The Vitality of Ordinary Things

Notes on the art of Kristina Berning
by Melanie Bono

Kristina Berning’s artwork begins with the material she uses. Her mostly sculptural works are often structures which she assembles from “everyday materials with a raw, untreated character” (Kristina Berning). The materials are often found by chance (‘discovered’ would be a better term), by which time they have generally lost much of their everyday character. Usually, all that can be perceived is a residual air, a look of having been disposed of, with direct traces of previous functions having long since disappeared. The fragments are like artefacts of contemporary archaeology of everyday life. Their original context can only be deduced by decoding the most basic signals emitted by their material, shape and colour, while their actual meaning remains unrecoverable amid the accelerating flood of banal everyday items. Nevertheless, their perceived sense of belonging to the world of functional objects remains. Kristina Berning seeks out such characteristics in the form of re-transformed ‘raw materials’, for they play an important role in her art. She describes this selection process as associative and intuitive: “My work starts outside the studio. I document or take with me anything arousing a connective feeling. I believe that everything that’s inside me is striving to find its external counterpart. Whenever I feel connected to something, it must have something to do with me. Often it’s like seeing an old friend again. But it’s not that the material and my research are subordinated to an idea; instead they produce the idea.”

‘Untitled’ (2011), for instance, consists of pieces of particle board stacked vertically on top of each other against a wall. The particle board was evidently originally painted blue on one side and formed some kind of whole, but now this is only recalled by the blue, randomly fragmented parts. Two of them jut out into the room at right angles. One piece below and one somewhat higher show their unpainted side, resulting in loosely alternating areas of colour. The top fragment also has offshoots extending into the room, beneath which a pale blue wooden slat leans against the pile, stabilising it. Everything about this sculpture looks short-lived, as if it was made by chance at the whim of a spontaneous impulse rather than for eternity.

Volatility and momentariness are other central features of Kristina Berning’s art. Her sculptures are often characterised by a marked fragility (even if they consist of thick layers of brick), which appears to be due to the incompleteness of the material and the laws of gravity. Individual parts are joined in precarious balance creating a volatile whole united in a spontaneous gesture of temporary contingency. As if frozen, this transient state endeavours to take on a role of lasting permanency.

Another work named ‘Untitled’ (also 2011) similarly addresses fragility and balance. A large wire oval is held vertical by a metal rod leaning against a plastic rail. Together with sticky tape and a stone making up for the difference in height between two slats, an insecure balance arises which constantly emphasises the improvised nature of the artwork, yet simultaneously has an inner need to have been positioned in precisely this manner.

Although the sculptures seem at first glance to have been created spontaneously or by chance, on closer inspection it transpires that their shape and design were deliberately produced by Kristina Berning. Many of her sculptures take on a figurative character or feature model-like geometrical lines. Different volumes and materials are assembled using an architectural language. Linear designs, compact volumes, abstract structures, organic formations and properties of materials are placed in a logical, systematic arrangement. The physical structures emerge from the materials’ characteristics. For example, brick provides a stable foundation, wire a soft, delicate line in space, while wood is used to support the structures. The basis of Kristina Berning’s artistic activity is the determinism of the initial material. Her art arises in a process that expresses the knowledge and understanding of the possibilities inscribed in the material, breathing a new, independent vitality into abandoned objects which had lost their function – and hence their definition.

The works themselves employ different materials, comparison highlighting their intrinsic properties. They reveal themselves to be part of nature and part of the real, industrial world while showing no sign of their artistic origin. It’s important to Kristina Berning to keep the production process of her works as simple and transparent as possible. Each movement is to be logically justified and traceable, in principle allowing visitors to work out exactly what has been done to the materials and in what order. The artist’s actions are intended to inscribe themselves into the works as a performative act. According to Kristina Berning, they occur in an intuitive and simultaneously concentrated manner.

Owing to the increasing virtuality of our lifestyle, the flood of images in the media, and the rapid spread of information over the internet, our relationship with what we experience as reality has changed dramatically. Reality is increasingly becoming an imparted reality, whose images and information replace actual experience. As a result, factual reassurance via material presence is acquiring new importance. The immediacy of Kristina Berning’s art contrasts sharply with today’s perceived loss of authenticity. The tactile quality of the materials she uses represents a reality which is elementary and tangible, and stands in stark contrast to the confusing, no longer intelligible complexity of the technical manufacturing processes that surround us. This is why the materials, the stages of their treatment, and the signs of their origin are clearly revealed in each artwork’s final form. Motion, process, action, life: the preference for development as opposed to a completed state has frequently been interpreted as a response to a lack of truth and meaning in art and society. Concrete actions discharge themselves of their ordinariness so that the value of concrete everyday items can be re-experienced.

Translation: Chris Abbey