Daniel von Sturmer’s first London show was an understated presentation of four videos drawn from larger bodies of work (2008-09). The installation, referencing painting and sculpture as well as film—two of the three flat-panel monitors were leaning against opposite walls like little John McCrackens or paintings waiting to be hung—highlights von Sturmer’s interest in the physicalities (both actual and spectral) of video.
As at the 2007 Venice Biennale, where the Melbourne-based New Zealander represented Australia, von Sturmer here employs a cast of simple objects and materials—poured paint, paper, Plasticine, colored blocks—to ruminate on mediated experiences of the physical. However, the simple camera tricks he often uses to impart life to his subjects are passed over in favor of simple, direct physical processes. The resulting work breathes astonishing new life into an array of Minimalist and Post-Minimalist tropes. In Set Piece (Sequence 3), for example, a projection onto a small Plexiglas screen attached at a right angle to the wall shows a series of colored blocks dropped one by one into the camera frame. Slowly they jostle each other into a composition, which, though clearly random, acquires a sense of inevitability as the looped footage repeats a second, third, fourth time. The visual rhythm of the loop, along with the regular clicking of the blocks as they fall into place, gently structures time like the ticking of a clock. This even rhythm is echoed in the rest of the works, where each action is followed by a regular pause, allowing time in which to experience both action and result. In Tableaux Plastique (Sequence 10), long strips of paper move steadily across the black screen from left to right, as if expelled from an unseen shredder, filling the frame as they come to rest. After a pause, another sheet of paper is fed through, partially covering and displacing the original: pause and repeat, each shredded sheet a darker shade of gray until the last, as black as the original ground, creates an imperfect erasure of the image.
The implied off-screen agent is a constant in von Sturmer’s practice. Its most explicit avatar here appears in Set Piece (Sequence 4), where a skinny Plasticine rod nudges tiny items—small cones and discs as well as rubber bands, scraps of colored paper, pieces of colored lint—linto precarious sculptural arrangements. The gridded surface on which these quiet endeavors unfold emphasizes the camera’s extreme tight focus and the minute scale of the objects, while also invoking Muybridge, computer-generated imagery and stop-motion animation techniques, as well as after-school science TV shows from the ’70s. There’s an engaging, underplayed humor to all this. As each tiny sculpture stutters into brief existence, conjuring up now Barbara Hepworth, now Tom Friedman, now an educational toy for preschoolers, now Sol LeWitt, one becomes increasingly aware of the thicket of art historical and cultural references deftly woven into von Sturmer’s playful formalism.
Photo: Daniel von Sturmer: Set Piece (Sequence 4), 2009, video, approx. 7 minutes; at Karsten Schubert.