Björn Dahlem works draws inspiration from the Universe to create his sculptures and installations. The German artist starts from the scientific concept to create poems that overtake by its beauty. His pieces, in a clear intention to move away from the scientific theories, do not give certainty, but they suggest and excite. Using materials as unsophisticated as neon, wood and other everyday life objects, Björn manages to transport us sublimely into the mystery of the cosmos.
Where does your fascination for the cosmos come from? In addition to Arts, did you study Physics or any other science degree? Or maybe someone in your family is a scientist?
Cosmos literally means the order of nature and has become our modern expression for the world as one entity, similar to ‘Universe’. I find it only natural to be interested in the world as a whole, not only at terrestrial scale. Also, in fact, my father is a physicist and worked at DLR, the German National Center for Aerospace. But I did never pass any science degree myself, I am just interested in science.
You make sculptures out of wood and lights. But, sometimes, you decide to incorporate other common and not sophisticated elements like a milk jar, or wine bottles, glacier cherries or other pots and pans. What is the reason to incorporate them to your work?
In my work I use a lot of found objects that I buy at thrift stores, supermarkets, one dollar shops or hardware stores. I like the connection between everyday life and sublime ideas of the universe. The sublime only makes sense when measured by its opposite, the banal. Especially pickles and glacier cherries are a great link between mystic alchemy and allday experience.
What about your artistic references? You create visual poems that are between Surrealism and Dadaism. Where do you get your inspiration from?
Surrealism was closely related to psychoanalysis, especially the interpretations of dreams by Freud and Lacan. Surely all this and also the playful, anarchistic approach of Dadaism has influenced my work. Most influential to me was maybe the work of Joseph Beuys, whom I adored very much as a teenager. But also Italian Arte Povera artist Michelangelo Pistoletto, the american artists Paul Thek, Mike Kelley and Jason Rhoades, they have all made a strong impact on me.
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Agujero Negro (Cygnus X 1), 2014. Wood, steel, lamps, fluorescents, various found objects 1800 x 1600 x 450 cm. Installation at Espacio Cultural Matadero, Abierto x Obras, Madrid. Courtesy Galeria Heinrich Erhardt, Madrid. | Photo: Paco Gómez
Some concepts represented in your works are, in general, not easy to understand by part of the public. How do you work it? Do you study what you want to explain first and then go to your atelier to make the sculptures? How does your artistic process work?
My artworks are not about explaining something. It would be boring to use art just to illustrate something. I am using scientific images, models and ideas as motifs for my works. People are invited to look at the background of my work, but not necessarily. They can also just look at the pieces and enjoy.
What do you think about the historical separation between Arts or Humanities and Science? And how do you think this separation could to come to an end?
The separation is the consequence of systematical scientific order. From its beginning in the ancient world, science had a lot of philosophical, spiritual, magical and artistic components. Now they have widely got lost and with them the idea of a close relationship between arts and science. As science and also art have become more and more complex, I do not believe that this separation can be ended so easily.
Science can offer concepts, knowledge and skills to artists. But in what way do artists make their contribution back to Science?
Werner Heisenberg's Principle of Uncertainty has proven that scientific knowledge is limited and prone to logical error. This is a huge dilemma for Science, but not for Art. A great artwork deals with all human limitations and logical failures and can turn them into a benefit.
In general, do you think your work —and the work of other contemporary artists who also deal with scientific concepts (like Olafur Eliasson)— can help to move the science closer to people?
I personally do not believe that art should help to move people into any direction.
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M-Spheres (Seyfert 2), 2016. Aluminium, steel, fluorescents. 550 x 300 x 210 cm. Courtesy Courtesy Guido W. Baudach Gallery, Berlin and Sies+Höke Gallery, Düsseldorf. | Photo: Kai Berendt and Martin Müller
You are inspired by lots of objects from Universe. For you, what is the most artistic element of the Universe?
Sculptor Galaxy (NGC 253), a neighbour galaxy of the Milky Way. It is also home of a supermassive black hole.
Besides sculpture and installation, would you like to explore any other artistic technique? I think you make some collages too, don't you?
I have mainly worked with installations, sculptures and objects. Further I have produced about 20 videos, that have been shown as parts of big installations. All my installations and three-dimensional works derive from drawings, notes and sketches. For me, somehow the sketches are the essential part of my work, because they are the start of everything. But beyond that I am also trying new techniques. At the moment I am trying to develop sculptures including living plants and animals.
While you might seem so serious representing complicated physical concepts, sometimes you include irony in your pieces. Is that a way to scape from the intensity of the cosmos?
Irony means to say the opposite or something radically different from what is actually the case. That is not what I am doing. I prefer humor. And yes, there is a lot of humor in my work. As we look at the Universe, at scientific theories, our own lives, our society, we find that the world is full of contradictions. Art can resolve all these contradictions through humor and poetry. Maybe not forever, but for a moment.
Currently we can see your work in Spain: Magellanic Cloud is showing in Valencia. Do you have another exhibition at the moment? What can you say about your future plans?
Another big installation currently is shown in Tokyo, at Mori Art Museum, as part of the exhibition The Universe and Art. For March 2017, an exhibition is scheduled at Galeria Heinrich Ehrhardt in Madrid. Further projects will be taking part 2017 in Singapore, Helsinki and others.
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Orbits of High Velocity Stars, 2014. Wood, steel, lamps. 1150 x 830 x 330. Courtesy Guido W. Baudach Gallery, Berlin. | Photo: Roman März
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Particle shower, 2012. Wood, steel, vase, glass bowl, infrared lamp, varnish. 180 x 40 x 160 cm. Private Collection. | Photo: Achim Kukulie
Eternity, 2010. Wood, mirror, glass, porcelaine, ink, varnish. 180 x 80 x 80 cm. Private Collection. Cathedral, 2009. Wood, aluminium, steel, light bulbs, jars, red wine, truffle, varnish. Courtesy Guido W. Baudach Gallery, Berlin and Sies+Höke Gallery, Düsseldorf. Installation view Die Theorie des Himmels 1- Die Milchstrasse, 2010. KIT-Kunst im Tunnel Dusseldorf. | Photo: Ivo Fabe
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Ray emitting object with metronome, 2016. Brass, wood, mountain crystal, metronome, fir tree top. 58 x 66 x 73 cm. Courtesy Sies und Höke Gallery, Dusseldorf. | Photo: Achim Kukulies
Cloud (Radar), 2015. Wood, aluminium, steel, measuring device, foam material, varnish. 136 x 126 x 48 cm. Courtesy Sies+Höke Gallery, Dusseldorf. | Photo: Achim Kukulies
Tree, 2015. Brass, copper, wood, varnish. 188 x 73 x 57 cm. Courtesy Guido W. Baudach Gallery, Berlin. | Photo: Roman März