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Klaus Scherübel: Depth in the Surface

Klaus Scherübel was not an art student. He started out as a self-taught fashion designer. As he gave a brief biography, he struck me as someone who has been setting his own path in his development. He has more of a playful fascination with the artifacts, norms, and behaviours of any given “system” of society than any sort of connection or rule-abiding adhesion to them. This may stem from blazing a unique – self-taught – trail through these cultures.

The work that he presented referenced the systems of fashion, galleries and museums, publishing, and television. The works used the materials and artifacts from those systems. But he tweaks them into something new, revealing powerful ideas that were often so striking they made me laugh and question the referenced culture. His presentation left me surprised and delighted.

He stated his early influences were Dadaism and Duchamp and Conceptual works from the 60s and 70s. From my limited understanding of fashion, I had a hard time making the connection to his fashion work until he said, “I got interested in the system of fashion … branding, media, launching a style.” For example, his third and final fashion show, in 1991, contained copies of other garments or found garments, ready-mades.

His self-proclaimed “first work of art” was an entry to an art awards event promoting ecological awareness. He was spurred to submit something because of a need for money and what he called “an interesting jury.” The work he submitted was simple but centred around an important idea about what was important, ecologically speaking. It consisted of chocolates wrapped in tin foil with a portrait of Mozart. These were handed to the jury members with instructions to separate the garbage accordingly. He won first prize.

Looking at the work, “clever” came to mind. The descriptor clever can be a smack in the face for an artist. It was nice to meet an artist who is not afraid of clever. Perhaps he has never even considered it a challenge. In fact, his later works suggested to me that it is up to the viewer to be clever enough to get what is being presented to them.

For example, “The Book” is one of his so-called cover pieces. It is a work that requires the viewer to deduce the idea if they want to fully understand it. The viewer is presented with an artefact of the publishing world, a dust jacket. It stands alone with all the elements relating to a book that does not exist: an ISDN number, a title, an author’s name, and “Mallarmé.”

Mallarmé is the clue. He was a poet in Paris at the end of the 19th century. His ideas were difficult and obscure, including “nothing lies beyond reality, but within this nothingness lie the essence of perfect forms” ( Bingo. The idea is profound. “The Book” is complete. It begins and ends.

A challenge I have for anything conceptualist is that idea is not enough. Scherübel meets that challenge. His works are all finished products. They are as slick and perfect as any other artefact from the systems he critiques. As an art student focused on new media, I greatly appreciate the emphasis this places on presentation and the final product.

In closing, Scherübel referenced Nietzsche by saying the depth of things is in the surface. That is the most important thing I will take from his talk at Ottawa U, that his works are surfaces referencing systems around us. He presents a perfect surface for you to find the idea and discover its depth.

(Dec 12, 2004)