Inside inside the white cube:

Daniel von Sturmer’s The Field Equation

Juliana Engberg

Looking at Daniel von Sturmer’s vast field of cuboid platforms, upon which, in some instances, solid forms and formless solids are placed, or, in other instances, luminous screens capture images of colour, shape and material experiments which play out their exercises in the conundrums of scale, I am reminded of Brian O’Doherty’s opening passage to his important essay Inside the White Cube.(1)

O’Doherty vividly described the play of space and scale that was art and objects inside the modernist gallery. He started his essay this way:

A recurrent scene in sci-fi movies shows the earth withdrawing from the spacecraft until it becomes a horizon, a beach-ball, a grapefruit, a golf ball, a star. With the changes in scale, responses slide from the particular to the general. … But history, the view from the departing spacecraft, is different. As the scale changes, layers of time are superimposed and through them we project perspectives with which to recover and correct the past. No wonder art gets bollixed up in this process; its history, perceived through time, is confounded by the picture in front of your eyes, a witness ready to change testimony at the slightest perceptual provocation. History and the eye have a profound wrangle at the center of this “constant” we call tradition.

In Daniel von Sturmer’s moving image events small polystyrene balls become mass encounters. Other balls bounce with comedy around inanimate things, and still others balance and wobble until they kinetically, acoustically drop to earth.

As if viewed from the spaceship arriving or departing, small things become enlarged and larger things diminish, all subject to von Sturmer’s play with scale, distance, horizontality, verticality, generality and quiddity.

This is von Sturmer’s play of the perceptible, in which empirical evidence is constantly called into question as the sociologically ascribed, and the desire for special meaning and artistic status overrides the banality of common things.

Daniel von Sturmer’s white, white space of the gallery, and the activity within, confirms his interest in continuing aspects of O’Doherty’s enquiry into the mutability of objective distance which can so easily become subjective encounter. To my way of thinking, von Sturmer’s interest in the changing status of art and its history enacted through the interrogation of continual artistic experimentation revitalizes the Utopian quest of a modernism coexistent with humanity.

It is for this reason the viewer is a vital part of von Sturmer’s play of space and planes and shapes; their presence is either one of overview and control, or diminution and submission. Everyone becomes a part of the von Sturmer experiment, as observer or subject, depending on their position. For instance, if you are a viewer outside the white cube of the gallery, observing through the aperture of the front door the various artistic activities around which visitors navigate, you have a special status as clinically detached. But once you are inside the maze of experimental shapes and activities your objective distance is reduced considerably. You are part of the sociably random encounter. The ‘white cube’ has become laboratory.

‘Equations’, said Albert Einstein, ‘are more important to me than politics, because politics is for the present, but an equation is something for eternity’, and there is something wonderfully potential in von Sturmer’s The Field Equation that allows art to levitate above the ordinary momentarily. And, yet, in certain ways I feel art can never be fully dislodged from the common politic either, and that relativity and perspective as encounters, both scientific and sociological, will continue to define history, art and otherwise.

(1) Brian O’Doherty, Inside the white cube: the ideology of the gallery space, Lapsis Press, California, 1986, p. 13.