Markus Hofer – Active Matter / Rudolf Budja Gallery, Salzburg
A retrospective usually brings together representative works documenting the artist’s creative periods and tracing the different stages of his or her artistic development. Sculptor Markus Hofer’s exhibition Active Matter is more on the order of a provisional selection and is diametrically opposed to the static, closed-off nature of the standard retrospective. The title of the show refers to the independence and dynamic components of Hofer’s sculptures, which reinterpret subject matter and evoke the appearance of being in perpetual motion.
Hofer tackles familiar objects and environments using sculptural interventions as his instrument. He reserves the right to determine location and extent. Both public and private spaces are involved. The objects he carefully selects acquire a fresh layer of meaning as the result of his sculptural interventions. Our accustomed patterns of perception are turned upside down but also expanded and newly contextualised.
For example, in an early work included in the exhibition, Yellow Juice (2003), he plays ironically on the double meaning of the word “juice” for both a liquid and energy, but it is only one of many aspects he generates through simple interventions. Another is the colour Hofer chose for this applied sculpture, which can also be seen as a deliberate attempt to link the otherwise distinct art forms of sculpture and painting.
That becomes particularly obvious in one of his most recent works, St. Florian (2009).
Hofer places the baroque representation of this Christian martyr, who is best known as the patron saint of firefighters though other occupational groups claim him as well, on a white pedestal, and has him pour a liquid out of his bucket that is red instead of the usual blue of water. Here too Hofer plays with expectations and ingrained viewing habits, summarily inverting the original symbolism.
The gestural element is new in Hofer’s work. Whereas previously most of his interventions applied to objects and spaces, in the case of St. Florian we see the representation of a human figure who has been given the role of an active protagonist in the story. As such he plays a stand-in role for the artist, who thereby signals the possibilities of fluid transitions in the visual arts yet without denying his origins or true identity as a sculptor or as an artist.
In addition to the works that are permanent, self-contained and above all location-independent, such as The Artist’s Magic Hand (2006) or Watch the Scene (2008), which as sculptures can function almost anywhere, other works are temporary and survive only in photographic form. Such works, which include The Small Sunset in Berlin (2005), or Bookshelf in the Austrian Museum of Folk Life and Folk Art in Vienna (2008), are mainly conceived for public spaces. Because they are meant to exist for a limited time only, they represent fleeting entertainment. As an artist Hofer is interested in individual perceptions of what is understood to be real in our world and taken for granted and regarded as normal. His works originate in his own universe of ideas, which extends beyond what we tend to believe we are seeing. Hofer’s often wacky sculptures are a reminder that it pays to sharpen our awareness of the things we don’t see.