Gallery exhibition - 2020
Jürg Stäuble
The Run in the System
Die Laufmasche im System

by Dominique von Burg

The works of Jürg Stäuble are "more than a system.” They are based on ordering systems that are undermined by means of calculated irritations. These systems are grounded in strict geometry and follow precise rules that have grown on the humus of conceptual art and 1960s minimalism. Although Jürg Stäuble does incorporate their language of forms, he uses associative play or seemingly organic constellations to turn them into their opposites.

This opens up extraordinary dimensions that have a distinctive language, such as a poetic space that permits metamorphoses of all kinds, or entities that appear to have grown organically. The question of whether these works are figurative or abstract is one that Stäuble deliberately leaves unanswered, because he is particularly interested in the formal ambiguity that they obtain in the space.

This artist experiments with penetrations, overlaps, sequences, torsions, displacements and layerings of geometric bodies and surf aces, often developing his wealth of forms in series. As "volumes, network-like entities, or surfaces that appear complex, organic, or amorphous,"(1) they are reminiscent of geometric formations. Interestingly, however, they do not reveal any clearly calculable design principles. A discrepancy arises, with which these works, structured according to systematic criteria, can be "cracked"; as familiarity with Stäuble's oeuvre increases, this proves to constitute added value. By way of example, this added value is evident in the six square columns in the hall on the fourth floor of Haus Konstruktiv. These columns are all covered differently, which seems to unhinge the hall. Diverging waveforms collide at the edges, resulting in an overall impression of irregularity. There is no optimal place to stand, where all columns might be coherently perceived. Their structure and their relationship with the surroundings constantly change according to the observer's position.

Material properties as factors in the language of forms - The audience is reminded of Jürg Stäuble's Raumerkundungen from the late 1970s and 1980s, in which the artist sounded out the "relationship between rational construction and irrational appearance."(2) He first schooled himself in the strict geometry of constructivist-concrete art, produced landscape paintings with a structure based on minimalist criteria between 1971 and 1974, and created three-dimensional wall or floor pieces from hard materials such as sheet iron and steel in 1975/76. At the same time, in a concrete sculptural manner, he explored simple sequences of folds, bends, rotations, and layerings, as in the 1976 work Richtungsänderung durch Faltung, which consists of three metal panels—two unfolded and one folded.

From 1978 onward, Stäuble broke up this initial stringency with works and installations using mirrors, soap, and makeup. What pointed the way forward here was his desire to incorporate the observer more, to enrich the content of the works, and to give them a clearly perceptible physical presence. This was demonstrated in 1985 with his hacked- out sheet-metal pieces with splintery edges, which frame the clear geometric form and make it appear to have eroded. These show visible signs of the enormous physical effort required of the artist when working on them.

What followed at the end of the 1980s and start of the 1990s was a period of objects made from cardboard. plywood, or airplane plywood and coated in graphite or black asphalt varnish. These were derived from overlapping and interpenetrating geometric bodies and surfaces. They appear very compact and cohesive: the irregularly structured cones with elliptical bases are one example. Thanks to the optimal flexibility and sandability of plywood, this period produced resplendent objects and open, loop-shaped entities with a sensuous, emotionally charged presence. Although these works appear monolithic, they were actually made up of smaller pieced-together parts. Their geometric systems may be identifiable, but these objects go beyond the purely constructivist.

The black, glossy, organically lively, multicurved MDF wall pieces that were produced in 2008 rely on the arcs of sequentially arranged circles, taking on an almost ornamental dimension. These include K55 D12, K24 D15, and K8 D15. Their starting point was an arrangement of colliding circular fields, the centers of which were set out on a grid of equilateral triangles. In turn, the circular fields were divided into sixths. Between the one-sixth-circle, the smallest possible module, and the five-sixths-circle, the largest possible module, the artist established the contours of the works. Astute geometric calculation enables an endless multitude of organic configurations—whereby, after each segment, the artist has to decide whether to stay on the commenced arc or to proceed in the opposite direction on the arc of the next adjoining circle.

