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Daniel Stempfer

About Time

bb15, Linz. 6.6.23 - 16.6.23


The temporal is preserved through processes, frozen, holding, balanced. Fast things slow and slow things speed in a fractal game of craftsmanship and careful consideration, slicing sideways through history and geography to meet me in June 2023 at bb15 in Linz, Austria

Quick glance:

Having ascertained a beer I’m immediately drawn to the freezer. The space lies in partial darkness and like all good freezers it beams white light from the inside out. It’s been a hot day. Maybe there’s an ice cream inside… who could resist?

I mosey over, sipping: On closer inspection it looks like a medieval corner shop ice cream freezer that is full of weird crystal-like objects. It hums next to an ornate pendulum wall clock that’s giving me unusual crafting vibes and has serious design elements slammed together with serious design weirdnesses. I peer in at its multilayered thing-ness, unable to process properly, befuddled by a strange purple colour.

I swivel: Behind me at a distance of some metres is a shell-like maybe-plastic object that might be a trilobite, high up on the back wall. It is ticking. But faster and around itself.

There’s something else: Taking a slow gulp I lean forward on one leg to look around the corner. There is another object, this one low down on the floor in the darkness. It is made of carved stone, has a neon element and is exhibiting more unusualnesses.

Owp, and then there’s an elegant, curved form tucked to a side pillar. Quietly idling. And funny bags draped over all of the light sources. I smile to myself. I have a feeling this is going to be fun.

I look at everything properly. Then I talk to the artist, looking at everything again. Then I write it all down, slowly. The whole resounds with echoes. It is a maze of cross connections. Trying to get it all down, I feel like I’m scrabbling after all delicate temporal threads. Time well spent:

Long gaze:

1. Speicher, freezer, ice, LEDs, plastics, plaster, 2023

Inside the freezer’s glass lid are beautiful pine cone shaped forms of ice on little metal sticks with curved ends sparkling up at me. They resemble iced lollies. Several of them are different colours: watery pink, blue. Most are the colour of ice, bending light through their transparencies, fading to white in places. Their pine-cone-ness literally frozen in time.

The freezer itself is the kind you might find in the petrol station or your local supermarket to display ice cream, pimping dissolvable junk. Except that the front face below the lid is embellished in a way that you would not expect. A relief in the form of a white, symmetrical naked female torso holds the sun and moon out in her outstretched arms. A collection of letters spell out a s t r o n o m i a. Ornate whorls and zodiac embellishments such as you might find on a piece of handmade furniture from ‘better’ times connect the base of her body to the top corners in rising layers. I immediately love this gesture, which suggests to me that the freezer as an object might be lovingly crafted and expected to last a hundred years. 

On closer inspection the motif has been 3D printed and I learn later that it is a rough facsimile of a relief found at the royal observatory in Greenwich. This echo relates to the exhibition text, which tells the story of an early example of international terrorism, when a man headed to the Greenwich observatory with a bomb, intending to blow up those imperial mother*******. Apparently he failed. Her arms stretch out as if imploring him to succeed.

2. Referenz, clockwork, steel, brass, copper, plastic, ice, concrete, 2023

The freezer has a clear spatial relation to the work hung on the wall slantwise beside it: 

A fascinating twenty four hour clock complete with pendulum and weights under which a puddle of water lies. One observes that one of the weights – which are mostly pine cones made from stone – is now a small sphere of ice on a curved stick…

The design of the clock is incredible. Three materials laid over one another make up the circular clock face. Grey steel makes up the top two thirds, machine-cut in a perfect circle that aborts down below in a double curve. The Roman numerals edging its face are perfectly machined through its hardness. Because Stempfer has opted to include all 24 hours on the face there is a stark contrast between the time to the right of 0, which has plenty of room, and the final hours, which are crammed together at XXIII as tight as they can go. One gets the feeling that the size of the circle is delineated by this cramming. 

The tops and bottoms of each numeral are accentuated with small serrated circular knobs of brass, which are employed both as a decorative element and a practical one: where the metal is overlapped by purple plexiglass, these knobs span between the two materials, holding the plexiglass floating above the steel. The plexiglass fills the bottom two thirds of the circle, scooping elegantly down around the third, central element, which is copper cast in the shape of a wobbly bird, ‘feathered’ with pine cone seeds. Precision engineering meets the poetic.

It’s a wonderfully intricate, highly specific piece of work that holds one close to peer in at all the details, breath misting the plexiglass, mouth open. 

