Universalism and spirituality were already exorcised from the Dominican Church in Krems by Josef II in 1786: since its secularization, the gothic hall has been used as a meeting place for state parliaments, as a warehouse and factory, then as a theater and cinema. The newly founded Landesgalerie für zeitgenössische Kunst is now responsible for a promising exhibition program in the spectacular rooms.
With Manfred Wakolbinger an old stager in tart business looms large at the Körnermarkt. As a master of his trade, he has not only the necessary passion but artistic intrepidity to handle the architectural challenges of the extremely narrow and high nave. Moreover, the entire emptiness of the interior appears as an undefined and unlimited vacuum. From the beginning of his career Manfred Wakolbinger is engaged with thinking about such spatial indeterminacy, about the simultaneity of inside and outside: his territory is flexibility and infinity, transformation and the dialogue between confidence and unacquainted. Whether it’s the images of nearby galaxies and distant supernovas sent to Earth by space telescopes, or scarce sea animals observed by the passionate diver and underwater photographer, Wakolbinger is fascinated by three-dimensional space and the many different ways to experience it.
Wakolbinger cites philosophers and pop stars as references for his extensive show in Krems:
The title of the exhibition “Up from the Skies” refers to a song on Jimi Hendrix’s second album: “Axis: Bold as Love”. Hendrix tells the story of aliens returning to Earth to find nothing but chaos and devastation: “And I come back to find the star misplaced and the smell of a world that has burned.”
Wakolbinger says Jimi Hendrix was a skydiver in real life, but in his imagination, he always travelled in spaceships. He saw his body as a transistor, interconnecting it with amplifiers and the guitar to create an artificial-virtual entity that is no longer a natural object but a performative artifact at the human/machine interface.
With a generous interdisciplinary gesture, Manfred Wakolbinger, the sculptor, draws on an Indian fairy tale, also appreciated by Peter Sloterdijk, in addition to the spherically enraptured Hendrix, to cope with the architecture. The protagonist of the narrative are immortal, divine birds, that glide through the air in eternal flight. The sun is breeding their eggs while they fall to the ground from great heights. The expansive steel tube follows the trajectory of a divine bird and connects the choir with the nave. It swings up to the pillars below the ceiling, then glides along the wall in decisive loops. Finally, it reaches a cube that the artist has incorporated in the central aisle of the longhouse as both, a projection room and observation deck.
From there one overlooks Wakolbinger’s sculptural portfolio, which he arranges in the side aisles and around the oval flight parabola. His new series of work “Forces” is placed in the choir. The egg-shaped copper sculptures are presented as three-dimensional bodies, comforting realities as counterpoints to concepts of immaterial and imaginary art. A condition becomes concrete, a quality is shapened. “Resting, Acting, Stretching, Walking Force” are titles referring to different stages of movement and rest the sculptures are engaged with. The process of transformation, conversions and metamorphoses is crucial to the formal realization. The intangible that Wakolbinger relates to with his sculptures takes on various forms. They range from the stoic power of material to subtle humor in movies: inside the cube, the artist sends his flying egg sculptures in an animation to music by Christian Fennesz throug the desert.
For Wakolbinger, the Krems exhibition is an ironic play on the cliché of a sculptor as much as it is an evocation and examination of his own work.
We find the meditative vessel-sculptures that mark his international breakthrough, sculptures at the intersection of autonomy, functional object and cult furniture. At documenta 8, he demonstrated how plaster and copper can become objects that unite base and sculpture. The inverting of negative copper forms into matte gray plaster bodies could be read as a metaphor for polarities, but also as the formulation of the absolute balance of tensions. The sculptures functioned self-fulfilling, they functioned in their relation to the space, and beyond that they gladly proved their utility.
If copper in the plaster-sculptures was a mysterious carrier of light, energy coming from within, in a new complex of works Wakolbinger enclosed his material in stereometric containers of float glass. Copper in ribbons and loops, which broke out of wave movements at the resistance of the glass and pushed outward with focused dynamic. Arranged in pairs or groups loosely arranged in the room, or integrated in the architecture, set into niches, wall and floor surfaces, the sculptures developed their alchemical poetry as shining fetishes for the perfect balance of form based on a spatial statement, an intervention in space.
Entering the exhibition, one must pass by the “Travellers”, the newest group of works. They are futuristic objects, elegant metal and copper constructions painted in tarnished gray, pink or light blue. On the one hand, they are indebted to the formalism of modernism, but on the other hand, they are reminiscent of Spielberg’s dinosaurs and some encounters with creatures of the third kind. Coming from the “Placements” Wakolbinger gave them – an evolutionary step – legs. Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s understanding of the “corporeity” plays an essential role, the concept with which the philosopher abolishes the traditional distinction between body and consciousness. With the new figurative sculptures, Manfred Wakolbinger explains, he is concerned with the materialization of something intangible that expands and changes permanently.
“Placements” and “Travellers” are designed by Wakolbinger with a 3D-program on his computer. Besides the real versions in more model-like sizes, they also exist in virtual space. He installs them as giant monuments in films and in his never-ending pool of craving photographs from all over the world, transporting them to Greek islands, the Balinese jungle or the dunes of Gran Canaria.
Finally, in the film “Galaxies” Manfred Wakolbinger deals with the dissolution processes of matter. The artist shot it underwater in the Makassar Strait in western Sulawesi. For many years he has been fascinated by the pelagic ascidiae, marine animals that form 40-meter-long chains to eventually dissolve and dissipate. The exhibition’s thematic orbit closes with the nation of the Toraja, living in the highlands of Sulawesi, who believe in their origin from outer space and live in houses that look like spaceships.
When Wakolbinger assembles stylistic sculptures and startling films, when he rounds up free jazz-musicians whose footwork reminds him of the fleet-footed “Travellers”, when the thoroughly composed soundtrack envelops the sculpture in an intergalactic ambient sound, fantastic sparks fly through the former house of worship. And on the platform satellites slowly revolve around themselves, collecting the energies from the exhibition’s system and radiating their message.