Airily light permeability - In order to expand his processing options, Jürg Stäuble began to make more use of Styrofoam, polystyrene, and Jackodur, with their material-specific coloring. The consistency of rigid foam entailed a change in his language of forms, as rigid foam panels can be cut with relative ease using heated wire. The sections that would break easily if subjected to force were assembled by the artist like Lego according to geometric principles and he sometimes glued them together in larger constellations. The industrially produced unwieldy material was given forms that appeared malleable. This contradiction was sometimes enhanced by the treatment of the surfaces, to which Jürg Stäuble has attached considerable importance since the late 1970s, and for which he experimented with materials like paint, soap, and makeup. For example, he painted a mirror with makeup, or he adorned the edges of the floor at Gallery Mark Müller with triangular mirror fragments—as in the 1978/2009 installation Zick-Zack, in which the observer sees themselves reflected quite awkwardly. The floor piece Seifen-Raum from 1979 evokes fantasies of a lathered body behind a shower curtain. It consists of a rectangular thick panel of translucent glass, resting on a loosely scattered collection of soap bars and emitting an intense fragrance. A no-less sensuous associative air is given off by the purple bubbleshaped Jackodur wall pieces, coated with glossy epoxy resin: Beidseits 3/6, 3/9, 3/10, and 2/2, all from 2007.

The light-blue color of wall objects such as Wand 1/ Wand II (2002/03) or Overhead (2004) is conveyed thanks to the material Styrofoam. This gives the otherwise ascetic-looking works an airy, easygoing aspect. In particular, the wall relief Wand II, comprising sequentially arranged, differently cut segments of blue industrial Styrofoam, brings to mind a three-dimensional implementation of a wave diagram. On the other hand, Wand I conjures up associations with a breathing process, due to its open, spatially permeable forms and its linear entities that appear to be carrying out constant sweeping movements.

Airily light permeability is also afforded by the monumental, perforated blue wall Überkreuz dating from 2003. This piece is highly significant for the artist, as he used it as a basis for the development of his cloud-like wall-mounted panels of sanded aluminum and a number of art-in-architecture works. It began with wave lines, hand-wrought in wire, which Stäuble drove through a block of Styrofoam both horizontally and vertically, with a 90-degree rotation after each cut. This resulted in irregular, either horizontally or vertically corrugated grid structures with a pattern of holes.

Using these irregular wave lines, Stäuble was able to address different requirements at the Stähelimatt residential development in Seebach, Zurich (2007), and the Bäumlihof residential development in Basel (2008). In the former, the perforated parapets give the residential blocks a captivating appearance in the purely graphic sense, while also providing residents with a screen that lets light pass through. In the latter, the garage entrance is designed as a relief-like, wave-shaped portal wall.

The group of works made from aluminum composite panels, given an amorphous organic form by flowing wave-shaped contours, prove to be very rich in associations: up and down (2006), Partikel/Raum (2007), Form, V15 H30 (2008), and Form, V10 H05 (2008), with matt-finished shimmering silver surfaces covered in fine sanding lines, which look like puddles or like light reflected in a lake.

The line as a common thread in Stäuble's oeuvre - The line is the primary construction element underlying the works mentioned here. In these works, Stäuble thematized the line in reference to the constructivist-concrete mantra about the line that is just a line, and he continues to do so today. For example, the hall on the fourth floor at Haus Konstruktiv, rhythmized by wave-shaped columns, is opened up and has its boundaries dissolved, as it were, by a large-format wall drawing that communicates with the columns and the location, thus achieving a direct relationship with the space. Shimmering straight lines in matt silver extend over the long wall, sometimes parallel, sometimes diverging, gathered here and there as diverse bundles of rays and concentrated at vanishing points. The linear compositions seem to pulsate. They come across as open, space-forming, and spatially permeable. They oscillate between two-dimensionality and three-dimensionality, between surface and space. The spatial is captured within the surface by perspective-based systems to such an extent that the observer is compelled to situate themselves in front of it or within it, particularly as no defined position or clear horizon is discernible. As the observer's vantage point changes, the lines appear to materialize only to then vanish once again.

