Stefan Knauf

Birds don’t cry

11 JUNE – 30 JULY 2022
Robert Grunenberg is pleased to announce a solo exhibition by Berlin-based artist Stefan Knauf, “Birds don’t cry,”. The exhibition is Knauf’s second solo show with the gallery and presents an installation comprised of steel sculptures rising from a landscape of blinding white perlite.

Solo Exhibition:
Stefan Knauf
Birds don’t cry
Robert Grunenberg
11.06.2022 – 30.07.2022

Knauf explores the ideological and colonial structures that continuously shape the world through design and space-making practices, particularly with regard to landscape and the natural world. His diverse practice probes the history of botany, migration, trade, science, and architecture to uncover concrete paradoxes in our misperception of nature as something inherently stable, wild, or uncultured. Knauf’s recent research has led him to countless ecosystem restoration initiatives around the world, where governments and companies are effectively attempting to “re-create” previously destroyed or eroded natural environments.

At the center of the installation are a series of towering “prickly pear” cacti realized in inflated and zinc-galvanized sheet steel, a process used in large-scale industry that blows up the intensely durable material into soft, organic shapes, with noticeable crystalline patterns on its surfaces. A familiar plant in the Mediterranean and Northern Africa, the prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) is in fact indigenous to Central America, where it was used for millennia to cultivate the Cochineal insect, used for the production of the color pigment carmine red. Spanish colonizers unsuccessfully attempted to introduce this bug to Europe, but the cactus still took root and has since then spread throughout the region and become ubiquitous.

Knauf has flooded the entire gallery floor with perlite, a natural mineral that is industrially modified via heat, which transforms it into a light, pebble-like material, used in everything from construction, and water filtering to hydroponic greenhouse agriculture. Over 20,000 liters of this material have been unloaded in the gallery to form a landscape of dunes and hills. Here, a variety of components—oil columns, steel reliefs, and plant-like metal sculptures—co-exist in a radically sterile white cube environment, where the absence of organic elements leaves no potential whatsoever for organic processes to occur.

As a colonial artifact, the cactus speaks to the problem of thinking of landscapes as being “unspoiled,” a prevalent attitude during European romanticism, where artists sought out nature in pursuit of the sublime in reaction to the rationalism of the Enlightenment. Along the walls of the exhibition, Knauf presents a series of landscape reliefs in pierced sheet steel metal based on paintings by the romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. Employing the same inflation method as with the cactus, these motifs are traced only to immediately become spatial or “blown up” by industrial processes.

For more information, please contact the gallery: mail@robertgrunenberg.com