DANIEL BEERSTECHER ON THE MOVE
A text by Werner Meyer
Hiking, being on the move – the private passion becomes an artistic core concept present in all of Daniel Beerstecher’s works. In each of his projects personal experiences and at times the images occur while travelling along a certain route, in a specific location he walked to or a situation, demanding a particular behaviour. These hikes actually took place; the camera and somebody operating the camera were present. In quite a Romantic sense we are initially concerned with the experience of the landscape, the route, nature and at the same time the experience of personal existence, subjective experiences and perspectives, opening up through these undertakings.
The point actually are the images Daniel Beerstecher has in his mind outlining his expectations, which he often sketches in collages; these collages offer an glimpse of what he is seeking and finding in the realisation of his projects. In the art works that are finally exhibited, these images and video films focus on motifs, which condense the hike as performance to essential moments and strong images; which express the experience as well as the sensations, the artist had – he would never delegate these to an actor. In addition they communicate the mottos and key questions, relevant to the experiment that is the project.
Once Daniel Beerstecher engaged with a particularly fascinating landscape, he conceives and realises his hikes and undertakings as experimental designs. The crucial parameters are the frequently extreme characteristics of the landscape, through which he is moving, the attributes imbuing his role as hiker and his hiking activity with a particular meaning, the route and the time, and finally the media he uses to record the images. This enables him to see his immediate experience in the context of his knowledge and a reflected self-observation. The images, which subsequently endure in the artwork, are founded on these.
In his video film “Wie ich meinem Vogel die Welt erkläre” (2013) Daniel Beerstecher walked the distance of ca. 90 kilometres from the old centre of Sao Paulo through different zones of the metropolis, through the commercial centre, the municipal park, past buildings by Oskar Niemeyer, representing the more recent history of Brazil, through high-rise districts, the residential areas of the middle classes, through districts with the villas of the wealth, through the favelas, industrial areas, rural patches, the rainforest, Brazilian Indian settlements, until he finally reaches the sea shore. This route is of exemplary meaning, because it leads through all historical, societal, social and natural areas, which characterise the country and its civilisation.
If we scrutinize the video film for its form, it is striking that it consists of a number of scenes, which Daniel Beerstecher crosses, or where he lingers. Following his movement, we also follow his gaze and his experience of crossing zones without transition. The video sequences are always recorded with a fixed camera, no pan, no zoom. This fact is owed to his collaboration with the cameraman Bruno Schultze, photographer by profession, and is evocative of earlier works, such as “Outdoor-Mobil” (2009) ,a sequence of slides.
Daniel Beerstecher travels with strange luggage, his small bird in a cage, carried on his back like a rucksack. He calls this work a homage to Joseph Beuys and his performance “How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare” (1965) and his “extended definition of art”. This is evidence of how Daniel Beerstecher connects his projects and concepts with recent art history. Daniel Beerstecher considers the caged bird to be the central object of this project.. The bird is his real companion and a complex metaphor at the same time. Setting aside that “einen Vogel haben” (having a bird) in German means as much as “being batty” in a friendly way, the bird is an emblem of freedom, the utopia of infinity, and a hiker’s close link with nature.[i] However, Daniel Beerstecher’s bird remains in the cage, which it most likely was born into – an initial explanation for why it has to travel in a cage, it would most likely be incapable of adopting the world in free flight. Metaphorically speaking Daniel Beerstecher takes the cage as an expression of feeling confined, a sense of life that is very common in a society where widespread violence and dense population hardly allow for any sense of freedom. Even if setting out like the artist, the fearful way of life remains part of ones baggage. Explaining the world can serve as a means of defining this general sensation of fear, to specify what one is actually afraid of.[ii]
I already mentioned the homage to Joseph Beuys. Looking at the images, the takes and perspectives in the video, other pictorial associations come to mind. From the bridge, the artist’s perspective of the high-rise architecture of Sao Paolo’s commercial centre paradoxically resembles steep mountains – with its sublime appearance it promises extreme experiences and perspectives and thus resembles a Romantic picture. Here and on the precipice looking into the rainforest the “Rückenfigur” – a figure seen from behind – comes to mind. In many of his paintings Caspar David Friedrich used it as a visual formula to represent the viewer within the picture.[iii] And having arrived at the seashore, it is difficult not to think of his “Monch by the Sea” (ca. 1809/10, Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin), although Daniel Beerstecher is far from celebrating this end as an essential aim. These references do not only link these images with their story, which repeatedly debate these motifs and formulas, they also link them to art history. With all the immediacy of the images, Daniel Beerstecher is never distracted from their claim to art. And alongside the immediacy these options of pictorial association are responsible to their aesthetic, their strength and focus and their poetry.
