Humankind has been preoccupied with the transitoriness of life since the dawn of our creative consciousness – so much can be understood from our efforts to immortalise ourselves through art, from the pyramids to degenerating decay art, via 18th century vanitas paintings.
Markus Karstieß, a German sculptor, takes cues from the latter form of symbolism and ancient art history for an exhibition at Bruce Haines Mayfair.
On view are flowers placed in his capriciously textured, glazed ceramic The Doe Series vases. The blooms have slowly withered with time. 'In the dying and drying process most of the flowers get even more beautiful, some develop a mythical fragrance', Karstieß says. 'They get even more fragile, showing their value and nature. I feel this endangerment and fragility in my own body too.'
These are shown alongside casts of Neolithic ‘cup and ring’ marks found in Northumberland from 1500 to 4000 BC, in which concentric circles are impressed into stone surfaces as decorations connected to solstice rituals. Karstieß applies a rare lustre-glazing technique on these artefacts, a technique that, he says, 'allows precious metals like silver, bismuth and copper to appear on the surface by reducing the oxygen in the kiln with wood during the firing process'.
Karstieß is interested in these objects because they symbolise the future: he references the landscape art of Robert Smithson, another instance of the enigmatic power of man-made objects.
The work Studio Peel Off, however, seems like an isolated work among the others. 'It’s like a map that manifests my occupation of this poetic island', Karstieß says, movingly. 'By making the imprint of a floor, you have to press the whole weight of your body into every part of the work. The accumulation of energy is visible, the work is performative. I am the work.'