BY Martin Pesch in Reviews | 06 JUN 98
Featured in
Issue 41

Ulrich Meister

BY Martin Pesch in Reviews | 06 JUN 98

Ulrich Meister caused a stir at the 1992 documenta with some rather unspectacular work. He combined unassuming everyday objects with typewritten texts on standard A4 paper. In one example, a discarded plastic bag was placed next to the naive observation that something could only develop its true beauty after it had been used. This went down very well.

Meister probably realised very quickly that his efforts to get to the essence of things could easily be reduced to a joke. He ended the series at this point and started to keep a diary from 1993-94. Instead of hiding himself away quietly and recording his private thoughts, he filled the diaries with the kind of material that is public knowledge, but almost disappears because of its ordinariness. In Tagebuch (Diary, 1994), he noted down perceptions, thoughts and comments in a simple, slightly melancholy tone using black pen on the large polystyrene sheets used for insulating walls. It became increasingly obvious, if one followed the progress of this work, that Meister could not keep up this retreat - if that is what it can be called - to text. Increasingly, drawings and other graphic elements were mixed in with the written passages; newspaper cuttings and photographs started to appear. Thus the image slowly began to take over.

In his more recent works, from 1996 onwards, words have disappeared altogether. The text - in its etymological sense as something woven, a texture - is no longer needed to make a connection with the world, to link the artist's inner awareness with his exterior environment. Things now appear with staggering directness. Meister drew the outlines of simple objects on white paper, usually in black: a bottle, board game piece, a collar detached from a shirt, a spectacle case, a paint roller. The objects are placed centrally on the paper, but their three-dimensional quality is simply hinted at (there are few details or shadows). In one drawing of a bottle (Untitled, 1997), for example, the execution seems to have a dilettante quality - the label, which is part of the drawing, does not exactly fit the curve of the bottle. This all suggests a careful approach, gently coming closer to things, as though Meister did not want to get too close, as though he was hesitating for a long time before drawing the first line. But this is not an example of consummate handling of resources, or a secure mastery of technique.

In order to emphasise the form of the objects, Meister embarked on a concurrent series of 'cut-drawings'. In these, objects such as a spoon, for example, are cut out of coloured card. In this way, he manages to detach himself even further from the individuality of the objects concerned; in other words from the particularity that the drawings still had, however general they may have been, through the variation of line and their differing perspectives.

Meister's work reveals a development that is driven by the question of how the perception of our everyday surroundings can be recorded. In the same way that language gives every human being a chance of individual expression, he uses his everyday objects to access to the world. His outline drawings or cutouts of things are comparable to a simple articulation of words. But Meister is primarily concerned with the tension between generality and subjectivity, and through this simplicity he respects the object's simultaneous existence as both an individual item and a mass produced example.

But changes are again beginning to take shape: the most recent group of works does not depict anything that can be named. In one work, Untitled (1997-98), Meister has stuck three strips of masking tape onto white-coated sheets of chipboard. They move out in different directions from a single point, like rays. In other pieces, the lines suggest the corner of a table, or perhaps a stylised dance figure. The light beige tape hardly stands out from the white ground at all, but in the two works in which Meister has used a darker tape, the lines are curved - as if to weaken the greater colour contrast. And so overall everything is back in balance again: precisely the point Meister wishes to reach in his relationship with the world.

Translated by Michael Robinson