To top it off, the piece only has one hand, the hour hand. The mechanism does swing, yes. But I’m told it doesn’t always cycle forwards. This action depends on the precise weight of the pendulum, which isn’t always the same weight because one of the pine cones is made from ice - and ice melts. So the time slips and stutters, attempting to advance forward but often failing. Skating on its own precarity. Stuck in a slippery present, just like me and you. Like us. Stuck in this mad world as time runs out.

3. Meridian, horseshoe crab carapace, copper, microcontroller, motor, clock module, 2023

Meanwhile, across the room, high up on the wall that plastic clock is still skating ahead, tick tick tick. Except it isn’t made of plastic. It’s the actual shell of a horseshoe crab, which the internet will tell you are water arthropods of the family Limulidae and the only living members of the order Xiphosura, a family lineage that reaches back between 250 million and 440 million years. Yet here it is, synced to Greenwich Meantime, gobbling up the seconds. Yes, it’s endangered due to habitat destruction and overharvesting. Of course it is. Used for testing, dining, fishing and fertiliser in Asia, (Daniel Stempfer lives in Hong Kong) Xiphosura are finally going out of date. It’s so sad and so cheap. Extra fun fact: their blood is copper based. So there’s blood flying over the clock face.

Between these two clocks one stands, frozen in time, drink in hand. 

Caught between ruptures in the space time continuum. 

It’s pretty rad. 

There are three further pieces in the space that lend additional influence to the temporal tangle, turning this line of opposition between fast and slow time into a warped pentagram of slippages, stops and breaks:

4.  El ángel exterminador (Josef Cembran True North Edit), concrete, neon, water, 2023

The largest of these is low down on the floor, a crucifix of sorts, folded sharply through 90 degrees. I see it now, where I didn’t before. The lower half of the ‘cross’ contains a shallow indentation that reminds me of classic British red brick, sign of empire, made to hold mortar. Concrete production is stripping the Yangzee River. Here the echo holds water, which of course is slowly evaporating, lending invisible vapour to the poetic play of the space in slowtime. 

The top half of the cross is a curious, truncated cast cement pair of wings or folds, speaking of Jesus and objects from graveyards. Mounted into the centre of this upper part is a twisted whirl of neon, suggestive of words but providing none. A crypt-ography of sorts. The light’s reflection ripples in the shallow pool beneath it as the looping script winds its way down and back up again. I stared at it, uncomprehending. It is only now, weeks later as I revisit the pictures I took that I can begin to comprehend this twisting, looping message from hell, message from Hong Kong (where the neon - a dwindling art, was made), message from the past to the concrete future, an angel without hands where numbers stare up at me from the water, 1 2 2 3 3 3. Digital beats analogue in rock paper scissors everytime. The thieving angel with its hands lopped off speaks to the open armed bust of the freezer’s relief and down to the earth. I love it. I want to lug it all home.

5. Abakus, copper-formed Delonix regia seedpod, stainless steel, 2023

A small, modest work. There is a bronze split pea pod mounted on a side wall, shining in the half light from the freezer and the veiled lamps, a glint of red touching its ends. Except, of course it isn’t that simple. I learn that it’s not a cast, it’s a covering and in fact the peapod is still in there, coated in copper via the process of electroplating: a scientific procedure in use since the enLightenment:

The pod, a living clock, is bathed in water. The electricity is turned on and the natural clock is stopped. Frozen. Plated. It’s the most direct gesture there. One gets a sense of mad, poetic glee as Stempfer employs processes and techniques both old and new to excavate this weird dance of aesthetics and knowledge. It’s exhausting fun.

And so to the lights…

6. 27/2/23, driver airbag deployed during crash, LED, 2023

What are those bags veiling the wall lamps? Is this just a lazy final gesture to dim the place? They look like junk… Nope. They’re exploded airbags, dummy. BANG. The bomb has finally gone off and your plastic face is jack knifing back from the dashboard, wondering what the heck just happened as you hit the wall of Greenwich Meantime: 

And the light streaming out of those expensive (just ask the thieves who are constantly trying to steal their spring loaded time) bags is faster than their one moment of use, close enough to set up a weird staggering effect for agile minds: 

One is suddenly aware of three distinct light sources in the room, the white of the freezer, the muted yellow of the lamps and the red of the neon. We are bathed in a triple-layer-shift like the neapolitan classic of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. I cannot move. I am stuck in this place for the rest of time, melting.

: : :

And so it goes round. I cannot scrape it all up. I am a dot. There are lines woven through the space that intersect the lines joining London to Hong Kong via trading routes and imperialism as high and low meet in an academic yet playful spatial exploration of sculpture, craftsmanship and knowledge. It is clever. It is dumb but not stupid.

Mute bugs and machines, factories and dreams / The silent sniggering of tinkering alchemists

Thankyou, Daniel. You stamped your mark on my minute, day and year.

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