FOCUS: Ralf Ziervogel marks the young German artist’s first solo museum exhibition. Since 2003, Ziervogel has developed a stream-of-consciousness method for creating large-scale, lush panoramic drawings that explore the effects of consumer gratification. In his imagined worlds, societal chaos is constructed on themes of obsessive sex and violence. Working ten-hour days with only a few small breaks over periods ranging between one to three months, Ziervogel covers large sheets of paper with a continuously evolving series of burlesque mini-vignettes that bleed into each other and build in intensity.
Rather than a clear narrative within each scene, or one that unifies the entire work, sheer momentum, which is apparent when viewing the drawings as a whole, is key for Ziervogel. He sees it as symbolic of the constantly growing cravings created by societal pressures. “There is no story being told since many small episodes intersect and dissolve into each other,” Ziervogel explains, adding, “destruction and death are imminent.”
The world Ziervogel reveals in works such as Morlock, 2005, a drawing included in the exhibition, is replete with aggressive men, women, and children who are shown in various scenes of torture and sexual violence. The figures are sometimes naked and at other times dressed, or half dressed, in contemporary designer clothes. For Ziervogel, the designer logos lend additional support to the idea that the imagery is about the “destruction of the now.” Regarding the explicit nature of his work, Ziervogel has said, “I do not seek to represent sex and violence just for the sake of showing it. The characters are used to define a general mood . . . a kind of circle of violence, which expresses the concept of societal decline.”
The sculpture included in this exhibition, Untitled, 2001–05, is made of standard packing tape that Ziervogel coiled together over the course of four years to form a large disc shape. Because it is made of a common household product, Untitled, like Ziervogel’s drawings, suggests the artist’s interest in everyday consumer society. And like his drawings, it is made with a minimal approach and simple materials. Also like his drawings, which are executed spontaneously, without preparatory sketches, Untitled represents an exercise in creating a work that has no predetermined outcome. In describing what he sees as the commonalities between his drawings and sculpture, Ziervogel observes, “They are raw and vulnerable in the same way. I try to take everything to the edge in my work, where you can find both clichés and mystique.”
Ziervogel’s use of dark humor clearly exaggerates the everyday to an unimaginable extreme. In doing so, the artist highlights basic human desires and culture’s ability to magnify them, creating unattainable and unfulfillable self-images.