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25 Feb 2019

Stefan Brüggemann: Text and Message

‘For me, text has always been the central part of the work. From the text, the whole work resonates.’

Stefan Brüggemann reflects on his practice and ongoing interrogation of the philosophy of language, on the occasion of his exhibition at Hauser & Wirth London. ‘HYPER-PALIMPSEST’ is a site-specific installation and immersive space for active reflection that combines layers of political and cultural history overlaid with the artist’s timeless and iconic text statements.

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Installation detail, ‘Stefan Brüggemann. HYPER-PALIMPSEST’, Hauser & Wirth London, 2019 © Stefan Brüggemann. Photo: Todd White Art Photography

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Stefan Brüggemann, Headlines and Last Lines in the Movies, 2016 © Stefan Brüggemann. Photo: Alex Delfanne

Brüggemann first started his Text Pieces in 1997 with the work ‘The event of writing may be the unevent of reading’. Made with black vinyl lettering, these works of conceptual wordplay are simultaneously poetic and provocative, acerbic and topical. For the artist, short statements and phrases are a reflection of communication in an accelerating society or attention economy. ‘You have to be as fast as possible and as concrete as possible,’ he explains. ‘That’s why also all my text pieces are just one sentence or few words.’

‘The purpose is that the Text Pieces become the internal voices of the audience. For me, that is when the work is activated.’

The visual and formal properties of text are examined in the contrasting and layering of both printed and hand-written text, through mechanic and expressive modes of authorship and representation. Headlines and Last Lines in the Movies, the artist’s iconic spray-painted series of works, appropriates current news headlines and the finishing lines of popular films. Brüggemann explains, ‘You’re constantly rewriting the present by the second. By the time you’ve read it, it’s already old news.’

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Installation view, ‘Stefan Brüggemann HYPER-PALIMPSEST’, Hauser & Wirth London, 2019 © Stefan Brüggemann. Photo: Todd White Art Photography

For the exhibition, the walls of the gallery space are clad in plywood panels, a choice of material which carries connotations of activism, boarded up buildings and placards. These panels are initially painted black before Brüggemann’s catalogue of Text Pieces are applied in vinyl lettering, which is then obscured with further layers of spray-painted Headlines and Last Lines in the Movies, before being removed to reveal their original message as a residue or trace. The artist states, ‘I think the whole concept of the work is about how to resist the present. How you navigate with all this speed and all this information, and always trying to chase the future.’

The final layer in Brüggemann’s palimpsest is a new sound piece that the artist made in collaboration with one of his heroes, Iggy Pop. In this work, Iggy’s distinctive and versatile voice reads the artist’s entire catalogue of Text Pieces, which is the first time the series has been verbalized. For Bruggemann, punk ideology is central tenet to his thinking and process. Disruption and change, and the potential transformation of reality is something the artist also identifies in the neighborhood surrounding his London studio. ‘I like that attitude this city has. London is a city that expresses contemporary society, and that has been able to write history and to write new ideas.’

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Installation view, ‘BILLBOARD PROJECT’, Hoxton, London, 2017

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Stefan Brüggemann, Time Painting, 2016 © Stefan Brüggemann. Photo: Genevieve Hanson

Writing, rewriting and overwriting imply a perpetual interrogation of form and meaning in which words are unhinged from both their cultural context and an author’s voice. In addition to the rapid processes of accumulation and layering in its production, time plays a critical function in the reception of ‘HYPER-PALIMPSEST’, as Brüggemann describes, ‘For me it’s important that when the viewer encounters the work, the first thing they see is just a black room, like a black hole that sucks up all the matter of the world… I don’t think it’s negative, but I think speculation and uncertainty is what keeps us going in society. The more time you spend with the work, and the more time you contemplate the work, the more you will begin to reveal interior layers, helping you to better understand your present or feel present. In a way, when you pay attention or when you are looking at something, that’s when you are present.’

‘Stefan Brüggemann. HYPER-PALIMPSEST’ is on view at Hauser & Wirth London from 27 February – 27 April 2019.

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