Fabian Seiz and “unnecessary” knowledge
With the idea of the “Mundaneum”, at the end of the 19th century the Belgian Paul Otlet sought to create a centralised location for gathering, conveying and producing knowledge, one that would meet international cataloguing standards. Ideally, the basic principles of the archive and the library were to be combined and networked. By the time the respective institute was closed in 1934, this universal knowledge encompassed 15 646 346 file cards. This idea was thus not only the culmination point of the thirst for knowledge that had predominated since the Renaissance and seemingly reached fulfilment in the modern industrial age, but it also cast a prognostic look forward to the digital age in which we now live. Otlet obviously anticipated the internet. The dimension of the networking envisioned for the generally accessible knowledge was akin to a “paper Google”.
Fabian Seiz, who has for some time now explored in his art the storage of knowledge and thus the materialisation of the immaterial, also takes an analogue path. His post-minimalist arrangements, which often recall “Arte Povera”, appear decrepit, temporary and fragile. They cannot be called installation-based; instead, they are more like model situations which seek to combine painting and sculpture formally. Here a categorical definition would not take us any further. The relation between form and content – one of the basic issues of art from time immemorial – is pivotal to Fabian Seiz’s way of working. His object-based collages or gadget-like constructs do not follow any general logic, but are multi-layered storage creations. To take one example: when the artist spends years noting the first names of all the people he can remember from his lifetime, one can dispute that this undertaking makes any sense or has any purpose for the general public at large. The meaningfulness of knowledge – no matter how it is gathered – and the means used to represent it, is however a pivotal question of culture in general. In his 1933 essay The Notion of Expenditure Georges Bataille asks what modern profit-driven society condemns and suppresses as being “useless”. Examining the role of production and consumption in archaic societies, it became apparent to him that what Marx had described as the “superstructure” and Bataille himself called “unproductive expenditure” – art, spectacles, cults – served an economic function, namely: to exploit natural overproduction in ritualised forms of waste.
Is not art generally and mostly a ritualised form of waste? It seems at least to be a store of “useless” knowledge for the modern profit society. From Duchamp’s “readymades” through to the “honey pump” by Beuys, we are dealing with philosophical models which strive to give an idea a body. Seiz though is even more concrete in his approach. When he – in a current work – once again sifts through his old sketchbooks and organises them anew, what emerges in the first instance is an examination of the immaterial. It is first in a process of “alchemistic” transformation that the material remnants (the pages from the sketchbooks) are conceived in terms of form. Transformed into papier-mâché, then rendered in the form of gold bars, the metaphor of alchemy becomes concentrated. As with Otlet’s “pre-internet”, a premodern idea is again crucial to Seiz’s considerations.
When discussing the works of Fabian Seiz in the context of the sculptural, then it is clear that they follow the developments currently observable in this medium. No longer moving forward along a linear progression of avant-garde innovation, development is now rhizomatic. Returns and reconnections of the most diverse kind are taken as given. Boundaries are being extended all the time. The space of the subjective everyday occurrence is connected additionally to the space of the sculpture. Today, the concept of “sculpture” is coming under increasing pressure and meanwhile suffices solely for furnishing a formal definition. In truth, terms like “context”, “conception” and “social practice” are more apt for describing current art production, offering a more differentiated way to comprehend our contemporary situation.
The brittle arrangements of Fabian Seiz show that things in general are undergoing a shift in paradigm. Their function as bearers of information is becoming more significant and in the internet of things has attained a provisional highpoint. When the soup can calls up on the mobile phone and says that its content is about to pass its expiry date, the thing is incorporated into a new kind of process. The dynamic between objects and people is becoming increasingly complex.
In his works Seiz combines in a peculiar way ideas seemingly far apart from one another into a “subjective museum” or a monument of the immaterial. Alchemy and the internet of things, readymades and fetishes are condensed into models of his own world view. In the pre-digital age the physical sciences employed elaborate models and experimental setups. Within the humanities it appears that the artwork has taken over this part. The multi-layered, partially enigmatic constructs by Fabian Seiz are a prime example of this.