as something foreign to nature, and where the sculpture implicitly prescribes this perception of difference. In Schrader's case, it could even be emphasized that the radically 'other' form of the sculpture – as a comprehensible and transparent mathematical construct – indicates that this foreignness is a conceptual strategy intended to place the concrete and abstract form – mathematics is by definition an abstraction – in a
simultaneously ambivalent and coherent set of relationships to nature. The radicalness of this approach cannot be overestimated – despite the apparent simplicity of the preconceived form of the sculpture itself. In his essay on 'concrete art', the art historian Max Imdahl made a categorical and revealing distinction between traditional sculpture – usually figuratively oriented – and abstract, specifically 'concrete', sculpture:
'In traditional art, sculpture takes a given subject and articulates a pregnant form. This means that, within the medium of art, it elevates what one already knew to the level of a certainty and displays it in a paradigmatic form. Traditional sculpture operates within a predefined, regulated system of coordinates and strikes one as pregnantly self-evident in relation to this system. Concrete sculpture faces a much more difficult task: to produce the same pregnancy, self-evidence, and binding and paradigmatic character with content that is not previously known. What had never been realized is recognized. The objects of this recognition are modes of existence. The paradigmatic is the exemplary, specifically, the exemplary under the condition of the innovatively exemplary. The paradigmatic is the model for an experience of reality that – without this innovative model – would have remained inaccessible. However, to the extent that this experience takes the model as a starting point and transfers itself to other experiential contexts, it always refers back, at the same time, to the model as the classic example of this experience.1
Schrader's characteristic use of the cube is not always immediately obvious;
because of this, some degree of non-decipherability – at least for a moment – is to be assumed and accepted. The underlying mathematical pattern only reveals itself in the discipline and logical rigour of the work. However, this pattern is nothing but that which is recognized by the viewer, that which gives the whole its regulative and, so to speak, rational structure. The rigour of the form and the clarity of the mathematical logic would not be so interesting if they were not continually subverted and finally brought into the most 'impossible' postures. Schrader was already achieving this quality in the Cube Balance of 1990 or in the later work, Elastic Cube, created in 1999. The line – the predictable, the consummately calculable – has come undone. This seemingly so arbitrary and inflexible element now takes on an unexpected gracefulness. The formerly straight line is now lost in intricate manoeuvrings, which the eye can only follow by means of twisting and overlapping movements; in this way, a unified perception of the whole becomes impossible. The process of comprehending the sculpture has been slowed through the demands on the motoric aspect of vision and on the powers of the intellect; at the same time, the stimulus to establish a harmony between outward appearance and inner logic has been heightened. Mathematical modularity is ingeniously exploited to overcome the limits of monodimensional design and to transform the newly won variability into a structure of optical movement, which, for its part, seems limitless. This suddenly results in the dynamic influence of diagonals among the straight lines; the importance of the lines' relative movement becomes clear. The sculpture begins not only to dance, but to exploit the entire potential of monumental art. This aspect becomes all the more central when the sculptures have to assert
themselves within the natural environment, when they see themselves exposed to wind and weather – even to the tides and are forced to defy the elements. This challenge is also mastered with an astonishing effortlessness that precludes any hint of self-doubt or vulnerability. Schrader's sculptures always overwhelm through the elegance of their lines and not through their bulk. The line is the defining characteristic with which the artist recasts a circumscribed space as an imagined volume (cube) and then releases this into the natural environment. Having to fend for itself, the line nonetheless always manages to establish a dialogical relationship with nature. The line not only finds a way to set itself in relation to nature, but to bring the natural environment to react to the sculpture in a mutual relationship. In the most extreme case, the cubic sculptures are entirely submitted to the rhythm of nature, for example, in the Kubuskoog of 1996. In the flat plane of the front dike area where they are subjected to the shifting tides the visual impressions and the interaction of space, tides, and sculpture are gauged anew in endless repetition; this effect here is stronger than anywhere else. Axes of vision and points of view emerge; they can be seen in a completely new light and 'invented', in the true sense of the word, daily. Nature almost always has an important role to play in Schrader's work. Without nature, this or that fruitful visual sensation might never have existed. Without nature, the recent concept of interactive processes realized exclusively in the natural environment would never have been developed. To borrow Imdahl's words regarding 'concrete' sculpture: Schrader's sculptures open up 'paradigmatic experiential possibilities,'2 which would never have been possible without them. The tremendous advance in terms of perception first becomes recognizable with
