Between Nature and Artifice

Article  /  ArtistsArnoldscheEssays
Published: 15.10.2014
Daniel Kruger Daniel Kruger
Daniel Kruger
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Arnoldsche Art Publishers
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This article is included at the book Daniel Kruger, Between Nature and Artifice published in 2014 by Arnoldsche Art Publishers. The publication presents works from the last forty years and not only illustrate Daniel Kruger’s curiosity with unconventional techniques and materials; they are also an expression of his awareness of nature and artificiality, history and tales, tradition and present: sometimes ironic, at times restrained, but frequently also opulent and sensual.
My first assignment at art school in Cape Town was to find an object, natural or man-made, to dissemble it, reducing it to its components and then to use the material thus gained to create a new object. This is an exercise in studying the nature of an object, contemplating materiality, its form and properties. It is a dialogue, requiring respect for the material, the object, its origin and the processes it went through to reach its present state and its present place. In the same spirit that the object is dissembled, it will be assembled. This is a lesson in ethics.
I grew up on a farm in the south of Namibia. The landscape is arid and dry, the earth bare, a few scraggy bushes,the odd tree. Hills that seem to consist of piled-up round stones, powdery blue mountain ridges in the distance.
An apricot coloured full moon rises above a dusty pastel turquoise horizon, the night sky is ablaze with  innumerable stars against the infinity of the heavens.
In good years the veld is a waving yellow sea, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Plants that had not been seen for decades would appear, seemingly from nowhere, would cover the earth after the rain and then be gone in a matter of days. Yet this barrenness yielded up the most unusual things: a locust as big as a stick, a tiny bright red spider, a cricket with orange and purple stripes, the long white thorns of Mimosa Karroo that look like polished ivory, small cocoa-brown stones that glisten with a shiny lustre. Uncountable nuances of colours and patterns and textures in stones and plants.
In a landscape like this there is no such thing as old and new. It is a spiritual space outside of time – the loneliness and the quiet, the stillness and the immediacy of the elements. The senses merge to become interchangeable. One can smell and hear the heat, one tastes the earth and feels the bitter fragrance of the herbs on the air.
The farm had been a military station in the time when the country was a German colony. What could be found lying in the earth was a treasure trove for a child to play with. Not only that which nature yields, but also the relics from previous inhabitants: buckles, badges, tins and bottles with still intact labels of unknown products. There were also ruins of abandoned buildings, graves and a monument to fallen soldiers.
My grandparents, who acquired the farm, came from a subtropical part of South Africa. They immediately started to cultivate a garden with trees, vegetables, fruit and flowers. They created a foreign enclave in this primeval landscape.
The culture I originate from and in which I was brought up, is as foreign to this part of the world as the pine trees, the oranges and lemons, the lettuces and tomatoes or the petunias and roses that grew in this garden. These apparent contrasts, the natural and the artificial, the evolved and the imported, and the fascination with the materials which my environment provides, has influenced my way of making. It can be observed directly in my use of the found object. But then, a brooch from baroque Spain, seen in a museum, can be a discovered object, just like the badge with a foreign inscription on it, discovered in the Namibian earth.
Not only the earth, but also history gives me material. Also here there is nothing old, or nothing new. Things are found and discarded, ideas are used again and again, taking on a different garb each time they appear; the context, and hence the associations, are new. Thus, where and when I live, provides me with the vantage point from which I can observe my environment and my own history. All I am able to do is to interpret the immediate with speculations as to what was and what will be.
The “where” and the “why” does not interest me, it is the object itself by which I am fascinated. To make something new, that has never existed before, is not my aim. I desire to give my work a feeling of looking old, as if it has always existed. I strive to be part of a continuity, and to venerate that which has been passed on to us by prior generations. To build on this inheritance in order to pass it on to those who come after us.
That which is, and the traces left by time, are what I concern myself with. To make visible the process involved in the manufacture of an object, to show the development – or should I call it growth? – from taking the first steps until the completion, even to anticipate the blemishes, the wear and tear which are effected by usage and the passage of time.
Since 1974 I have lived in Bavaria. Green meadows, woods, lakes and snow-capped mountains. The ecstatic and frivolous baroque churches of the Asam brothers, the neoclassicism of Leo von Klenze’s palaces with their clarity and balance, and the intellectual technology of the suspended constructions of Munich’s olympic arenas are what my environment is made up of these days. Here there is no spectacular moon and the stars are dim and distant. The lights that shine and embellish the night are artificial. It is man that creates the monuments, and not nature.
It is both strange and comforting to live here. Where I come from is about inertia, where I live now it is activity, it is not static but dynamic, is receptive of ideas, promotes investigation. There is artifice, intrigue and wit. There is a rapid exchange of ideas. Time is structured into a diary and one continually ticks off that which has passed, to plan for the future. Instead of letting nature follow its course, I as a human being, have to order, change, investigate and manipulate. In my small way I contribute to the condition of the world, for better or for worse.


This text is from a lecture held in:
1999 at the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence.
2002 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
2002 at the Goethe-Institut, Budapest.
2003 at the Handwerkskammer, Munich.