By conjuring up associations with landscape, the lines refer back to very early works, such as Linien in Landschaft (1971), Horizont ( 1972/73), or Konstruktion in Landschaft I (1973), all of which have a high horizon parallel to the picture plane.

The arrangement of piercing, sharply drawn constellations of lines consolidate into a dense network that produces images of barren, expansive, and deserted landscapes—actual metaphors for nowhere, which simultaneously generate what the artist considers to be an "aquarium-like atmosphere."

The elixir of ambiguities - The rooms on the fifth floor of Haus Konstruktiv invite the visitor on a retrospective, chronologically ordered tour. While taking this opportunity to look back, one gets the impression that Jürg Stäuble is not primarily interested in the completeness of the geometric form, but instead wants to upset it. This can be seen very clearly in the wall pieces Flecken (14-teilig) from 2001. In order to develop this structure from circle grids, the artist used transparent grid paper, which allowed him to meander freely on the arc segments. As a result, the clear form is difficult to make out. The observer may fail to categorize the ordering systems, particularly as the calculable design principles elude the sweeping gaze, and Stäuble, despite all his systematics, often abandons himself to spontaneous intuition. It is in precisely these aspects, which the artist sees as substantial and relevant, where supposedly fixed meanings begin to crumble or diverge.

This is because such ambiguities are the elixir that protects Jürg Stäuble's works against the rigidity of a strict formalistic approach and entrusts them to the flowing dynamism of life. Playing with contradictions and incompatibilities is something that this artist has celebrated since his youth—and he does so, for instance, when his works create charged environments as a result of the contrast between brittle fragile material and seemingly elastic winding forms. One could consider, for example, the pearlescent-white painted polystyrene objects, such as Around (2002), a floor piece structured like a Gordian knot, or the belly-dance-like curves of polystyrene columns, as in Säulen, geschichtet (2009), or even a pale wriggling worm-like creature made of airplane plywood, such as the one encountered in Raumkörper (2001). Thanks to a partial coating of the porous surface, either with clear varnish, pearlescent paint, or plastic film, white deformed polystyrene chain links hanging on walls exude an airy lightness-for instance, in Parallels (2002) or the serpentine Stab, senkrecht (2002). Geometric systems that provide Stäuble with a framework are the sole source for the artist's design method. He also frequently returns to older works, modifying them or positioning them in an altered frame of reference or a different ordering system. He gives his works an underlying mathematical structural principle, which he first applies in series of drawings. In this typical process-based way of working, Jürg Stäuble exploits the point where a regulatory framework becomes unrestrainable and bursts once it no longer follows its own, self-defined rules. With his rules, the artist alludes to traditional, ideological, or sociopolitical norms. He counters them with deviation, diversity, change, and transformation, which constitute key components of his work. Here, Stäuble does not seek compromise, nor does he strive for any synthesis; instead, his works oscillate between the opposing poles of familiar regulatory frameworks and the expressive means of intuition, spontaneity, and sensuousness. This latent conceptual space is where the potential and strength of his works unfold.

With his joyful subtle thwarting of the system, Jürg Stäuble ultimately provides a reminder of the metaphor of the "run in the system" (in the sense of a run in a stocking), in reference to Beat Wyss's 1985 habilitation thesis Trauer der Vollendung {Hegel’s Art History and the Critique of Modernity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999). Wyss cites Franz Kafka's parable "The Cares of a Family Man," comparing the artist and their work with Odradek, the unfathomable, as a "run in the system": "Vet despite how consistently the web of sense-making is drawn, runs in the system always form where the nonsensical tumbles in: Odradek!"(3) The same thing ensues when Jürg Stäuble establishes a world of relative certainties and parameters in the realm between the aforementioned polarities of rational and irrational, while the geometric forms that become fluid (made tangible in the group of works comprising amorphous pieces of sheet aluminum) announce a fluidization of the restrictive control mechanisms of consciousness. The collective and individual subconscious could hardly be taken by the scruff of the neck any more astutely than via the Qdradekian strategy that lurks in the "added value" of the system.