the surprising shift in relation to the original 'hori-zon of expectation': in the form of an initial 'turning away' and then a renewed 'turning to'. Signs of a new and fully distinct dimension of sculpture and its interaction with nature are already to be observed in the Nightingale Nesting Houses and in the Bat Nesting Houses of 2007. Aside from the scale, not much has changed at an optical level. However, the work no longer consists of a single object, but rather of a large number of identical, small 'shelters' that could potentially be for the use of bats and nightingales. Although the animals seem to be offered functional objects, it can be said that Schrader's primary goal is much more closely related to the sound the auditory background of specific animal sounds – than to the amount of actual use by the animals. It is this auditory element that the viewer is to be made aware of and to experience in a heightened form. The original sculpture in isolation has become an installation focused almost entirely on the invisible on sound, namely. The nightingale's song and to a greater extent the chattering, yet somehow melodious buzzing of the bats put the viewer under their spell. The one cannot be visually harmonized with the other and the small shelters for animals thus 'function' whether the animals want to live there or not. Once again, it is the juxtaposition of two fundamentally contentious, almost mutually exclusive, phenomena that fascinates us here: the permanent and constructed versus the ethereality of the tapestry of sound developed in the space surrounding the suspended nesting houses. It is a matter of the interaction of both, but at the same time, one could audaciously but correctly assert that a new relationship between sculpture and nature is at issue here and that the aspect of nature watching has undeniably entered the picture. It seems
inappropriate to conceive of such an ensemble in terms of an isolated sculptural object; rather, the situation calls for direct and concentrated attention to the animals' calls, which may well be more fully experienced here than in the wild. For his or her part, the viewer becomes a participant in this peculiar metamorphosis, which will be further explored in the artist's subsequent development. It is no longer simply a matter of the interaction between sculpture and nature clearly a concern in Schrader's earlier work. By means of the animal calls, the element 'nature' can now be incorporated into every artificial space: whether it is a home or a museum. The circumstances undergo a noticeable reversal: as a new level of perception, they highlight the degree to which our perception of nature is already limited to the artificial, our efforts at conservation as well – at best.
Schrader's recent video works demonstrate one possibility for a further step: they set out – more or less – from the starting point established by the sculptures in the natural environment. Even if the film is a purely artificial construct, it is based on the artist's observations and research regarding the relationship between sculpture and nature – an area which he has been pursuing and examining for several decades now. In videos such as Seawatcher, Woodwatcher, Night Woodwatcher, or even in Skywatcher, he presents simulations of possibilities. These are related to the visual effects that his sculptures are able to evoke in space, such as: reflections of light and water; the way that the sculptures submit themselves to the shifting tides, to the wind, and to the weather; and the virtual mobility granted to the sculptures themselves by
means of animation. The animation grants the static sculpture a mobility that seems to develop naturally from the object itself and enables it to literally emerge and submerge. The sculpture can bring itself into and back out of our field of vision in an equally subtle fashion. In the process, the sculptural image becomes a scout, a counterpart that seems almost ghostly and whose position between friend and foe is not always immediately recognizable to the scene's viewer. The Woodwatchers are a massive army of scouts – able to silently withdraw and emerge. The rectangular opening in the upper part of the image leads to an association with an observation slot, which can serve no other purpose than to observe the surroundings, the wood with one's own eye or with a moving video camera. Through the hermetic impression of this form, an elongated rectangle, the viewer feels disturbingly reminded of the 'Stasi', the East German secret police. The audio material added to the images further underscores the unsettling and apprehensive feeling of being observed by an unreachable counterpart. The squeaking-buzzing sound of the Woodwatchers makes the 'affront' all the more disturbing. A constant, hushed grinding accompanies the turning of the hands of time – the Woodwatchers are active. The watchers of the wood now seem to have become a formidable troop whose notice it would be best to avoid from the outset.
