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ABOUT THE ARTIST
I’m an artist (b. 1971, Namibia) currently living and working in Cape Town, South Africa. After completing the degree BA in Visual Arts at Stellenbosch University, I specialised in print and new media design while based in Düsseldorf and Munich, Germany.
With a keen interest in composition and form, my creative practice has moved from online design (mainly e-commerce) to three-dimensional media. Ongoing experimentations with the medium of clay has led me to my current sculptural practice, in which I strategically harnesses the tactile properties of the medium to investigate themes ranging from intuition to biomorphism.
THE SHAPE OF A MOMENT
There is a special quality to seeing and touching an object-body that, much like its human counterpart, seems to change ever so slightly with each passing moment. Perhaps it is the flicker of a light beam, the slow but steady course of the sun, or the ever-changing position of the viewer. Perhaps it’s that deep-seated desire to let the eye and the hand roam as they wish to. And how they love roaming! Whatever the case might be, Michael Bräuer’s work touches lightly but reaches deep.
Intuition and spontaneity are key to his practice. Instead of using plans or preliminary sketches, he lets his immediate tactile experience of a given medium guide his creative process. There is no preconceived idea of what a particular piece must look like. Bräuer uses highly immersive techniques to give shape to his work and in this way, intuition pilots the process.
For Louis Arnaud Reid (1980, Intuition and Art), intuition is knowing without rational explanation – it is a hunch or feeling that often escapes or lies beyond language. For Reid, it is a profoundly visceral experience, as it stems from and responds to the body. We understand it as a feeling in the gut, a knowing in the bones. While intuition is part of everyday life and we often put it to constructive, strategic use (at work, in relationships, when shopping), Bräuer sees it as a space for being with an object and a medium. The resultant spontaneity comes as an answer to, and perhaps a respite from, the ‘plannedness’ of life. This is a key moment in his creative process where the desire towards form-giving and expression is not determined by a fixed plan.
With its softness and capacity for tactile memory, Bräuer starts his creative process with clay. It allows for directness, spontaneity, and complete immersion. From this, the original clay body is either kiln-fired as is or subjected to alternative firing and casting processes, including saw-dust firing as well as slip and bronze casting. The final pieces are highly evocative, with curvatures and indents prompting the eye to travel (to appropriate Diana Vreeland’s popular maxim). We find ourselves slipping between the sensual and weathered, the familiar and strange, the robust and vulnerable, with a small shift in perspective or light immediately changing our impression of a piece. As a result, each work seems to carry endless opportunities for being viewed and experienced differently.
Instead of tying his work to a specific moment or a singular perspective, Bräuer relishes in the open-ended nature of his sculptural pieces. This resonates with his interest in the intersection of the tactile and the temporal, with his work referencing the passage of a time that far exceeds our own. Be it in clay or bronze, his work alludes to those slow processes that mark and shape our natural environment, where we see things eroding, splitting, congealing and erupting to a time that is different to ours.
The whiteness of some of his sculptural pieces is apt for his experimentation with time. On the one hand, such works remind of bones and fossils, freshly uncovered from an excavation site or lying bleached on a stretch of sand. They hark back to a time preceding our own, to an existence that is foreign to ours. But the whiteness also renders the pieces more sensitive to light, as they register brightness and volume, the passage of time, and the distinct qualities of a given space in a direct way.
As counterfoil to these lighter pieces, Bräuer also produced a series of darker bronze works, in which a satin black patina was fired directly onto the bronze surface, coating every curve and crevice in silky blackness. As he explains, the extremity of the process, the pouring of molten bronze into a hollow mould to create a positive sculpture is reminiscent of those volatile geological processes that once shaped the earth’s surface. There is something quite severe yet extremely sensual to this process that Bräuer manages to capture in his work.
The abovementioned sensuality permeates his practice, with strong biomorphic influences and shapes that resemble living organisms recurring throughout. While his work is undeniably abstract, it still evokes and returns to the living form, which is often sensual and supple in shape and tone. The curve of a spine, the breach of a rock, the jut of a hip, the nook of a tree, the thrust of a shoulder. Glimpses of these skim over the surface of his work – they appear and disappear like shadows moving to a rhythm of their own.
Despite its solidity, the work catches a moment of change that is brief, like a breath drawn somewhere in the sweep of deep, slow time.
Text by Prof Ernst van der Wal
Department of Visual Arts, Stellenbosch University