Toni Stegmayer


Toni Stegmayer in: MOVE - Jerry Zeniuk (painting),Toni Stegmayer (sculpture)

Editor: Benedikt Stegmayer, Berlin 2012 
Interview with Benedikt Stegmayer in January 2012 

B.S.: Can your work be classified in the tradition of minimalist art? And what differentiates your work from the work of Donald Judd, who played such a key role in American Minimalism?

T.S.: Without a doubt, I have been greatly impacted by the minimalist work of Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, and also Fred Sandback. In my work, you will find above all an abdication of personal signature, beautified materials, and working with modules. I often work with serial elements and geometric forms, and outside relationships can indeed pop up.  But even Judd, who worked with industrially manufactured parts, was not able to wholly meet his own high standards. His work retained a personal signature and even became a brand, his materials became increasingly more aesthetic and smooth, so that in the end they became design, or could at least be adapted by designers. However, what was important for Judd was the relationship of his objects to the space around, and this also plays a very important role for me, although I don’t call my pieces objects, but rather sculptures. They still follow the tradition of sculpture, and yet they show an interior and an exterior, spatial distance, intervals, and views, and always appear to be different depending upon the point of view. This seems logical, but it is still always an artistic challenge, as each sculpture must make sense from all angles. One has to decide if you want an installation that will be seen as an object, or sculptures that need the space, but draw the viewer to the sculpture and not to a different, possibly absent, event external to the sculpture. 

There is one sculpture of mine that almost becomes an object. A section was cut out of a stone and replaced by a small monitor of the same size, upon which one can see a video of the missing stone. It was filmed in real time by a surveillance camera. In this piece, I was reflecting on presence and absence, and made an attempt at replacing the very heavy material with a virtual image. I wanted to find out the value of the material stone in my work. The experience was interesting. It was clear to me that I wanted to work as a sculptor and that the material was irreplaceable, but I started to develop video pieces when I encountered crucial situations that I thought were important and noteworthy. I came to this decision, which meant a division of media.

B.S.:  What is the artistic idea behind works that are so minimized yet remain so present. Is the material pivotal to this presence or rather the form?

T.S.: The reduction permits a distraction from a statement of content. There is no history behind the sculptures. They mean nothing else. For me as an artist, the material and the shape are enough to inspire and provide endless possibilities. Sometimes the shapes are too clumsy, and then one must continue to work on them until they have the right proportions; sometimes they are too thin and then they are lacking in power and I have to rethink them. There are sculptures that are in a balance; then they have to have a certain focal point without becoming stiff. When movement can still be recognized – a potential that comes from the stone itself, but which the sculptor must make visible – then it must seize a moment or come to rest at a point where a previous state and then a subsequent state can be perceived but are not quite as ideal as the current state. This consideration is not always expressly available; rather, it is the result of a long and complex production process.

The presence of the sculpture is already an ideal result. It is a result of form and material. Although I experiment with lighter, more malleable materials – sometimes I use Styrofoam blocks or slabs that are very light and sometimes pink or multi-colored. Sometimes I use hollow bodies. These, so-called models, also have their charm. But the final stone blocks are stronger and are a great challenge. When points and edges come together and sometimes only touch at a single point, then one can maybe begin to understand what I am talking about. This experience can only be made with this brittle and bulky material. 

B.S.: What are the special characteristics stone materials have for a sculptor who does not work representationally?

T.S.: Stone is the classic sculptural material. One doesn’t take a flippant approach to it, but instead thinks about exactly what one wants to do. Stone puts up a resistance and is always a challenge, due to its physical qualities alone. It takes years of experience in order to handle it with confidence. However, it is nothing more than a coincidence that I came into contact with this material at a very early age. 

B.S.: Why are your materials almost never refined but only cut.   

T.S.: That is how I avoid the decorativeness of a refined surface.

B.S.: What does the word constellation mean when used as a title for your artwork? How do these large stone constellations come about? Can the development process be described?

T.S.: A constellation is an arrangement of elements that are, in my case, almost identical. The word replaces the term composition, one I prefer to avoid. The criteria of the compilation are, in my work, less about balance than about a logical build-up and taking a spatial situation into consideration. Actually, I start with a placement, which then triggers certain principles. The first step requires the second one, and so on. One actually only has to discover the logic behind in order to continue with the work. But naturally, this kind of work with logical steps is only an aide or a method. If it were truly only about logic, a computer program could also do creative work. But that would be boring and has been disproven by experience. Usually intuition and emotion are crucial to making decisions.

Working with the material, starting with a whole stone block and then deconstructing it, the result can be dispersion or an agglomeration, a releasing from the core or a return to the original whole. An impression of lightness or gravity can be created, or even both – almost in contradiction – at the same time. This contradiction is especially obvious when the stone components seem to have been playfully scattered.

B.S.: Can one create a reference to Joseph Beuys’ piece The End of the 20th Century by placing stone blocks on the floor?

T.S.: The reference would be a contrast. In Beuys’ piece, the title alone provides an indication of a statement that can be understood as a historical commentary. Beuys intends to create ambiguity through the basalt blocks, which also have a headpiece with inserted circular elements, and – understood to be the body – stimulate human empathy.  Relocating the pieces was a controversial undertaking, since Beuys had installed them with great care according to certain, almost ritualistic arrangements.

However, what may be similar to my work is the intense search for the ideal composition. No two stones lie on or next to each other merely by chance. But Beuys tended to compose because he had the title of his piece in mind, and with it the entirety of chaos and disorder of his time. My work is less lofty, it’s not as loaded as works of Arte Povera, but when, such as with Rauschenberg’s boxes, something funny arises, when the big box throws out the smaller one or runs behind it, then these associations are, of course, touching. It can’t be avoided and is proof of the human need for associations with things.