Artist interview – Paula Maß, Judit Rönsch and Louise Schmidt

A Studio Visit with Dana Meyer – A Conversation with Paula Maß, Judit Rönsch, and Louise Schmidt on March 3, 2020

On a rainy March day, sculptor Dana Meyer welcomes us to her studio located in the western part of Leipzig’s city center. A long corridor on the ground floor of the charming old building leads us to one of her main workplaces: the courtyard. Steel plates and bars are leaning and lying as scattered collections against the surrounding masonry. In the middle of the yard, attached to a makeshift steel frame, an unfinished work awaits us in the form of a crocodile head. Its mouth, equipped with menacing sharp teeth, is wide open; pre-cut metal pieces lie ready for its completion. Two horse sculptures placed nearby are partially secured with tension straps, always ready for transportation. Raindrops flow down their steel bodies, causing their reddish-brown color to shine.


Ms. Meyer, why do you primarily work with the material steel, and how does this material behave in the creative process of your works?

I like that steel is so resistant, it opposes you and at the same time cooperates. Since the material cannot be bent arbitrarily, it to some extent determines the shape of the sculpture. For example, it is not possible for me to endlessly bend a steel-formed spine – there are limits that I must respond to. Another reason is that I have often been told that you can’t get as much out of steel as you can from stone or wood, and that it would never have the same liveliness. That was an additional incentive for me.

Do you therefore see steel as something living?

Absolutely. The material is very ancient and something that has accompanied humanity for a long time, influencing its development. I perceive steel as organic and alive; through natural weathering, the material continues to evolve and forms a unique coloring.

Your working process – the freehand forging of your steel works – is unusual. Can you briefly explain your technique?

I cut individual parts from – mostly found – steel plates, create forged parts, and then assemble them like a puzzle. The beauty of metal is that I can add something, but also cut it off at any time. This is different from sculptors who work with stone or wood – once they have removed something, it’s gone. I, on the other hand, am someone who likes to build up, and it would be difficult for me to have the finished sculpture already in mind from the beginning. The process is much more intuitive. The work itself emerges from the process, rather than being based on an existing model. I work piece by piece and also decide piece by piece on the directions of movement and the extent the work should take. Sometimes I stop at the head of a figure, or I decide to turn it into a huge group of sculptures.


Together, we enter the second part of Dana Meyer’s studio, located inside the old building, which she shares with a fellow artist. Carefully arranged, her tools hang on the walls of the small room – files and clamps, saws and pliers, hammers and grinding devices – everything is in its place. On a work table, a collection of glass jars stands, containing – although they are artistic objects of a fantastical nature – deceptively real-looking insects crawling around.

How does the process of creating your large-scale sculptures differ from making your small works, the insects of the “Southpacificexpedition”?

Technically, the large sculptures are forged, which means the metal is heated. With the insects, on the other hand, it’s a cold deformation process. The metal can be bent and shaped relatively easily and doesn’t need to be heated first; it is much more delicate. I can play much more with the materials – for example, by adding glass jars – and therefore also with the materiality by applying different colors. I can’t imagine large colored steel sculptures, but it works well on a smaller scale.

How did you come up with the idea to create a fictional journey for your “Southpacificexpedition”? What inspired you?

It’s a kind of Humboldtian thought: the human need to collect, classify, and understand things. The „Southpacificexpedition“ represents people’s desire to cross the boundaries of the world. I also find the wet collections in natural history museums interesting. At the same time, you are fascinated, but there is also disgust. Because the glass simultaneously protects you from its contents, you can look at it safely. In the „Southpacificexpedition“, I become a person who makes this journey and is captivated by the fascination of insects and the pleasure of collecting. The focus is on the thirst for exploration and knowledge, the endeavor to categorize and present.


We drive to a small village about half an hour from Leipzig. Silence greets us as we reach the spacious area where Dana Meyer stores or stores her completed artworks. On a lawn, half a dozen of her large-scale works are standing. The sight resembles an enchanted sculpture garden in the middle of nowhere. Among them is the “Caretaker”: attentively, it seems, the steel watchdog assesses its surroundings, as if it were intent on protecting its territory. “Human Carries Horse“ rises above an expansive yew tree, and “Lying Horse“ completes the surreal-looking ensemble.

Animal sculpture is the focus of your oeuvre. Were there specific impulses that inspired you to dedicate yourself to animals as the primary subject of representation?

