This issue contains:
>> Press release: The NYT to be published in Europe for the first time
>> Karin Sander´s project wordsearch
>> A conversation between Karin Sander and Hans Ulrich Obrist
>> The artist and her work
>> The Project as Magazine
>> What is "Moment"?
>> Globalization: A Dossier of Links

Subtle Interventions in Reality: Karin Sander and her Work

In its series ”Moment”, Deutsche Bank Kunst is this year realizing wordsearch, a work by the artist Karin Sander, who lives in Stuttgart, Berlin, and New York. The subtle interventions that Sander has been carrying out since the mid-eighties in museums and public spaces around the world confront bodily perception with the scientific/logical categorization of the world through concept, measure, and number. Oliver Koerner von Gustorf introduces the work of one of the most well-known representatives of German contemporary art and explains why Sander’s sanded walls, polished eggs, and Bodyscans can become traps.


  1:7,7..., unlimited ART"32 Basel, 2001

Counting Water

A photograph taken in 1962 and submitted by Karin Sander to the ”The Very First” exhibition in the Galerie Gabriele Rivet in Cologne in the year 2000 shows the artist at the age of five crouching on a stone floor somewhere out of doors, ladling water from a bucket into a plastic bottle with a tiny jug. Concentrating hard, the child, who has probably just learned to count, is conducting an experiment which involves ”counting” water – transferring given units of the liquid step by step from one vessel to another. The effort it is costing her to calculate the objective amount of water can be inferred from her lined forehead and is reflected in the title ”Wasser zählen” (Counting Water), which Sander gave to this photograph taken by her mother 38 years later. The photograph portrays not so much an early work by a highly talented artist, but a basic human experience – one that was to play a central role in her later work. For just as a given mass of water cannot be divided into ”one water”, ”two waters”, or ”thirty-seven waters”, which add up to an objective ”sum” of water, so has logical thought proved incapable of evolving a method of measuring dynamic reality – of pinning it down with definitive labels.

Wall Pieces

The subtle interventions that Karin Sander has been carrying out in museums and other public spaces since the mid-eighties juxtapose physical perception with a scientific, logical categorization of the world through concepts, units of measurement, and numbers – and they do this with as much ”immediacy” as possible, using resources already available in a given situation, ”that actually exist, that are already present within the system, and that can turn the system against itself.”

  1:7,7..., unlimited ART"32 Basel, 2001

In this sense, Sander’s main concern is not to create an autonomous work of art installed within a given space but to transform this space into the actual artwork. This intention can be seen clearly in the artist’s famous ”Wallpieces” – created between 1994 and 1996 – which employ a simple technique to turn the interiors of, for instance, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart against themselves.

  wallpiece, Kunstmuseum Bonn 1996

By sanding the wall down numerous times using increasingly fine sandpaper, extremely thin layers of paint are removed from delineated rectangles on the wall, polishing the surface beneath to a high gloss and creating the impression of a liquid surface that undermines the optical stability of the wall – a constantly shifting, unstable image of fleeting impressions, between whose sharply defined edges ever new aspects of the museum space are reflected with each shift in the observer’s viewpoint. Fixed spatial orientation is replaced by a temporary sequence of subjective impressions made up of the architectonic structures reflected in the Wallpiece – walls, carpets, windows, and floors. Precisely where objects appear to be fixed and their dimensions ”intelligible”, Sander’s interventions transmute the room’s surfaces into a transcendent form that can only be seen as ”what it really is” – and, at the same time, as the immeasurable diversity of ”what it might be” – in the fleeting moment of movement.


Even if Sander’s work, who was born in Bensberg in 1957, is rooted in conceptual art and minimalism, she has expanded this initial orientation in a number of directions. As the extensive catalogue on this year’s exhibition in Stuttgart’s Staatsgalerie documents, socio-political themes are increasingly entering into Sander’s infiltration of customary habits of seeing and perception. The subversive question concerning the ”framework” within which we view art not only applies to the material quality of the means Sander uses and the spaces she selects, but to the socio-cultural relationships they refer to, as well. The surfaces she manipulates reveal different effects in different locations: for her work ”Water” of 1990, Sander applied a shiny coat of water to the entire bottom half of a white exhibition room in the Whitney Museum of American Art, which dried up again every twenty minutes and had to be reapplied several times a day. For a fleeting period of time, the floor and the wet walls began to reflect, giving rise to a doubling in which the real space was overlaid by its mirrored reflection.

  white passageways, Lodz 1990

While the ”white cube” of the exhibition space was used for this work, ordinary entranceways provided the given situation for the work ”White Passageways”, also completed in 1990.

