Apples, feathers, glasses, branches, a brick, jugs, rulers, here a dandelion, there a knife - arranged into assemblages and compositions. At first glance, Mirko Schallenberg's works seem quite familiar: still lifes, after all. But if you dare to take a second look, you are filled with uncertainty. And it is enigmatically beautiful!
"I want you to be able to trust your eyes, to trust your senses, even your own subconscious." When a painter says something like that, it's an invitation to first look at his works with an open mind - and not to immediately search for layers of meaning or quotations.
Schallenberg's paintings gather found objects. Everyday things. In other words, objects that one has oneself in the household, or that are at least within reach. Glasses, wooden plates, jugs, apples, birch branches. The objects appear almost remote in the interpretive horizon of our modern world of digital artifacts. Painted in rich detail and with an application of paint that not only creates coloration, but also models the surface of the canvas sometimes rough or even sublime. Art can hardly be more representational.
Like a kind of curator, the artist collects things and keeps them in a magazine in his studio, which sprawls across a Berlin industrial floor. Where industrial production pulsated, combinations of simple things now become pictures. Piece by piece, Schallenberg arranges the objects, tries out constellations, discards and decides.
How the rooms come into being
The objects, the things are there. What Schallenberg then creates are first of all spaces. A cardboard box, a wooden crate, two mirrors, a whitewashed wall. Backdrops? Not quite, because the rooms themselves enter into action with the things. There is a color palette leaning against a wall or catching the shadow cast by a moth. Then comes the next creative moment: Schallenberg does not simply stack the objects - but brings them into relationship with each other. Wooden plates balance on clay jugs, which in turn become the location for glasses or further jugs, a branch rests against a book, or a string lowers an apple into the half of the picture.
Not least because of the fruit involved, a genre classification imposes itself on the viewer: still life. In other words, paintings that radiate unambiguity and are a guarantee of reliability and stability. The objects literally rest - and yet bear witness to transience. Every blossom, no matter how beautiful, will wither, every apple rots with time. As absurd as it sounds, where something is still, its transience becomes all the more apparent.
Breaking out of the genre
Unsuspicious. Quiet. Perhaps it is these attributions that have caused still life to be almost forgotten by contemporary art in recent decades. To put it bluntly, one could say: the still life has gone quiet. But Mirko Schallenberg's still lifes do not make it that easy. They simply do not adhere to genre-appropriate agreements, they simply do not fulfill the hasty still life expectation. For on closer inspection they reveal cracks, tend to instability. There's a clay jug about to crack. The strawberry is no longer lying on the wooden board, but is already half falling. The candle wick still gives off some smoke, but is already almost cold.
What at first glance seems so dormant and solidly attached, is to be seen quite differently. The works do not show any fixed situations at all, which are exposed to the ravages of time. They show nothing but moments and situations that can hardly be thought more transient: From one moment to the next they could be different. A log tilts and causes a glass to fall. The structure? Completely overturned. From one moment to the next. It's a game of stability and instability, of the uncertain and the familiar.
No false promises
But this uncertainty is not enough. For Schallenberg intensifies his play with time and the moment even further. Branches bear buds, juicy green, dry leaves and bare branches at the same time - only a few centimeters away, all seasons take place on the canvas. Emergence, becoming, passing away: simultaneously. But as absurd as it sounds, such a synchronous diachrony does not unsettle, but rather ensures humility: there is, after all, a course of events that cannot be stopped. All life will die one day.
For me, the appeal of Mirko Schallenberg's art is that it is highly realistic. Not only artistically with their representationalism and masterful execution; but also conceptually: because they take the vanitas motif, i.e. the reminder of the transience of existence, to extremes. Moments mingle with circles of life. Schallenberg's still lifes need no false bottoms or complicated contortions. They settle on clarity: not only life is transient. Every moment is.