First and foremost, I use animals as metaphors or allegories. I feel that animal characteristics can be highlighted more intensely, compared to when, for example, I want to depict a human in a fearful flight. However, there is a formal challenge in the different proportions of animals, while the proportions of humans are generally always the same. With animals, I can focus on specific features, such as the mouth or upper body, and allow myself to leave a paw or hoof as a mere suggestion.


Smiling, Dana Meyer tells us that in the spring months in her green idyll, it has happened that birds have nested inside the sculptures. After thoroughly examining the outdoor works, we enter her second storage location: a former dance hall. The floor of the elongated brick building is covered with creaking herringbone parquet. Large steel-made animal hides lean against the wall, where fragments of fresco paintings from earlier times are present. In the middle, the artist’s sculptural pigs frolic cheerfully. Dana Meyer gently unwraps a “deer head” wrapped in bubble wrap for us.

You mentioned that you don’t create sketches. How exactly can we envision the initial creative process of a work? Is the animal already there in your mind, or perhaps just the idea of softness, as with your „pigs“?

Well, that varies a lot. If we stick with the softness of the pigs, the desire to give the steel something soft was already there, and I wanted to reduce the muscles compared to other animal sculptures, like the horses. I wanted to contrast these cold and steel bodies. The next step, testing the steel, involved creating the delicacy and filigree of my group of antelope1 sculptures, where I could also take away their strength, as I did with the „pigs“.

Your animal sculptures also appear in combination with human figures. This touches on processes of domestication or relations of dominance. How does the theme of power manifest concretely in your works?

When you generally engage with the things you encounter in life, it always comes down to the same point: the problems that arise are due to the power needs of other people. They are, so to speak, insignias of the power of others. And then there are various dialectics of power, as well as different relationships between perpetrator and victim. Aspects of power are present in my work – for example, in “Human Carries Horse“ This concerns human power over the horse, which is bridled and trained. Such a horse is large, strong, and fast – controlling it is an assertion of power. The reins, as seen in my sculpture “Blinkers“, are also used as a term of power – someone is “putting reins on them” or “being held in check.” The claim to power is also expressed in hunting, through pursuit or trophy collections. The act of killing is also an act of exerting power.


After finishing our tour, we decide to drive to a nearby café to clarify the remaining open questions. Holding a warming cup of coffee or tea in our hands, we close the gap to the beginnings of art in Dana Meyer’s oeuvre and ask her about her earliest works.

Did you start working on animal representations during your studies, and did you have artistic role models for that?

Not directly, but the desire to use them as metaphors for overarching themes was already present during my studies. Perhaps it was also a developmental path, as I did many nature studies there. I think the first thing I made was a horse sculpture. I used to pass by paddocks often, maybe that left an unconscious impression on me.

Before studying sculpture at the Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design in Halle an der Saale, you began studying history, literature, and cultural studies at TU Chemnitz. How did this change from the humanities to the artistic field come about?

After graduating from high school, I felt somewhat disoriented, which was accompanied by the general expectation that after finishing school, you had to start studying. During my studies, there was an increasing tendency for me to go into craftsmanship; I came to my art studies rather accidentally. I believe to some extent, my studies in the humanities have remained, as during the creative process of my works, I always try to gather information and absorb existing knowledge. I have the need to read more, collect background knowledge, or engage with anecdotes from this area. In retrospect, I am quite happy with my experiences in the humanities because maybe pure craftsmanship would have been too little for me again. The beauty of art is that you can combine both artistic practice and theoretical aspirations.

1„The Abyss“ is a group of sculptures made of steel, created in 2016, in which a total of five antelopes are depicted on the run. Their posture corresponds to an abruptly slowed movement, which could be evoked by the titular ravine that suddenly appears in front of them.

About the author

Paula Maß

curator Frommanscher Skulpturengarten Jena, projekt Prof, Dr. Verena Krieger chair for art history Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena (Germany)

Editor Puplikation „Animal Crossing“ of Jenaer Kunstvereins

Judit Rönsch

curator Frommanscher Skulpturengarten Jena, projekt Prof, Dr. Verena Krieger chair for art history Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena (Germany)

props manager Thüringer Landes Theater

Louise Schmidt

curator Frommanscher Skulpturengarten Jena, projekt Prof, Dr. Verena Krieger chair for art history Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena (Germany)

Editor Puplikation „Animal Crossing“ of Jenaer Kunstverein

“Animal Crossing” Puplikation Jenaer Kunstverein (Pdf)