Every genuine artwork embodies a text. What distinguishes the modern from the postmodern art object is the direction of reading. Is something read into the work or out of it, does the work establish a hermeneutic framework that protects it from a reading which is arbitrary or is centred purely on its viewer, or does it need its interpreter – and thus the given arbitrary subjectivity – in order to be recognised and to be granted recognition as an art-work. The former, classic type is to be recognised by its verifiability, because although there may be countless interpretive possibilities, every single one must be contained within the text of the work. Conversely, in the latter case, it is not the artist but the viewer who is the actual creator.
Art is rediscovering substance. Arbitrariness has led to disorientation, the fundamental feeling of contemporary Western humanity in the 21st century. Anyone who has followed Erik Seidel’s path as an artist has seen him walking this tightrope. Only 10 years ago – with his compositions of colour – he was still attempting the path to freedom, the noncommital, but the pleasure of absolute relativity did not endure for long. The dominance of the ‘frame’ (“Gestell” in Heidegger’s sense) could not escape his gaze. The traces that it has left behind on a completely technologised life – in the form of connectors, supports, rods, buildings, the frame – were printed on paper in an aestheticising and colourful manner.

It is the great songs of European culture, the root texts and texts of the homeland – Dante’s Divina Commedia and Goethe’s Faust – that have inspired Seidel’s ‘turn’. Without betraying his development: works of entirely new dimensions now stand before us. Both Dante and Faust crossed the Lethe, the underworld’s river of oblivion and the river forming the boundary of the realm of the dead: the former did so in order to arrive at the most holy, at Paradise, and the latter in order to descend down to the mothers. And both cross the Lethe in order to encounter aletheia, the deepest truth or, more precisely: “unconcealedness”. Aletheia is the overcoming of Lethe, truth is not the judgement corresponding to reality but the revealing of Being. The ultimate mystery of Being is, of course, Nothingness or death. There life emerges out of the thicket of entanglements into the ‘clearing’; that is where the human being actually is, because Being can only “actually” be in its consciousness of its finiteness. And it is precisely in this clearing, where language and Being meet, that Seidel’s most recent works are situated: on the other shore of the Lethe. In a world blocked by speech, can revealing now only be brought about through artworks?

They enter the scene with an incomparable forcefulness and are nonetheless filigree, directly enamoured of detail. They thematise the transitory in permanent materials: initially bronze, then iron. Patina is replaced by rust. Accretion increasingly yields to time’s erosion, history to post-history – or more precisely, meta-history – the historical image must yield to the all-consuming panta rhei. Instead of supports and rods – the insignia of technology – there is now the epigram and skeleton. The guardian of Being, the agens – humanity in its ultimate, ideal-typical, yet-to-be-attained development – is represented as a failed, no, a failing creature in its dance of death on the oil barrels.

Jörg Seidel, Literaturwissenschaftler, Philosoph, Übersetzer, 2015

Erik Seidel