Baerbel Claus
Worldview - Responsibility and Beauty
Exhibition from 21 October to 19 December 2017
Organizer: Spiritual and Cultural Centre Kloster Kamp, Kamp Lintfort

 

“I understand art as a tool to get to know the world”, says the Swiss installation artist Thomas Hirschhorn. A view of the world that is defined by art making and artistic expression. But looking at and gazing at the world also means taking a stand on events and developments in the world that cannot be approved. This is the political aspect of art.

Baerbel Claus makes committed art, her sculptures and assemblages never stand for themselves, for the aesthetic appeal or the complex design. All of this is only a partial aspect of the work, because it also wants to interpret, accuse, draw attention to and reflect. One could also call her art critical, she asks questions and confronts herself. With art, with design, but also with the consequences of social injustice, environmental pollution and the exploitation of Africa, where Baerbel Claus has lived for twenty years. The experience of completely different cultures, religions and traditions has changed Baerbel Claus' view of the world and still influences her art today. She spent much of her training in various African artistic institutions, so it is not surprising that her formal language is often African.

She is always productive and so last year several new works were created, which can be seen in this exhibition, next to older works, but which have lost none of their significance and expressiveness.

"My thinking is creative and imaginative, and I use my mind as a means of expressing myself." The conviction Baerbel Claus addresses here is the prerequisite for making good, inspiring and committed art. The commitment alone is not the foundation for originality. Baerbel Claus goes through the world with an open mind and finds her own expression in the lengthy and elaborate process of creating her own style.

Her assemblage 'On clay feet' (‘Auf tönernen Füßen’), for example, shows a multitude of individual objects. These are found objects as well as modelled elements, the statement about the death of bees is only revealed at second glance. The structure seems to break down at any time, it is a fragile equilibrium, as the title suggests. ‘On clay feet': i.e. something was not thought through, the consequences were not considered responsibly. Unfortunately, this approach is often a reality in environmental policy, which is often accompanied by economic interests. In this case, the ecological equilibrium is threatened by the gradual extinction of bees, which will lead to the destruction of plant diversity and thus ultimately our food supply, symbolized here by the seemingly endless number of available apples and pears.

Dealing with the respective topic always corresponds to the development of the work. “The works grow”, Baerbel Claus says. The first idea is followed by sketches, material sightings, material tests, first superstructures and combinations. Often, disturbing things are removed and imperfections are filled. Finally, statement and aesthetics must harmonize with each other.

 

Religion is one of Baerbel Claus' major themes. Her numerous works on the subject refer to biblical passages about which she reflects particularly intensely and which occupy her. The concrete work on the object helps to see these statements more clearly and to interpret them without words. The more recent wor ‘I am the Beginning and the End' (‘Ich bin der Anfang und das Ende’), Revelation Chapter 21, Verse 6, transforms Baerbel Claus into a multi-layered structure of various objects. The crate of sand and clay fragments stands for the old and the past, the new Jerusalem, which will be covered with sand. From this sand and on this foundation, however, the new is also to be created. A cross, symbol of Christianity and a map of ancient Jerusalem create the connection to the words of Revelation. Each element was carefully selected by the artist and placed in its place. The composition determines the design, the form language determines the statement.

 

An unusual original representation of Marriage' (‘Ehe’) shows a small abstract sculpture. Here the pair is not represented figuratively, but as a form that fits together, but is individual in itself. This representation stands for the different nature and character types of the partners. The gap in the middle of the form, which would fit together easily, also stands for individual freedoms that should be granted.

Baerbel Claus also sees the current alarming developments in people's dealings with each other with concern. Our centuries-long canon of courtesy and mutual respect becomes obsolete in the face of social service and emerging populism. The artist shows the concrete effects on the individual in the sculpture 'Fake News'. How does a person feel who is being slandered and defamed? It cannot go unnoticed, the consequences are often traumatic for those, even if they can deny. The person feels surrounded, isolated and trapped in a web of lies. Baerbel Claus also portrays the person affected. The figure is trapped, she appears to be unhinged in her pose, twists and tries to escape the shackles. No facial expression is necessary to anticipate the spiritual needs.

The work 'First Sunday in October' (‘Erster Sonntag im Oktober’) is also highly complex. The date wasn't long ago, and maybe you remember, it's Thanksgiving Day. Anchored for a very long time in the canon of our Christian festivals, it expresses our gratitude for the harvest yield, but at the same time shows that it is not always in the hands of the people that there is enough food. In our time, however, the problem is more complex. While in the industrialized nations more and more and unhealthy food is produced, yields in Africa continue to decline. Baerbel Claus also touches on the problems of our increasingly industrialised and unnatural foodstuffs. What do all these foods do to us? Isn't it more sensible to eat consciously, biologically and regionally? The symbol of nutrition has always been bread. The artist made it realistically in porcelain and is therefore fragile. The main ingredient for bread is wheat, on which it rests in her work. Above this, a human figure appears on a glass pane framed by contours of different colours, such as wreaths of light. These symbolize the aura of man. Baerbel Claus sees an elementary connection between the nourishment of man and his aura, i.e. his radiation. Even without accepting that our food makes us directly ill, the problem of the effects of chemical additives and industrial processing is still a topic in society, which repeatedly comes into the public eye through scandals and at the same time leads to discomfort for many people.

 

Bärbel Claus has acquired a special world view through her many travels. Through her own opinion, she can present her concerns competently and consistently. It broadens our view of the world, sets new accents and shows facets that our western world view often overlooks. Consideration of Baerbel Claus' works triggers a series of associations, as well as the tactile stimuli emanating from the surfaces and materials used. We must focus on everything in order to recognize and sense the whole arrangement and its meaning.

Form is always important, it determines the artistic impetus. Baerbel Claus has a keen sense of form. To quote Thomas Hirschhorn once again: "Don't make a form, but give something a form. A form that comes from me, that can only come from me because I see the form that way." A sentence which, I think, also corresponds to the work of Baerbel Claus. It teaches us sovereign perception and critical vision. Let yourself be inspired as an observer to broaden your view of art and the world.

 Kirsten Black
Art Historian
October 2017