The elementary form of the cube serves as 'tradition' and point of reference for Schrader's concept of sculpture. He retains this form without becoming restricted by it: he applies it modularly and takes it up in diverse ways; it is continuously varied and problematized. With an absolutely unlimited fantasy and love of
experimentation, his concepts reach beyond ordinary limits. In Schrader's hands, sculpture becomes an agent in the landscape and this enables it to draw the viewer into an active role in the process as well. For Schrader, sculpture can be conceived of as an active object. In the videos, the sphere of activity involved in the exploration of natural phenomena continues to be expanded. In an age of ever more massive environmental catastrophes and changes to our planet, these videos also increase our awareness of the central problems facing the present generation. Schrader does not allow himself to be caught up in party politics, but rather seeks out and explores the possibilities of the sensitive call to attentiveness. In the process, he has once again opened up a door to a new perceptive dimension of sculpture.
The well-known American conceptual artist Robert Morris once wrote of his sculpture, with a particular eye to the many new materials that could be utilized in making of art: 'Anything that is used as art must be defined as art. The new work continues the convention but refuses the heritage of still another art-based order of making things. The intentions are different, the results are different, so is the experience.'3 How different, how innovatively conceived and executed Schrader's concepts then prove to be. He, too, is continuously stretching definitions: not only for the sake of sculpture, but also, and all the more importantly, in order to pay his tribute by 'preserving the wood' or 'protecting water'.
1 Max Imdahl, 'Konkrete Plastik', in: Max Imdahl, Zur Kunst der Moderne. Ed. by Angeli Jahnsen-Vuki?evi?, Frankfurt/M 1996, p. 314.
2 Ibid. 315.
3 Robert Morris, 'Notes on sculpture, Part III: notes and nonsequiters', in: Theories and documents of contemporary art: a sourcebook of artists' writings Dd. by Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California, 1996): p. 588-93 (p. 593).
Cubewedding and Others
In the present time of cultural diversity, the development in contemporary art does not follow
any specific set of framework, but rather, channels its concepts and ideas through various forms, mediums and styles. If there were a way to attain eternity in the complexity of resources, media, culture and ideologies, perhaps only art would possess such unique quality, and people would be constantly renewed by artistic experiences and spirits. German artist HD Schrader reveals his thoughts and responses on the new spirits in art through his experiments.
Similar to German artist Palermo's fascination with colorful hard edge in abstract geometry and Imi Knoebel's passion for minimalist paintings, Schrader also was influenced by the abstract paintings of the Russian master Kazimir Malevich and the Dutch De Style colors between 1968 to 1972. He began to contemplate and create with geometric shapes – paintings, sculptures or installation – in order to experiment with "extreme" abstract concepts and color aesthetics. While he interprets the abstraction tradition from Malevich to Bauhaus, he also inherited and revealed the German literati tradition in rational analysis – his practice does not emphasize on the objective world of visual presentation, but on subjective experience through an analysis of ideas. Especially, later on, Schrader shifted to focusing on a combination of approaches, paying attention to the relationship between the artwork and its context, either it's in the forest, by the ocean, in a church, or a public square – it is both a contrasting relationship and a dialogue, most of all, a relationship of negotiations. His works are presented through spatial intervention, at the same time redefines public relationship between the artwork
and nature, architecture, environment, conditions and space. In his meticulous exploration of abstract forms of geometry, he sought for objective and rational order. Incisive simple forms and vivid sensual colors, in contrast to his rational structure, representing such colorful aura and the energy of the objects portrayed. In such unique imagination, the artist reflects upon the abstract language, logic of imagination, and the poetics of meditation in the object, from which to explore a new visual dimension of geometric abstract aesthetics.