Looking at the metaphor of the cage in the context of Daniel Beerstecher’s experience of life in the metropolis Sao Paolo, where he spent a year as an experiment of existence[iv], and within Brazilian society, it is reminiscent of his video “Goldener Käfig” (2008), one of his first works as an independent artist. The young artist is squatting in a closed cage, suspended from a branch of a dead oak tree at a clearing in a Southern German forest. The film shows the artist in the process of gilding his cage from within. The description of this absurd and grotesque situation is immediate and direct. At the same time it is full of metaphoric meaning: the dead oak tree, the German forest represent all the clichés of the bourgeois, Romantically informed, typically German wanderlust. The golden cage represents the artist’s sheltered bourgeois existence as a city dweller. While he is gilding his cage, Daniel Beerstecher sings a well-known song of the Wandervogel-movement: “Wenn hell die goldne Sonne lacht, muss in die Welt ich ziehn, / denn irgendwo muss voller Pracht die blaue Blume blühn. / So wandre ich landauf landab, such dieses Blümelein, / und erst wenn ich’s gefunden hab, stell ich das Wandern ein.”[v] Within this image of his, Daniel Beerstecher acts also and especially as artist. And thus the metaphor becomes the self-reflection of his situation as artist. He portrays his situation as academy student and the traditional working space, the studio as a (artistically hand-gilt) golden cage. The song on the other hand is a motif of longing; to be on a quest of, set forth for one’s self and that which art actually allows for, instead of being in the studio.[vi] When Daniel Beerstecher makes use of a mirror, to quite simply observe and examine his artistic activity and himself, he uses it as a metaphor of reflection on what he does and the reflection of his existence as an artist. And the song is a poetic expression of his artistic concept, to set forth time and again to seek what authentically experienced images can be to him. In the absurd, the beautifully grotesque quality of the image one can suspect Sisyphus, the efforts, the absurdity of his repetitive activity. “Happiness and absurdity are the fruit of one and the same soil… This is Sisyphus’ entire taciturn joy. His fate is his alone… in addition he knows he is the master of his time…” Sisyphus teaches “us the greatest loyalty, disavowing the gods, turning the stones… The fight against the crests can fulfil a human heart. We must imagine Sisyphus as a happy man.”[vii] Perhaps this also explains Daniel Beerstecher’s penchant for the extreme in his respective ramblings and the ever-present paradox, which makes his images appear simultaneously beautiful and absurd, admiring and critical, humorously heroic and tragic.
Daniel Beerstecher’s projects and the images of his hikes always employ a paradoxical pictorial rhetoric. The Sahara desert in surfer gear with a surfing board under his art contains a forever-unresolved paradoxical promise of experiencing nature. Sailing on the road in a boat mounted on four wheels again represents a paradoxical adventure, like the bird in a cage worn like a rucksack, which is a paradoxical item of luggage for a hiker. This is a basic pattern discernible in all of the artist’s works. A contradiction remains in the images, containing both: the beauty and fascination of the landscape he crosses, and the knowledge of the tragedies, the contradictions and conflicts, which are also part of these images. The alienating effect caused by Beerstecher’s works owes less to filmic means, but it is linked to his concept as theatrical means in his role as hiker.[viii] In this alienation the artist, like the viewer of his works, can enjoy and experience the impressive images, but also distance himself from them. This also makes apparent the contradictoriness of the reality, of the artist and protagonist of the projects, the landscape, which he explores, and finally of the images. This is how the artist withdraws them from a purely affirmative, admiring or indifferent gaze, predetermined by touristic patterns. But he does not condemn the latter; that would be too simple. His experimental designs, this is what he calls his projects and undertakings, are about his experience as an artist and about the verification of the images, that claim to be artworks, and establish a connection between the beauty in the picture with the real economic, ecological and social conditions.