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Jens Asthoff
Interstices in reality

Amorphous growth on the ceilings and in corners that somehow resemble rows of mussels shimmering silver or grotesquely large fungi. At first glance, this seems nature-like, if not necessarily natural. It is as if one had been beamed through an electron microscope to another level of perception.
On closer inspection the alienating structures, as beautiful as coral riffs and yet irritating and threatening like rampant tumors or nesting aliens, transpire to be wild but well-formed sculptural accretions of innumerable blank CD’s, that protrude as massive clumps from construction foam in dense and streamlined form. Accumulator 3 (2004) is a collection, concentration, storage medium and compression in various different ways – and in addition to the issues of sculptural form creates a diverse associative structure in which Sonja Vordermaier reinvents organic shapes via distortion and furnishes them with technoid implements: In this case the fantasy of a colony of data storage media that cocoon themselves in a rampant autonomous storage medium, hermetically sealed off from the world, and yet also effusive. It is a striking 3D image of the growth and rampant proliferation of invisible informational replication of the world, that spreads in an uncontrolled, rhizome-like manner and of which only the offshoots are tangible. In Vordermaier’s work, such images are never narrative, but as inventions deliberately remain at the level of interlinking specific properties of the materials used and the form chosen, whereby the two interlock to create surprising syntheses. In Accumulator 3, for example, by virtue of their sheer mass the silver discs are highlighted in their material essence and reduced to that: a high-tech product which here is no more than a mere glittering disc. This is also an aesthetic formalization of superfluity. CD’s, and they have long since been a mass article, are evidently latently a waste product, which is revitalized or recycled, if you so will, in Accumulator 3 in the shape of a dazzling ornament of large-scale extravagance.

In this regard, the piece is typical of Vordermaier’s approach to sculpture and to the stock of images embedded in it as a whole. Although she has no constant visible style, she has a consistent way of thinking about sculpture, of using material to form images, and re-formalizing this from one work to the next. In the broader sense, this really entails the idea of recycling: Vordermaier develops sculptural shapes from the alienating appropriation of a material and the meaning of its customary use. By juxtaposing and combining mass and material she creates a tension that the sculpture can then exude, affecting its entire surroundings.

This is already true of one of her first installations. Rubber-like, black strands they radiate out from a fixed point through the room, as if structuring it from within, but also criss-crossing, making it impassable from the sides: For Slingshot (2003), an installation in the Elektrohaus exhibition hall in Hamburg, Vordermaier constructed a taut catapult from interwoven bike inner tubes. The piece held the entire room in check, ready apparently at any moment to release the coiled-up kinetic energy.

Vordermaier links her works to the specific site via such strategies of alienation. On the occasion of Sculpture@CityNord, the show Rik Reinking curated on art in public spaces, she developed the Nordlüster (2006): She covered one of the street lamps that line the path through the park in Hamburg’s City Nord, with a complex asymmetrical weave of lead crystals. The irritatingly Baroque opulence here contrasts sharply with the functional and now quite out-of-place 1970’s modernism typical of the office suburb. The irregular shape of the crystalline exotic unit certainly obeys a different logic – and allies itself in terms of form and content, and in all its artificial/beautiful aplomb, with shapes found in nature. Only at second glance does one notice that the work also creates a platform for exemplary settlement: Vordermaier introduced a large number of spiders, who proceeded to weave their webs between the crystal threads. Moths and flies attracted by the light were a welcome additive and came to form part of the work. “Two different types of booty,” Vordermaier comments, “thus became ensnared in the glittering web: insects in flight and the viewer’s gaze.“ A beauty trap and mock nature.

There is an element of concealment here, namely the fact that behind first appearances there is often a second context that initially goes unseen, and this again is typical of Vordermaier’s approach to sculpture. In general, she is interested in sculpturing negativity. In many of her works, the focus is on the invisible, on black holes, false floors, hidden and accumulated energies or electromagnetic fields. Or, as in Mannheim, on the sculptural approach to the phenomenon of the shadow: For the first time, here, she develops sculptures in the guise of “shadows without masters”, which she traces and attempts to capture in “their shift from the intangible to the tangible”.

Teslasmog (2006) is likewise to be seen in the context of invisible forces and signals: The sculpture, which is suspended on its own in the room and appears to hover there, immediately brings to mind metal branches, or satellites or space trash. It exudes a strange sense of magic, even if it can easily be deciphered as a highly terse grid of discarded TV antennas. Here, too, Vordermaier opts to aesthetically recycle a now long-since antiquated high-tech product. The branches of the interwoven antennas are covered by a strange growth, reminiscent of moss-covered branches, metal-like hides or small colonies of life forms that populate their habitats only in large numbers: In fact, Vordermaier covered the filigree sculpture with a thick maze of nests of nails and iron filing held in place magnetically. This growth relies on invisible forces, renders them visible, and grants the sculpture a feel of strange naturalness.

Vordermaier also develops her interest in physical hybrids at the photographic level. While in her early photo series entitled Strange Order (2003) something that is quite literally (meta)physical still “fishes” directly from the “first-order reality”, she compiles all her more recent images as minute digital collages, in which the reality to which we are accustomed is surprisingly fissured and reveals true abysses. She once spoke of “sculpting with Photoshop” when describing the spatial fictions inserted into landscape photographs, fictions which are then linked back to the landscape at so many levels that it is almost impossible to distinguish the one from the other. Here, too, the eye alights on hybrid realities, on the interstices in reality.