Schrader's art has established a distinctive personal style, founded on the artist's interest on the aesthetic characteristics of art in geometry, pop art, public art and environmental art. The artist's systematic constructions in distinctive geometric shapes (cubes, spheres, cuboid, rhombus) allow vivid monochromatic colors (red or black) to highlight the form of the object, meanwhile contrasting with its environment and the space that it belongs. Precisely because these abstract geometric shapes rely on its spatial arrangement, and the meaning produced in different spaces are constantly being translated once transferred to a new context, or extended to certain ambiguity beyond – they are neither considered as sculptures nor as installations, architecture or as decoration, nor as the urban guardian or the catcher in a forest. His work within concise structural logic, systematic forms, and mathematical conversions of parallels and perpendicular constructs invents a unique new language. It reveals a harmonious and perfect formal pattern. The work expands spatially that both symbolize the depth of its internal space, and the expandability of its external space. For the Today Art Museum art project in Beijing, Schrader has made a research trip to the
villages in Zhejiang province, in China, and has discovered the relationship between the local abundant bamboo to traditional Chinese culture. As it is commonly known, bamboo symbolizes for one's independent character and personality in Chinese traditional painting, as well as, an object that pleases the mind in Chinese garden culture. Before entering the process of traditional cultural context, Schrader has not returned to its origin, but to fully appropriate it by creating a liaison with foreign culture, meanwhile maintaining uniformity with his own aesthetics. For this reason, even under the expanding trend of globalization, Schrader has not been affected, artistic differences are neutralized through mutual permeations, which ultimately involves pertinent topics, shifting mainstream artistic tradition, cultural mobility affecting individual value, importing non canonical approach, accept certain tension caused by the plight of artistic value. For this reason, Schrader had no choice but to consider appropriating other cultural elements (artworks, architecture, context, condition, space, contextual meaning and etc), thus, has used bamboo in a quirky fashion to render two large installations Ladder to the sky (10 meters tall, with a cross and a cube), to a logical development of his art. Not only does the work imply the tower to heaven, but also the significance of climbing and achieving as a quality of humanity Comparing his current works with earlier works, we notice that, if his earlier works were focusing on form, then the current works tend to emphasize on thoughts. The Ladder to the sky on a cross reveals the openness to four directions, whereas the cubic ladder exemplifies closeness. These forms of open and closeness are dialectical.
From another angle, bamboo as its artistic medium implies Chinese symbolic meanings and the love of nature. Moreover, it reveals one's worries for life, if nature becomes distinct, so will humanity. In fact, both these two towering red ladders to the sky have fundamental distinctions on the unique characteristics between installation and architecture – transferring formal forwardness and simplicity, meanwhile revealing the sacredness and sublime of religion. What is worth noting is thta, in the Today Art Museum art project, it was the first time Schrader experimented with music in his work, he suspended the black installation inspired by the exterior architectures of the museum, which bleeds "strange" birds chirping, then installed minimalist music on the four corners of the main exhibit, and the adjacent gallery showing his videos. The dynamics of the red geometric shapes builds a poetic impression with the green forest, and in the context of Brahm's Nachtigallen Schewingen, making the work seem even more solemn. HD Schrader has condensed a system of approaches through his artistic experiments – to work with abstract geometric shapes and its expandability. It poses critical questions to how does our history and cultural context influence the way we perceive visual symbols? In the artist's view, besides the formal beauty and symbolic meanings in geometric shapes, when they are placed in a new environment, new thoughts and concepts would be produced. In other words, Schrader's work uses geometric shapes to consolidate color schemes, contrasting with red or black, the geometric shapes become the most captivating objects in a space. The artist liaised the abstract with images, object with background into an artistic language with profound ideological and aesthetic depth.