Open Frequency 2008: Michael Stumpf selected by Sarah Lowndes

Open Frequency 2008: Michael Stumpf selected by Sarah Lowndes Michael Stumpf, Once, 2005. 12 x 20 x 5 cm. Acrylic-resin cast, spray-paint, thread, key-ringacrylic-resin cast, spray-paint, thread, key-ring. Credit: Michael Stumpf and Sorcha Dallas

Sarah Lowndes profiles the work of Michael Stumpf

Michael Stumpf's sculptural pieces draw on a wide range of cinematic and literary metaphors to create works that are both entertaining and allusive. He often employs laborious processes: cold-dyeing polo shirts, coating stags' antlers in silver resin, soldering a wonky keyring that spells out the word ONCE. His materials are all of the kind that put up resistance: denim that he stitches, sculpted words twisted with a Marcel Broodthaers lilt. His work also draws on certain Gothic themes, perhaps pointing to his childhood in Mannheim, Germany. This range of influences is deftly incorporated in Stumpf's objects and environments, generating an imaginative context for the audience that is engrossing but never pretentious. Although language plays an important role in his work, it is the essential thing-ness of his objects that is the most striking aspect of his practice. (Sarah Lowndes).

His hand-crafted mixed-media objects, installations and text-based works posses an engaging cryptic quality, 'a morbid syntax, what Rosalind Krauss might call 'sculpture in the expanded forest; for its pungent element of Germanic gothic'. (Laurence Figgis). Denim, plastic, aluminium, paper, pewter and other elements are used to conjur a material alphabet that manifests itself in the sculptures. As part of a broader linguistic system the sculptures function as semantic structures suggestive of a narrative. Fragments of text are present in the work in the form of posters, animated title sequences, or text-based casts. The installation of the work aims to capture a moment of an imagined narrative set in a fictional landscape:

'Stumpf's sculptures and installations are concocted from spliced together moments, combinations of images, objects and materials shifted from their original contexts and relocated within a new imagined narrative. These hybrid objects become an anthology of dislocated referents, each element functioning as part of a persistently elusive whole which, like a frozen frame in a movie or a torn out page in a book, offers the viewer only a partial glimpse, a displaced scene, a snapshot of a larger scenario.

Nature, culture, craft, decoration, cinema, folklore and literature collide and interweave in works to create a sometimes poetic, sometimes perilous material alphabet. The particularity of Stumpf's sculptural vernacular imbues the objects with a curious internal logic, an absoluteness that makes them entirely plausible, and yet still slippery and enigmatic, like something half-remembered and then re-made with absolute conviction.' (Albrecht Schafer & Michael Stumpf, International Project Space, 2005).

In 2004 Stumpf was awarded a research residency at Cove Park on the Rosneath peninsula in the West of Scotland. 'At the Edge of the Night a Fairytale Ties Roses', a bookwork with an essay by Ross Birrell, was published to document the project. Commenting on the use of language in Stumpf's art, Birrell writes,

'With the work of Michael Stumpf, we turn not so much to a systematic affinity between language and sculpture but to an elective affinity. Stumpf's sculptural assemblages have a grammar all of their own. But the emphasis upon language in Stumpf's work has little to do with the idea of sculpture as a negative condition without positive terms, that is to say, with the Saussurian linguistics which underpinned Krauss's influential essay 'Sculpture in the Expanded Field'. Rather, the world of language to which Stumpf's sculptures and other works relate is the incantatory and cryptic language of sorcery, mysticism, magic and spells. This is the point of the amateur and ad-hoc construction of his hybrid assemblages: they are a witch's brew of makeshift mumbo-jumbo and inspired idiot voodoo. As an artist Michael Stumpf is more Mephistopheles than Faust. He has his eye on your immortal soul.' (Ross Birrell, 2004).

Sarah Lowndes, November 2008

Artist's biography

Born in Manheim, Germany (1969), Stumpf studied at the State Academy of Fine Art, Karlsruhe (2001) and gained an MA (Fine Art) from Glasgow School of Art (2004). Selected for East International in 2003, he exhibited in Pilot 1, London, and New Work Scotland in 2004. Recent exhibitions include The Tower (Uberbau, Dusseldorf, 2006), a solo show at Sorcha Dallas, Glasgow (2005), a joint show with German artist Albrecht Shafer (International Project Space, Birmingham, 2005) and Like It Matters with Karla Black and Mick Peter (CCA, Glasgow, 2005). Stumpf is a committee member of Transmission Gallery, Glasgow and a co-founder and curator of Kaiserpassage 21a, Karlsruhe, Germany.

Stumpf is represented by Sorcha Dallas, Glasgow, and lives and works in Glasgow.

About Sarah Lowndes

Sarah Lowndes is the author of  Social Sculpture: Art, Performance and Music in Glasgow, a social history of independent practice, exhibitions and events since 1971 (STOPSTOP, 2004).  Lowndes is a visiting lecturer to the Historical and Critical Studies Department at Glasgow School of Art, where she teaches the courses Do It Yourself and Performance Art.  

She is currently undertaking PhD research into the 1960s and 1970s performance work of the Los Angeles based artists Chris Burden, Bas Jan Ader, Bruce Nauman and Paul McCarthy.  A regular contributor to Frieze and other journals, her recent catalogue essays include 'The Echo Show' (Glasgow, 2003), 'Synth' (Leipzig, 2004) and 'Flesh at War With Enigma' (Basel, 2004).

Open Frequency keeps you in touch with new developments in contemporary art practice from across the UK. The artists are selected and profiled by leading curators, artists and writers, presenting the work of artists to watch out for over the coming year. Open Frequency represents a forward-looking glance today of the artists who will be setting the agenda tomorrow.