Micha Ullman, Bergwerk, Installation view, Lindenau-Museum Altenburg 2010
(Photo © Jürgen M. Pietsch, Spröda)
It is about history, meaning not only the past but also the present, and at the same time pointing towards the future: the work of Israeli artist, Micha Ullman (* 1939) revolves around the theme of a collective memory. The ambiguities implied in his works unfold thought processes that pose and rephrase local, political, and social questions in a very complex way.
Coming from painting and drawing, Ullman approached Land Art in the 1970s through his early actions and sculpture works. His motivation was not to oppose museum exhibition culture, also romanticised references played no role. With the digging of pits and the excavation of substances, he uses earth as a material that builds on the myths of creation and also uses its symbolic content of concept of 'home'. For many of Ullman's works, the emptiness remaining after an excavation is also to be understood as a material in a wider sense: as a space that is to be filled with the immaterial. In addition to earth, the artist has used sand (mostly red sand from Israel) in his later works,such as in the sculpture Glas-Tisch (Glass-Table) (2012), which can been see in this exhibition and of which an earlier copy of the work is now part of the Tate Modern collection in London.
Through the shared stories, the salt mining of the potash mines in the Thuringian village of Dorndorf, from which his parents had once emigrated, has become a family legend for the artist. An exhibition in the neighbouring Lindenau-Museum, where he was awarded the Gerhard-Altenbourg-Preis in 2010, was a motivation for Ullman to use the salt, as well as the basalt mined there, for the installation work Bergwerk (Mine) (2010/2012). Arranged in separate circular beds on the floor, the light salt and dark basalt enter a dialogue of contrasts between day and night, between heaven and earth. Just likein the sculpture Gläser (Glasses) (2012), drinking glasses are integrated in this installation, which for Ullman are similar to mine pits- containers, that especially when two or more are used, are a symbol for the energy-charged character of human community. Made from sand and fire amongst other things, glass as a fragile and vulnerable material creates references to the transience that lies in the nature of memory and is fundamental to Ullmans work.
Ullman's watercolours on paper create traces of the past, traces of a former social togetherness. Imprints of drinking glasses and other utensils take their shape in form of pale flaws on the paper, which imitates more than just the surface of a table. It is the recounting of a story of a perhaps suddenly and hastily dispersed community, as well as a story of that which is missing and that which remains. In addition to water, the element of air and the evaporation are used in a process that takes months and where the artist is only in partial control. The fundaments of his art are both the geological and physical phenomena, as well as the symbolic aspect of objects of communal living: drinking glasses, tables and chairs are often read as representations of the latter cross-culturally.
In all the different facets of his work, Micha Ullman uses a vocabulary of form and material which remains simple but precise in its symbolic references to the immaterial and irrational. The artist plays with taking out and filling in, with emptiness and volume, with presence and absence, with positive and negative, and always takes the human being as a central reference in a strict sense, as well as in a figurative one. The forward-looking element of his work probably derives from the universal aspirations of the artist, which he implements powerfully yet unpretentiously.
Micha Ullman, the two-time documenta participant (1987 and 1992), is represented with his early works in this year's exhibition Ends of the Earth. Land Art to 1974 in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, which will also be exhibited in the Haus der Kunst in Munich this autumn. Ullman is this year's winner of the Max Herrmann-Preis award of the Freunde der Staatsbibliothek (Friends of the State Library) in Berlin.
OPENING | Friday, June 1st, 2012 | 7 pm - 9 pm
Micha Ullman will be present.