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In those days, numerous artists was experimenting with moving objects, light, and mirror effects - not only Uecker and the other members of ZERO, but many others, as well, such as Adolf Luther, Gerhard von Graevenitz, and Gunter Fruhtrunk.
In a programmatic sense, the name Zero stands both for the number itself and for a moment marking a new beginning. Intended as a departure from the painting of Art Informel and Tachism, ZERO's goal seems to have been the bright, luminous, light-like immaterialization of the painting. In its theoretical investigations, the group shifted its attention from the autonomous painting ground to the painting's external conditions, particularly the importance of light and lighting for the act of seeing. The painting's structure connects with the environment and incorporates the role of the viewer. Accordingly, the members developed new forms of group and community work; group actions and happenings came about that introduced or anticipated the Fluxus movement of the sixties.

Zero-Party, 1966 in Bonn, Germany,
Photo from: catalogue Kestner-Gesellschaft Hannover, 1972

It is one of the ironies of history that the group, which in any case had been conceived as nothing more than a loose community, split apart in 1966. Yet none of the members followed his goal as consistently as the Mecklenburger Uecker did. He induced art critics interested in his work to compose fundamental treatments on the outward appearance, the essence, the meaning, and the practical use of the roofing nail. For Uecker himself, this particular means of expression was far more than just a catchy trademark. In being nailed, which is basically an aggressive act of destruction, the object is stripped of its utilitarian value and acquires symbolic depth as a representational object.

Günther Uecker: Interferenzen, from "Künstler gegen die Folter", 1993, Deutsche Bank Collection

The act of driving a nail is monotonous, yet it has to be carried out with great care; Uecker, who had already become interested in Zen Buddhism at an early date, saw an activity in which a balance exited between its meditative qualities and its aggressive nature.The first nail objects arose in the late fifties. Initially, Uecker restricted himself to Punctuation and the creation of a Perforated Structure , as two works from 1957 and 1958 were called that featured nails, or, to be more precise, "the principle of the nail as a point, as a hole driven into the pictorial surface, or as a trace of a hole," as Wieland Schmied wrote on the occasion of an exhibition in the Kestner Society in Hanover. During the time that followed, Uecker refined his method. The protruding, projecting steel pin proved to be the ideal vehicle for his artistic purposes. "Where two lines touch," Uecker wrote, "is a point. That is where I drive a nail. The nail's shadow creates a new line - the movement of the shadow develops into a perception of time." Point, line, a shadow varying according to the light source and the resulting symbolic representation of the passage of time - these are the coordinates within which Uecker established his working method.

Uecker in his studio, 1964,
Photo from: catalogue Kestner-Gesellschaft Hannover, 1972

This process would soon take on extreme dimensions. In a photograph dating from the year 1964, Uecker can be seen sitting in his studio, a somewhat melancholy young man gazing severely into the camera, his hands resting on his knees. Surrounding him, scattered about the room and hanging on the walls, nail objects can be seen: tables, chairs, stools, paintings, palettes - beds of nails growing and proliferating everywhere. Some are curved, with bellies vaguely reminiscent of the prickly fur of a porcupine, some are round and flat, resembling a bed of steel moss, and others appear to be flowing to the ground in a thick mass. Seen from a distance, his nail pieces look like surfaces with light and dark zones spreading out in various shades of grey, drawing together, and waving back and forth like corn stalks in the wind or sea grass in the water. The same goes for Uecker's works of handmade paper, such as his series Manual Structures from the collection of the Deutsche Bank.

Günther Uecker: detail from
Fünf Lichtscheiben - kosmische Vision, 1961 - 81

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