(1) FSA (Federation of Swiss Architects) award presentation to Jürg Stäuble in 2015.
(2) Ihid.
(3) Beat Wyss, "Die Sorge des Autors," in: Lisa Schiess, Odradek oder die Laufmasche im System (Lucerne: Edizioni Periferia, 2011), p. 84.

Die Arbeiten von Jürg Stäuble sind «mehr als System». Sie beruhen auf Ordnungssystemen, die mithilfe kalkulierter Irritationen unterwandert werden. Die Systeme basieren auf einer strengen Geometrie und folgen präzisen Spielregeln, die auf dem Humus des Minimalismus der 1960er-Jahre und der Konzeptkunst gewachsen sind. Jürg Stäuble nimmt deren Formensprache auf, verkehrt sie jedoch durch assoziative Spiele oder organisch anmutende Konstellationen in ihr Gegenteil.

Dadurch eröffnen sich ungewöhnliche Dimensionen mit einer unverkennbaren Sprache, etwa ein poetischer Raum, der Wandlungen jeglicher Art zulässt, oder Gebilde, die organisch gewachsen scheinen. Bewusst hält Stäuble die Frage offen, ob es sich dabei um figürliche oder abstrakte Werke handelt, denn ihn interessiert insbesondere die formale Vieldeutigkeit, die sie im Raum erhalten.

Der Künstler experimentiert mit Durchdringungen, Überlagerungen, Reihungen, Torsionen, Verschiebungen, Schichtungen geometrischer Körper und Flächen und entwickelt seinen Formenreichtum oft in Serien. Als «komplexe, organisch oder amorph wirkende Volumen, netzartige Gebilde oder Flächen» erinnern sie an geometrische Formationen, geben jedoch interessanterweise keine klar berechenbaren Gestaltungsprinzipien preis. Es entspinnt sich eine Diskrepanz, die die nach systematischen Kriterien aufgebauten Arbeiten zu «knacken» vermag, was sich bei näherer Kenntnis von Stäubles Werk als «Mehrwert» erweist. …

Quelle seiner Formfindungen sind ausschliesslich geometrische Systeme, die ihm einen Rahmen gewähren. Immer wieder rekurriert er dabei auf ältere Arbeiten, variiert sie oder setzt sie in einen veränderten Bezugsrahmen respektive in ein anderes Ordnungssystem. Seinen Werken legt er ein mathematisches Konstruktionsprinzip zugrunde, das er zuerst in Zeichnungsserien anlegt. In seiner charakteristisch prozessualen Arbeitsweise reizt Jürg Stäuble den Punkt aus, an dem ein Regelwerk nicht mehr zu bändigen ist und ausbricht, sobald es nicht mehr den selbstgesetzten Regeln folgt. Mit den Regeln spielt der Künstler auf traditionelle, ideologische oder soziopolitische Normen an. Ihnen begegnet er mit Abweichung, Vielgestaltigkeit, Veränderung und Wandlung, die wichtige Komponenten in seinem Werk bilden. Dabei sucht Stäuble weder den Kompromiss, noch ringt er um eine Synthese; vielmehr oszillieren seine Arbeiten zwischen den gegensätzlichen Polen von vertrauten Regelwerken und den Ausdrucksweisen der Intuition, der Spontaneität und der Sinnlichkeit. In diesem latenten Vorstellungsraum entfalten sich das Potential und die Kraft seiner Werke.

Excerpt from Mehr sein als System, 2017

Read more