Katja Strunz The Folds of Time and Space

Katja Strunz soon made a name for herself with her wall and room installations that make use of folds. Her exhibition at the Berlinische Galerie, however, shows, how complex her sculptures are.

Katja Strunz Katja Strunz | © Alexandre de Brabant “The railway kills space, so we are only left with time.”

This statement was made by Heinrich Heine 170 years ago when he took his first journey by this new form of transport. Katja Strunz, who lives in Berlin, likes to quote the statement whenever the title of her exhibition at the Berlinische Galerie - Drehmoment (Viel Zeit, wenig Raum) [Torque (Much Time, Little Space)] - is being discussed

“Torque” is a technical term used to describe the driving force produced by machines. According to the German dictionary, Duden, it is defined as “the amount of effort exerted by a body to make it rotate”. Thus, another frame of thought has been created.

Looseness and tightness

Katja Strunz, Viel Raum, wenig Zeit, 2013; Katja Strunz, Viel Raum, wenig Zeit, 2013; | © Katja Strunz, Photo: Matthias Kolb When you walk into the exhibition hall that is 40 metres long and eight metres wide - a classic example of a “White Cube”, you are taken aback - only four works are on display. You are so overwhelmed by the two monumental sculptures that you almost overlook the third, immediately after the entrance. It is however this work in particular that reflects the second part of the exhibition title.

There are two balloons hanging from the rod of a set of scales - one of them is inflated, but all the air has escaped from the other. They still however manage to maintain the balance, even though the drooping, folded one is hanging on a shorter chain.

The observer is confused - and not just visually. Even though the balloons look deceptively real, they are in fact casts. Their colour is black, like that of the other sculptures - which can also be understood as a response to the pristine white of the room.

Space is compressed

On the second sculpture, however, the paint is somewhat worn and torn. It looks like a large, crumpled ball of paper. Katja Strunz assembled it from several plates of aluminium. The artist revealed when she was showing the model of the work in her studio in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin that, with the help of a forklift, it had taken her a whole day to get the pieces into the right shape.

The artist uses models made of paper to develop not only the sculptures themselves, but also the effect they produce in the exhibition room. One of the underlying principles of her work is to react to the room and the surrounding space.
Katja Strunz, Drehmoment, Ausstellungsansicht, 2013; Katja Strunz, Drehmoment, Ausstellungsansicht, 2013; | © Katja Strunz, Photo: Matthias Kolb At the moment paper and metal are Strunz’s preferred working materials. The large installation at the back of the exhibition room seems from afar to be a clearly defined, room-filling sculpture. A closer observation, however, reveals a continuous ribbon of metal consisting of individual, uniform elements that have been linked together in parallel form to give the impression of folds.

It is eight metres high and hangs from a steel cable. With the aid of braces it has been given a closed oval shape that bulges out more in the lower half of the figure. It is only when you take a closer look that you realise that the beginning and end of the ribbon touch the floor in a slightly offset position.

It is formal details like these that enable the sculptures, which seem somewhat simple at first glance, to invoke complex associations - be it a staircase that has been squashed up or a broken vehicle track.

Philosophical references

The fact that the length of the metal ribbon corresponds to the length of the exhibition hall and the area of the starting material of the other sculpture could cover the hall’s width is not so obvious, but for Katja Strunz it is important.

One of the leitmotifs to be found in her work is the compressing and destruction of space - as she puts it in German “Einfalten und Einfallen” (folding and collapsing).
Katja Strunz, Memory Wall (II), 2008; Katja Strunz, Memory Wall (II), 2008; | © Katja Strunz, Photo: Jan Bauer She has named the one sculpture Tellurischer Riemen (Tellurian Belt) and the other Tellurische Kontraktion (Tellurian Contraction) - a direct reference to the writings of the French philosopher, Paul Virilio. He described how speed increases with the development of driving techniques - in such a way that not only spatial distances are drastically reduced, but also those of time. Time is also “killed”. The human being, sitting at his computer screen, will in the end become immobilised for the digitalised world is now hurtling towards him at great speed.

Between yesterday and today

It is all about deceleration, says Katja Strunz. She wants to make the inertness of the material and the gravity of history visible. Over ten years ago she began her Yesterday’s Papers series, four pages of which are being shown in the exhibition - blank, yellowed pages, torn out of old, second-hand books.

The fact that they have aged in different ways does not strike the viewer immediately. Katja Strunz printed the title and words like “yesterday” and “today” in ever-changing formations and in lead typeface, the traditional letterpress printing process. She sees this as a folding open of a space in history.
Katja Strunz, Yesterday's Papers, 2002; Katja Strunz, Yesterday's Papers, 2002; | © Katja Strunz, Photo: Matthias Kolb

The “constructivist spectre”

The artist, who was born in Ottweiler in the state of Saarland in 1970 and who had studied art in Mainz and Karlsruhe, along with philosophy, said that at first she had actually started off with painting. With painting, however, she was somehow not able to fuse image and concept together. Then she discovered the “constructivist spectre” - a random arrangement of scraps of paper that was left over from something she had been working on.

Katja Strunz, Untitled, 2012; Katja Strunz, Untitled, 2012; | © Katja Strunz, Photo: max-color Since then collages have formed the basis of her work. For these Strunz uses various kinds of paper, partly from discarded books. Her wall and room installations were then produced from wood and metal. Since then the artist has been focussing on the relationship between space and time in various bodies of work that are all consecutively related.

Drehmoment, for example, is a variation on the motif of the clock that does not show the time anymore. Deformed clock faces were used just as much as aggressively kinetic devices that invited exhibition-goers to drop the clocks on the floor or smash them against the wall. In her studio Katja Strunz has a collection of scrap tower clocks. The things to be seen here are some of her folded, geometric objects that have gained her the label of adapting the constructivist vocabulary of shapes

Although Katja Strunz has grappled with the ultimate piece, Black Square, done by the Russian constructivist, Kasimir Malewitsch in1913, she stressed in the interview that there was in fact a difference - “My works do not just draw from constructivism, I myself see them as constructivist.”

Katja Strunz: Drehmoment (Viel Zeit, wenig Raum)
Torque (Much Time, Little Space)

Berlinische Galerie
26th April until 2nd September 2013