N I K O L A U S G A N S T E R E R
January 21 – March 4, 2023
We are pleased to announce the exhibition Strange Wor(l)ds by Austrian artist Nikolaus Gansterer in our Berlin space. On display is a comprehensive series of around forty works in which Gansterer visualizes thoughts, treatises, and theses of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in the most diverse ways.
Over the past fifteen years, a loose group of artists, some networked, some acting independently, has formed that has redefined drawing and “liberated” it from paper. Nikolaus Gansterer is one of them, and he makes use of pretty much all of the means and techniques that make up what can be called “new drawing.” With filigree mobiles and wooden braids, he extends drawing into the three-dimensional. With performative actions, he makes the act of drawing tangible and allows the viewer to participate in its intuitive elemental force. With installation arrangements of diverse materials, he links line and sculpture. And in large, meticulously assembled display cases, he “draws” with randomly found or consciously collected objects, such as trash, scraps of paper, odds and ends—leaving paper, pen, and pencil behind.
But what characterizes Gansterer’s work above all and distinguishes it is the content aspect, which he transforms into the formal: in all his works, he refers to natural science, philosophy, literature, poetry, or his own knowledge. All works are based on theoretical treatises, scientific texts, experimental poems, well-known or forgotten novels, or statements on the state of the world, his own or those of others. He transfers them into the figurative; he gives them form.
In the exhibition Strange Wor(l)ds, Gansterer now brings together over forty works in which he deals with Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. As always in his work, that is characterized by meticulous research and playful lightness at the same time, he translates Wittgenstein’s thoughts and theses on the complex relation between language and reality into pictorial representations using a wide array of techniques, methods, and modes of production, in this case also frequently resorting to classical drawing. Sometimes the works are based on only single, short sentences from the Wittgenstein’s Investigations, sometimes on entire pages, and sometimes on complete chapters. Sometimes Gansterer takes up marginal aspects, sometimes core theses, and sometimes both.
The word “translating” in Gansterer’s art practice must not be misunderstood or seen as a servile gesture of empathy. When he “translates,” “transfers,” and “transforms” Wittgenstein’s texts into the pictorial, this is not done in the sense of an illustration. Rather, through his drawings, collages and performances, he expands them, interprets them, delimits them, gives them a new dimension, a new aggregate state, a new level of reception.
Gansterer therefore rightly emphasizes that he is concerned—not only in the Wittgenstein project—with the subtle, ephemeral, fluid process that underlies his artistic production practice.
When he makes the drawings out of himself, when he goes into the studio or starts a performance, when he begins to translate a theoretical, scientific or intellectual source into a pictorial work, he becomes completely involved with this source, absorbs it as if in a trance, and reacts only to it. He switches off consciousness; he transforms the text, the thesis, the treatise from deepest intuition into the visual. While he reads it, while he hears it, the power of the text, the thesis, the treatise draws through him—he does not draw it.
In this way, Gansterer’s work touches not only on Wittgenstein’s philosophical legacy, which he deals with directly in Strange Wor(l)ds, but also on that of Jacques Derrida and Jean Baudrillard. With his approach to the nonconscious, and the works that grow out of it, he questions the validity of theses and realities and at the same time underpins them in the sense of post-structuralism. Everything, as his drawings, performances, diagrams, mobiles, and installations want to tell us, is inherent in a fluid, constantly changing process, everything eludes definition, everything evaporates, nothing is valid anymore. The determination, the validity can only lie in the acceptance of the withdrawing, the evaporating, the “on the one hand and so on the other hand”. Or precisely in its visualization, as Gansterer succeeds so subtly and at the same time so consistently in his processual and intuitive art—in the manifestation of the non-manifest, if you will. In the materialization of the non-material. In the clear form of the blurred.
For almost three years, Nikolaus Gansterer has worked on his Wittgenstein series, supported, and accompanied by Austrian philosopher Klaus Speidel. This also resulted in their joint book Playing with Ludwig, which will now be published as part of the exhibition Strange Wor(l)ds.
Nikolaus Gansterer was born in 1974 in Klosterneuburg in Lower Austria and lives in Vienna. He studied at the University of Applied Arts with Brigitte Kowanz in Vienna and at the Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht. Gansterer has participated in a large number of institutional solo exhibitions, biennials, and survey exhibitions on “New Drawing”, including Drawing Lab, Paris; Villa Arson, Nice; Wiels Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels; FRAC Normandie, Rouen; BAC Art Center, Shanghai; Marta Herford; SMAK, Ghent; Albertina, Vienna; the Drawing Center, New York; ICA London; the Athens Biennal; the Havana Biennale; the Venice Biennale; and the Sharjah Biennale. He has received numerous awards, including the MAC Art Award, Belfast, and is a visiting professor at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, leading the research project “Contingent Agencies.”