When the Historical Archive of the City of Cologne slid 20 meters into the ground in March 2009, two people died and the memory of a city was swallowed by the earth. The largest collection of medieval writings, priceless works on paper, and entire archives sank into the ground with it. In the groundwater, they merged together into an agglomeration of paper, cement, silicon, sentence fragments,and strings. The reasons for this catastrophe were corruption and mismanagement. Theft and deceit, too. Lastly, complex human error. It is believed to have been a network of cronyism. In other words, there were typical problems with the strength of the foundations, allowing water to seep in and erode the subsoil. The aesthetic results of this catastrophe are the compressed, amorphous bodies of text and building material, now being painstakingly restored over an estimated 30 years. They represent contextual bodies without subtext since every real accident lacks intention. In these agglomerations from Cologne, there is more to look at than simply rubble and books: their meaning comes from the context. In contrast, Stefan’s works can be understood as intentional accidents: as amorphous images, as contextual bodies, which exist in a charged relationship to subtext. As such, they are subject to the artistic gesture and, as ‘accidents’, not only thwart the idea of function but also deliberately and irreparably prevent intentional constructions. Stefan's works torpedo the context of the fantasy of a founding narrative. His works are deliberately catastrophic.
Regardless of the disparity between intention and catastrophe, the salvaged, sticky bodies of text and sludge and Stefan’s works are too similar in their form to ignore. It is tempting to believe that this common ground stems from the fact that both speak to us from a sunken archive – yet the sunken archive Stefan deals with remains unknown.
In my theory about Stefan’s archive, he alludes to a complex relationship between closure and mystery. Let me outline this idea with the following: it seems as if all our buildings are constructed around a secret that we are keeping from ourselves. Imagine an archive of hindered dreams of failure; imagine secretly planning to never finish the building and never get the reward. We all harbor a desire to disappear. It is not for nothing that the subconscious appears in the media as something underground, as a cellar. The subconscious, the sleep of reason, is always full of dreams of catastrophes, and it constitutes the sub-layer of the ground. Wouldn’t an order of desirable catastrophes be a wonderful archive of the subversion (a real underground) of the exploitation of human genius by civilization, which always wants to break something in order to establish itself?
The content of Stefan’s exhibition Grrund can be characterized as follows: fantasy is leveraged by the normative social force to domesticate the defiant, subversive inner self and subconscious of the individual – desires and fantasies are channeled to be used for the accumulation of capital. Fantasies of self-actualization are part of exploitation and subjugation, and this is the secret life that we want to close off. For this is an evil that reaches into the depths of our achievements as a civilization – starting with the Neolithic period and the cultivation of the land, it ends with construction loans and the “business start-up”. The basic problem is imagining the future, but this comes with disappointment. After overcoming the deception, the truth about the future appears. Like any truth, it seems banal: the future does not exist and never will. And, as is typical with banal insights, their consequences are drastic: every plan is subsequently wrong because it prepares the future in itself and becomes part of being. How can an aimless life without a blueprint for the future, on the bare ground, be possible?
Stefan’s subtextual method starts from a negative. The negation of form that his materials (more precisely building materials) embody produces an aesthetics of catastrophe: open joints, drilled holes badly placed, and a horde of texts, which invoke an endless story of separation. Things return to their material, amorphous states and through this develop an aesthetic typical of their materiality: a poetics of catastrophe. Although Stefan's artistic will to create is indelible, the aesthetic of the material is omnipresent and staged.
His works are images, and they are agglomerations: contextual compressions, poetic bodies. Their aesthetic value is the staging of disappointment in relation to civilized, built-up reality: nothing lasts, and every building ends in disaster due to a future that never appears. What his work confronts us with is a salutary, democratic experience of naked, aimless materiality. It is an aesthetic reconciliation with that which is never finished. What would happen if we dared to interpret the agglomerations from Cologne as poetic fragments of a catastrophic archive? We would no longer need Stefan Vogel.
Stefan Vogel (born 1981 in Fürth, lives and works in Leipzig) was invited to Villa Romana (Florence) in 2016 and will have a major solo exhibition – Relax, it’s only paranoia – this year at the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz. The Overbeck-Gesellschaft of the Lübeck Art Association is also hosting a solo exhibition in June 2021. Works by the artist can be found in important collections, among them the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, Bonn Museum of Modern Art, Kunstpalast Düsseldorf, the Federal Collection of Contemporary Art (Bundeskunstsammlung), Langen Foundation, G2 Kunsthalle, Leipzig, and Philara, Düsseldorf.