David Meran. STEHVERMÖGEN
“Life was so natural, hard and ‘real’ that everything artificial seemed to be the great exception and an artificial sensation.”
From: Alois Brandstetter, Vom Schnee der vergangenen Jahre, Residenz Verlag 1979
Glass, sand, concrete, plaster, metal, fur, rubber, rope and protein powder. Hard, soft, elastic, granular, crystalline, filigree and brittle. When do we understand materials as art?
The artist David Meran brings these different materials and substances in unusual contexts – cast, installed, modified – into a minimalist form.
To produce artificial sensations, to continue the words in the introduction of the Austrian writer Alois Brandstetter, is Meran’s concern. Brandstetter refers to childhood memories of plastic and objects made of the same material, which at that time found their way into everyday use.
David Meran wonders what sculpture 2020 can offer. He forms and uses materials as well as contents that are socially highly charged. Stories, contexts and narratives are at the disposal of his sculpture and art.
Enabling an immediate haptic experience of the art object, which is simultaneously questioned by the art object itself, is the main focus of the exhibition. For the physical presence of objects in a world that seems to be becoming increasingly digital seems all the more worthy of consideration to the artist – after all, the task of stroking across screens and monitors or guiding a mouse over a mousepad may not actually be fulfilling.
In his solo exhibition Stehvermögen in Salzburg, the Vienna-based artist addresses questions of social codes and conventions of the booming fitness industry. Fitness as well as physical and cosmetic optimisation are omnipresent and are celebrated almost like religious cults. Is one’s own well-being in all its facets the central goal of today’s (Western) society? The metaphor of the “hamster in a hamster wheel” has been successfully planted in our minds. The neo-liberal concept that everything can be achieved as long as the individual is fit, active and healthy is exploited both politically and economically and plays with the deficit conditions of the human being. Meran ironically translates self-optimization, performance pressure and the aesthetics of the fitness industry into the language of art.
A central work in the exhibition is Yoga in mineral oil (2020), a yoga mat made of copper, which is both a component of the video Yoga in mineral oil (2020) and is presented as an artefact and independent work. David Meran’s affinity for the combination of socially critical content and materials is illustrated here. Yoga has become a standard wellness activity in our society, promising to free everyone from illness and anger and make them happy.
What very few of us are aware of is that most of the yoga mats we buy are made in China and consist mainly of mineraloil and other non-degradable materials. Sustainability, longevity and environmental friendliness are keywords that are seldom considered or even neglected in this area, but which form an important aspect of Meran’s artistic work. Yoga in mineral oil is made of easily bendable copper. The material fascinates him because it takes on a life of its own, begins to work with time and develops a different colour or surface effect.
In his video Yoga in mineral oil, the artist fills the “copper mat” with oil and black lacquer and practices the so-called sun salutation, the most well-known sequence of movements in yoga. The black liquid is symbolic of oil. The video performance is intended to have a borderline effect – to irritate. Nobody would endanger themselves, their own health and practice yoga in a tub of oil or a mixture of paint and varnish. The oil builds forms on the body and covers it more and more. In addition to his sculptures, in the video the artist’s body volume is displaced and replenished by the sticking and biting liquid. The two materials offer Meran an exciting field of experimentation. The pressure of the body causes the lacquer and oil paint to repel each other. By the displacement of the substances they mix again and leave traces on the “copper mat”. The carrier surface forms a painting that refers to the performance and represents sequences of movement.
For all the difficulties of everyday life, we can find different kind of suggested solutions. Thousands of guidbooks offer masses of solution-oriented measures with which we can escape the stress of everyday life, live a better life, approach minimalism or keep fit and in shape. Why should there be hundreds of new publications every year when one of these guides would actually work? The system ignores or even denies the fact that it comes close to influencing mature people and takes on almost fascistoid forms of various occupational therapies. Thoughts of achievement, toxic masculinity or motivational phrases can be found on various digital channels as well as in real life. One’s own life no longer needs to be shaped by oneself, there are instructions for this. The self-determined person is moving more and more into the background. The question of whether this new lifestyle is privileged and presumptuous drives David Meran to examine the subject artistically. He describes his solo exhibition as a mind experiment; the video works are seen as a complement to the sculptures. Podcasts and videos can already be played a quarter faster today. David Meran wants to advance the ability to endure slowness in his two-part video and podcast installation Higher Self and Wie FIT bist du wirklich? (2020). The video of a life coach about success and wealth is played at half speed, the podcast about mediation and relaxation twice as fast.
Essential for Meran’s sculptural works are the animation, but also the deceleration as well as the dematerialization of objects and their original contents. This is illustrated in the installation Three empty Sandbags (2020). For this purpose, the artist installs 1 m³ of sand with fluorescent powder in the gallery. Three sandbags of different materials and times are arranged above it. A children’s punching bag, a punching bag from the 1930s and a contemporary plastic boxing bag hang empty and limp from the ceiling. The sand surface is reminiscent of Japanese garden art and culture, in which sand is a highly symbolic material – sensually it stands for water and controlled as well as uncontrolled nature. The drawn lines represent waves.
Fitness equipment is examined in the exhibition for its aesthetic appearance. Abdominal muscle training equipment is covered with concrete, copper-coloured metal flakes are worked into the concrete. Glass Dumbbells (2020) examines the aesthetics of dumbbells. The materiality, including hand-blown glass, gives the exhibited works of art an extraordinary poetry and the aura of design objects. The effect eludes the actual everyday use.
Protein shake powder, which can change the volume of human bodies, offer exciting artistic approaches. The contents of the bags and the plastic packaging of the fitness shakes are poured with concrete and the protein powder. The objects of the series Muscles of Protein Powder (2019) are reminiscent of urns or emptied vessels of Greek antiquity. By mixing the materials, they are filigree, will continue to change, not only in appearance, surface and color, but also the smell of the powders – banana, vanilla, chocolate, multivitamin – disappears. The genuineness of the objects gives them an archaeological aura of temporality and transience. Atoms and molecules, invisible to our eyes, dissolve with time and are captured in the works in form and material. The actual nature of the objects no longer exists, but their appearance still reminds us of their original use.
Childhood memories of banal packaging materials occur again and again in Meran’s works. So do the memories of drinking cocoa and the desire to become strong when this magic potion is drunk. This concrete desire for physical change is symbolized in the work Muscles of Chocolate (2019), formed from inedible material.
Yoga mats become an artistic object in another series, Untitled (but solid and smooth) Yoga Mats (2019). In combination with concrete, they are folded, rolled and abstracted by the concrete base into upright antique steles, which trigger aesthetic and poetic sensations. The colours come from the same colour spectrum and appear harmonious. The former sports textile is presented on pedestals with mirrors to test its “stamina”.
Significant impulses in sculpture were already set in the middle of the 20th century and thus new forms of design and use of new materials were introduced. Meran’s material-related work clearly requires courage, as his objects develop a life of their own in which the artist can no longer intervene in a changing way. The works are ironic and unmasking, but never moralizing or instructive. The first contact of the viewer with his art is exciting. The exploring, questioning and curious perception of the material – usually the intellectual and content-related level is perceived afterwards.
Body means mass for Meran, and mass is shifted. Thus the human body is the most human medium that can be radically changed. Social and cultural guidelines instruct us to intervene in our physical integrity. David Meran manages to develop his own form of artistic language and to transfer products of the fitness and lifestyle industry into new material contexts. The works intellectually and ambiguously refer to an industry that is not interested in offering us solutions for a better life, but in generating a million-dollar businesses.
Martina Pohn, Januar 2020