An Introduction to the Work of Artist Daniel Segerberg 2011

There’s something agreeable about Daniel Segerberg’s sculptures. They are humorous, sensitive, intriguing, and comforting - all at the same time. Being agreeable, however, doesn’t prevent these works from taking command of the spaces in which they are placed. Segerberg’s works are typically conceived for a specific place, whether they are intended to be shown in a gallery or outside in a park. In other words, his works are usually site-specific. In terms of form, the works can suggest a sphere (Buckyball 2009), a Ferris wheel (The Wheel 2009), a playground (November Playground 2009), or a boat (Sleepwalker 2011). Sometimes one can discern art-historical references in his sculptures, as in Spiral Pavilion (2010), which may be seen as a nod to Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty.

Segerberg’s sculptures are made from a wide variety of materials, including plastic, wood, glass, textile, or metal - frequently in combination. The sculptures are usually built up of different components such as plastic chairs, wood trim boards, or balcony doors. Often these are prefabricated parts, like wheel spokes or platform bed slats - parts used in manufacturing beds, bicycles, washbasins, or ironing boards. He uses everyday objects that anyone would recognize. He finds these objects just about anywhere: on the bike ride between his home and his studio in Berlin, in junkyards or back alleys. The common denominator is that as a rule they are prefabricated items that are industrially mass-produced and intended for consumer products in a retail market. He does whatever he wants with these materials to build his sculptures - smashes them, clips or snaps them, or saws them in two. He never incorporates new materials into his works.

The found materials Segerberg uses have patina. It is clear the objects have been used by people. The traces of human activity convey connotations and references from the objects’ prior lives, which indirectly contributes various meanings to the new works. The viewer of course recognizes the component parts, and thus the viewer’s own associations become part of the interpretation of the artist’s composition. This gives the sculptures a kind of collective memory. The patinaed materials of which the sculptures are made are one reason many of them seem to move freely between time and space.

When Segerberg makes a new piece for an exhibition, he often bases it on discarded materials found in the vicinity of the museum or gallery. Though he usually has an idea of what he wants to achieve, it is not until he gets to the setting for the exhibition that he can form a clear understanding of the exact conditions for his installation. For an exhibition in Kaliningrad, the artist had the idea of making a playground, but the piece November Playground emerged as an interplay between the materials he found in the area, the original idea, and the intended site for the installation. The fact that the component parts of each installation are thus tied to the site and recognizable for the local audience is something for which Segerberg often strives.

The artist often plays with space and the existence of another world, which is indicated in a number of his works’ titles, such as The 8th Continent (2007), an amorphous construction of fiberboards placed in Högsby that stylistically might recall a city in Star Wars. Another title that suggests a parallel universe is Teleport (2008), the name indicating a station that facilitates a connection with another time and place. The installation itself consists of a number of statues that form a ring reminiscent of Stonehenge. Segerberg made Teleport for the opening of the new Kalmar Konstmuseum in 2008, and the statues are mostly made from smashed and discarded podiums that were once used in the old art museum and were of no use in the new - a nice gesture that marks the institution’s transformation from old to new.

The working process is an important part of the artist’s work. Segerberg says he builds his sculptures. Sometimes chance has a hand in the work. In preparation for an exhibition in Moscow in the summer of 2008, he collected broken-up bits of asphalt from the city’s streets and used them to build The Asphalt Tower, which stood like a monolith in the gallery. Segerberg finished the piece the day before the opening. Due to the heat of the summer, the asphalt was too soft, and the work could not support its own weight: the sculpture imploded and collapsed. Segerberg told the panicked curator, “Now it is finished” - a humorous allusion to Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors. He seems to push the logic of other pieces to the point of absurdity, so that the resulting objects are irrationally formed, like the strange-looking sculpture Flourish (2010), which doesn’t seem to belong anywhere; nevertheless, the serpentine cluster spreads its light, a kind of dystopian modernism that ties itself into knots.

In art historical terms, Segerberg’s work is related to the art of the 1960s, including minimalism and land art. For an artist like Donald Judd, the placement of an individual piece in the gallery space was part of the work itself. Works of art were to be site specific. For Judd, it wasn’t just a matter of an aesthetically pleasing placement; it was primarily about the inherent quality of the work. A work of quality corresponds to the history of the place and its geographic location - in both time and space. By extension this was also a moral question for him. Respect for the work and for the place was analogous with having respect for an individual. Another connection with artists like Donald Judd and Dan Flavin is that they also used prefabricated industrial products. Segerberg’s piece The Kilometer is a clear nod to land art, such as the work of artist Walter De Maria. The sculpture consists of one thousand pieces of wood, metal, and plastic spread out in a stony landscape. All the pieces are one meter long, adding up to a kilometer if laid end to end. The work emphasizes Segerberg’s premise that the execution of a work is part of the artistic effort. Time and again I’ve seen him struggle day in and day out to finish a piece in spite of rain and wind, bitter cold or oppressive summer heat.

Segerberg’s sculptures seem to exist in a parallel world where they become a kind of reminiscences from a post-apocalyptic world - where the playground and the Ferris wheel are abandoned, where the asphalt has collapsed and the only thing left from the industrial era are the remnants of these discarded products. But in this parallel world, there is also hope for a new world in the playful use of reclaimed materials. In the creation, execution, and placement of Segerberg’s works, we see in this new world respect for one’s surroundings and for one’s place in time and space. And perhaps it is this interplay with time and space, a reminder of a bygone era and an optimistic hope for a better world, that makes his work so agreeable.

/by Martin Schibli


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