Invited in 2007 to the Museum Folkwang in Essen (Germany), Simon Starling questioned its history: known for its collections and particularly for its early engagement in favor of modern art (including the acquisition and exhibition of works by Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Matisse), then destroyed during the Second World War, the museum was pillaged for its masterpieces of ‘degenerate art’ by the nazis. Starling found photographs of a hang dating back to 1929, taken by Albert Renger-Patzsch, the German New Objectivity photographer. Firstly, he researched the artworks that were presented then which for the most part had been restituted or acquired by private collectors after the war. Secondly, he reconstituted this hang. Finally, he took the same pictures as Renger-Patzsch, with the same ‘scientific objectivity’. The result is simple and minimal, and tends to erase any difference with the original. Playing on the notion of author, Starling identically reconstructs (‘Nachbau’ means reconstruction in German), thus he realizes an exact replica of the photographs taken seventy years earlier. By blurring temporalities, the artist manipulates the history of the collections and questions the outcome of the images and the institution in light of this actual reconstruction in the museum. This work can also be understood as an absurd attempt to go back in time in order to correct history.
Simon Starling provokes unexpected crossings between objects, materials and events. He produces hybrid works that seem to come from another space-time continuum. In 1995, he used the aluminium from a chair designed by Jorge Pensi to reproduce nine copies of a beer can found on the Bauhaus site in Dessau, thus creating a condensed history of design in a rather trivial object, turning a piece of rubbish found by chance into the clue of a historical lineage neither absurd nor authentic.
While avoiding formal creation ex nihilo, the artist paradoxically behaves like a true demiurge. His works imply processes of metamorphosis quite similar to alchemy. He appropriates forms and objects and integrates them into complex networks of meaning which do not aim at revealing a hidden history but rather at drawing unseen paths that ultimately exist only because of his intervention.
Simon Starling was born in 1967 in Epsom, UK. He lives and works in Copenhagen and Berlin.