Disrupting Conventional Spaces
If the wall stands as an emblem of simplicity, it follows that something must exist at the opposite end of the spectrum. German artist Felix Schramm thinks so; he sees perception as a straight line that is capable of being manipulated, and achieves this end by reinterpreting traditional architectural forms, disrupting white gallery walls with jagged, technicolour structures.
There’s an anarchic dimension to the dissolution of the natural or expected architectural order, so that what results is a destabilisation of the typical relationship between the viewer and the space. This upset can have similar effects to the ingestion of a mind-altering substance: it successfully persuades the viewer to question their understanding of the laws of physics. In this sense, I ask him, are these destructive pieces? Schramm pauses for a moment. “For me, it’s more about the interruption of the continuity of the homogeneous form: the white wall. When I was a student, I started to work with sculptures, and I began to understand that a sculpture always exists in relation to the space around it. Next, I discovered that the wall is a fundamental part of our culture. I started to think about walls and their possibilities and limits, and then I started to open them.”
“When I was a student, I started to work with sculptures — and I began to understand that a sculpture always exists in relation to the space around it.”
Schramm studied sculpture at the Academie Di Belle Arti Di Firenze in Italy, and then went on to study in Germany at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf under Jannis Kounellis and Walter Nikkels. The latter influence can be seen in Schramm’s rejection of convention. By exposing the limitations of familiar structures, Felix encourages the audience to experience something foreign to them with his sculptures. “All teachers influence their students,” he suggests, “whether positively or negatively. What was interesting about Kounellis is that he was more of an artist than a teacher. He was a very precise person, and he was very strict and radical, and continued somehow a certain line.” There is a note of admiration in his voice; I ask him if he had the same experience with Nikkels. “Walter Nikkels was also very important to me. He had a very big studio for making lettering that he let me use. He gave it to me to make big rough sculptures, so he helped my work a lot. He thought about the letter as a piece of architecture, and he saw this dialogue between them. This is what I learnt from him.”
The dialogue between the model and the final piece is also a crucial part of Schramm’s practice: “Everything derived from the idea of making art in relation to an image or a three-dimensional form, and my work has now become this huge bridge between architecture, sculpture and painting.” He begins by visiting the gallery space and considering its spatial implications, and how he might work with them, and against them; then returns to his studio to build a maquette of his vision. This maquette — built from the fragments of old works — is then tweaked and toyed with, until the form takes on the familiar air of positive disruption so distinctive to his work. The process typically takes two to three weeks, and involves a team of studio artists who provide opinions and logistical aid. The completed pieces stare down at the viewer in sweet, candied colours that cannot help but make me think of a home destroyed: it is the softness of them, somehow reminiscent of domestic spaces, that can throw the viewer’s balance. They intimidate in pastel-pink shades. For a moment, I wonder whether there is a historical dimension to these pieces. Schramm concludes that he does not think so, but that “of course, an environment can always take on a political or historical side.”
“The viewer always sees the outline of something first: their eye works around the outside. What interested me was that if you open this outline, then you create change.”
The intellectual response to radically altered dimensions remains Schramm’s ultimate concern, and his more recent body casts reflect this. Moulded from different, often industrial, materials that Schramm sculpts or combines to create variations, these casts resemble partial human forms — although identifying which parts can be difficult. The result is disconcerting. “I tried to bring body parts into the equation using the same methods,” Schramm says. “The viewer always sees the outline of something first: their eye works around the outside. What interested me was that if you open this outline, then you create change, and if you look through something or inside something then it’s a method to see how it is done. You reflect on a structure. This broken form plants in your mind the sense that the world is not steady; it is always changing.”
Currently, Schramm is working on two projects. The first is a spatial intersection installation for the Philara Collection: “And then I’m working on some photo collages that are bigger than my two-dimensional works. These pieces are ripped and torn from prints. I always use the documentation photos we take, and then I put these photos together to actualise a new and different perception of space.” By tearing and reconstructing forms, Schramm remains consistent with the installation process: a nod to Kounellis. Over Skype, Schramm lifts up one of these photographic works, and animatedly points to the different divisions and shapes created within them: the eye follows the torn inkjet paper as it swirls disastrously round and down in pallid pink and off-white, resting a moment on harder, more stable forms before panning out into large stretches of colour. They’re almost small-scale versions of his installations — perhaps the naked eye would struggle, at first glance, to see the difference. With the dialectics of sculpture as a point of departure, Schramm is working on breaking up the rational relationship between space and perception. When he speaks about his work, he does so in academically astute language that he himself undercuts with an informal tone. Schramm — right down to conversation — presents expectation with an obstacle.