  Linie, Gallery Ute Parduhn, Düsseldorf 1989

In the Polish city of Lodz, where the artist took part in ”Construction in Progress”, an art project in public space, Sander restored the dilapidated entranceways of old tenement buildings, plastering them perfectly and painting them a bright white. As a result, passageways arose in a double sense of the word: the restoration sensitized the perception of the entranceways, which had been passed through on a daily basis and had previously gone unnoticed. These bright insertions into the grey of the city backdrop, however, neglected to live up to their promise of renewal: the hallways, now traversed with expectations of a different kind, led into an unrenovated courtyard. And it is precisely there, where the goal appears to be just as ”old” and weathered as the starting point, that the path in between takes on a special significance. The ”White Passageways” refer to the social upheaval in Poland at the beginning of the nineties, and thus to a historical ”cleansing” resulting in the establishment of new conditions. This becomes even clearer when one considers the development of ”The Balcony” in Lodz, which came about at the same time.

  the balcony, Lodz 1990

Because wall paint was hard to come by in Poland at the time, Sander kept giving away small amounts of the paint she’d brought with her to passersby. A short time later, the ”chance” results of her action became visible at other locations, as well, such as the single freshly painted balcony inhabitants had renovated with the leftover paint, one lonely element sticking out in the façade of the grey prefab architecture. One of Karin Sander’s aims is to allow the original intervention to take on a life of its own. In an interview with Harald Welzer, she emphasized: ”Chance plays a large role in the realization (of a work). The hardest part is in recognizing this, accepting it, and then incorporating it.” Sander counters the idea of an autonomous sculpture that becomes ”completed” by the artist with the temporary intervention that manifests itself in countless fleeting forms that are never ”finished.” Without any attempt having been made to conserve them, the ”Passageways” continue to work to this day – invisibly, for the original grey of the city has since entirely reabsorbed their once luminous presence.


  Astro Turf, Floorpiece, The Museum of Modern Art, New York 1994

Until the late nineties, Sander created primarily site-specific works, such as ”Astro Turf Floorpiece” (1994) or ”Point of Concentration of the City of Münster”, calculated in 1997; she always used the viewer himself as the measuring instrument in his relationship to space. The insecurity that her pieces often inspire derives from the direct sensory confrontation with single segments that Sander isolates from their visual context in a ratio of 1:1, ”marking” them for a brief moment in the public’s consciousness. Regardless of whether it’s the double floor that the artist inserted into a New York gallery (Floor, S. Bitter Larkin Gallery, 1991), the wallpapered surface of an outdoor advertising pillar (6 Advertising Pillars in City Space, Hanover 1993), or the brilliantly polished shell of a raw egg (Chicken Egg, Polished, Size 0, 1994) – her interventions always call attention to something on the surface that, according to Sander, ”is already there, but in a state that goes unnoticed, a state of latency.” What is important to the conception and realization of Sander’s works is not an aesthetic sensitizing to a certain form, but rather a continuous calling into question of the relationship between image, image support, between portrait and what is being portrayed, between art and its viewer.

  6 Advertising columns in an Urban Setting, Hannover 1993

To this purpose, for example, she makes use of a technical process that she’s been employing since the late nineties to create her 1:7.7 or 1:10-scale miniature 3-D replicas of human bodies (see Gregory Volk's article in Sculpture Magazine). Sander juxtaposes the symbol of the autonomous artist interpreting reality with the computer calculations of a 3-D scanner and the precise modeling by means of an automatic device, whereby she allows the technology, which was originally used by the fashion industry, to develop even further by implementing it for the first time in the production of art. A number of sculpture series have arisen in this way since 1998, for which Sander’s friends, acquaintances, colleagues, personalities from the art establishment, or complete strangers have modeled. The Bodyscans Sander has developed are self-portraits to the extent that each of those portrayed decides on his own appearance, pose, and clothing. The process, spanning from the scanning of the body to the mechanical production of a miniature replica true to scale, describes a form of transition analogous to the traversing of a passageway: the person whose portrait is to be made enters a box in which camera heads probe the body from four sides. The scanner registers the 3-D coordinates from the reflections of the laser beams hitting the body. The resulting pattern of laser points is then converted into a two-dimensional model that fills in the gaps in the grid of points. These data are in turn fed into an extruder – a machine that builds the figures vertically, slice by slice, from a block of plaster. The resulting sculpture is thus not a direct copy of the subject, but a three-dimensional embodiment of the digitally created model of the person in question, an embodiment in plaster of a complex calculation involving all the data collected by the scanner.


  1:7,7..., unlimited ART"32 Basel, 2001

Like Sander’s spacial interventions, her digitally computed portraits of people delineate the immeasurable distance between what is perceptible and what is conceivable, between form and content, between dynamic reality and scientific model. They define a spatial continuum in which innumerable states of being simultaneously overlap without ever coinciding absolutely, just like two physical ”points” – for instance a point on a tape measure and a point on a body being measured by it – can only approach each other, but can never unite. Karin Sander is an inventor, or rather a finder of techniques and methods that she uses to infiltrate the security of our everyday experiences. And when we finally notice this with a certain degree of irritation, it’s already too late: for in the situations she’s created, we’re also left with the immeasurability of our own perceptions.