Featured in
Issue 13

Misha Stroj

Kerstin Engholm Galerie, Wien

BY Maximilian Geymüller in Reviews | 11 FEB 14

Misha Stroj, Der Absatz, 2013, Mixed media, Dimensions variable

The paragraph mark is a strangely fleeting symbol. Rarely occurring in print, it is really only encountered on screen, where it can easily vanish at the click of a button. It is thus not only a clear typographic sign for a break in a text, but also ephemeral in its own right.

This symbol was featured on the invitation to Misha Stroj’s exhibition, appropriately enough since the show centred on the themes of breaks, presence and absence. The paragraph mark can also be read as a reference to the latest development in Stroj’s work: two years ago, he withdrew from being an artist, sealing his intended ‘abolition of the artist’ at his last exhibition to date at Ar/ge Kunst in Bozen, Italy, with a belt stretched between two hooks on the wall. Clearly, however, this decision was not final (and it probably was never meant entirely seriously).

For his art world ‘comeback’, Stroj returned to the theme of this last show. The belt was back, too: as a physical manifestation of the reappearance of the artist, it was strapped around an A-shaped metal bar leaning against the wall (Io non aumento piú (Versione Fanfarone), 2012/14). The work’s timid anthropomorphism and fragile forms pointed to the still uncertain, marginal presence of the artist. Consequently, the other works in the show, while formally distinct, also ran though Stroj’s repertoire of questioning artistic authority and particularity – often by making references to the artist’s own work.

Misha Stroj, Io non aumento piú (Versione Fanfarone) , 2012/2014, Belt, aluminium, 164 × 105 × 4 cm

To the right of the entrance hung Misha Stroj 2005 (2013), a drawing framed for the exhibition and originally made in 2005 based on photocopies of two appropriated motifs (including one from Heimo Zobernig). A chain of self-reference runs through the works, especially those made by Stroj during a stay in Istanbul at that time. On the railings of the Galata Bridge, he noticed the homemade wooden supports for fishing rods (seen on a photograph in the show) whose basic form he borrowed, along with the geometrical ornament from the railings, duplicating them into a flat, star-shaped sculpture (Die Krone der Verschwägerung, Crown of Alliance, 2014). The cardboard offcuts from this work were used in the collage series Acht Zeilen Gedichte (Eight-Line Poems, 2014), while Die kleine Industrie (Little Industry, 2014) is an unaltered offcut whose basic outline resembles a factory. In uncharacteristically plain terms, this offered a general reflection on the various artistic forms and procedures found in the older series of photographs Fließband (Assembly Line, 2010). Here, form collided with content: hung in a row, the individual photographs added up to a picture of the conveyor in the title, while the photographs, in contrast to their reputed reproducibility, are one-off prints.

The illusion of artistic autonomy, the inadequacy of the (artist) subject and the contingency of artistic production come together in the two formally related sculptures Der Absatz and Der Schwimmer (The Heel, The Float, both 2013). In their irony and referential richness – a wooden cube structure reminiscent of Sol LeWitt, combined with futuristically fanned wooden laths and a metal shaman’s rod recalling Joseph Beuys – they testify to the grand plan – ultimately thwarted by the vicissitudes of everyday life – to create a perfect, universal sculpture. In his self-penned press release, Stroj wrote of Der Schwimmer: ‘The Float is the remain of an interruption while the attempt to summarize all (!) previously developed sculptural languages: urgently the lavatory flush of the workshop of Berger had to be repaired.’

The irony of these lines should not hide the serious undertone of the exhibition, whose resolute reflexivity and retrospective content, when set against the backdrop of Stroj’s two-year absence, sometimes gave it a sentimental colour. The references to states of rigidity and restriction, like the plaster knee enclosed in a metal stele (Die Säule mit dem Knie, The Column With The Knee, 2010), convey a certain tragic quality and hint at the personal dimension of the aporias dealt with. They remind us that full disengagement is not possible. Even after the paragraph break, the text goes on.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell