Living steel – Ulrike Lade

Contemplations on material aesthetics Dana Meyerr

No work of art is absolute, even if it is created by the greatest and most skilled artist: no matter how much he may master the material in which he works, he cannot change its nature. Thus, he can only produce what he intends in a certain sense and under certain conditions, and the artist will always be the most excellent in his own way whose power of invention and imagination is directly linked to the material in which he is working1

Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s description of the relationship between artist and material from his work on the visual arts can be applied, 230 years after its creation, to the artistic creation of Dana Meyer, who creates her sculptures primarily from found sheets of steel. For the artist cannot alter the “nature” of this metal: the properties of the material itself, as well as her own body, set the boundaries for the methods of manipulation and the creative possibilities. However, it is precisely the resistance of the steel and the challenge of working with it that, according to Meyer, provide the joy of her creative process and the beauty of her artworks.1 For the construction of sculptures from steel, artistic perseverance, knowledge of the material, and a strong imagination are required to bring the figures to life before the inner eye.

The initial steps in the development process of the sculptures involve sketching individual parts onto the sheet metal and subsequently cutting them out using a cutting torch.2 Next, the metal pieces are hand-forged, shaped into the desired form through continuous hammering – heating the fragments facilitates the manipulation process. During the forging process and depending on the shaping of the individual parts, their future “destiny” as a body part or other element of a figure often only becomes apparent. Thus, Dana Meyer forges all individual parts of her figures freely, then assembles them into a work using the cutting torch. This working process allows the artist to add additional elements to the sculpture or remove others. This way, she can respond to conceptual changes in the overall construction throughout the creative process and adjust the dimensions and proportions of the emerging sculpture accordingly.

Several of these captivating works can now be seen in the Frommann Sculpture Garden: “The Caretaker” welcomes visitors upon entering the garden, “Man Carrying Horse” impresses with the represented strength, and the pigs exude cheerfulness and lightness. All of them blend pleasantly into the garden. The artist’s intended weathered patina gives the steel figures an impression of “naturalness”: their surfaces have few shiny and polished areas, instead, they are predominantly rough and “unrefined.” This gives Meyer’s sculptural beings a natural and lively appearance. With their rusty brown surfaces, they seemingly harmoniously integrate into the greenery of the garden.

At first glance, the figures appear self-contained and homogeneous. Only upon closer inspection do attentive observers notice that the sculptures are composed of individual fragments. Upon closer examination, one can discern the unique dynamism of the figures. The individual pieces create the interplay of animal musculature, conveying a sense of movement. Dana Meyer imparts a lightness to her sculptures, creating a pronounced contrast to the hard and heavy sheet steel. Viewers can see how the man in “Man Carrying Horse” goes down on one knee under the weight of the animal, only able to carry it with great effort. The curved legs, the lifted foot ready for the next step, and the individual steel pieces forming the legs like strands of muscle create the impression of forward motion. This dynamic treatment of the material lends a sense of lightness to the pigs, despite their robust bodies, as they play, frolic, and seemingly enjoy their lives. In contrast to the other sculptures displayed in the Frommann Garden, their surfaces have a sheen, which the artist achieved by applying oil to their rusty bodies. This is a small change with a significant impact, making them appear softer and more alluring.

Dana Meyer’s work with the hardness and rawness of steel results in animal sculptures that appear alive. She works with the resistance of the material, pushing it to its limits, and thus creates dynamic sculptures that appear naturally in motion. In this way, the artist, in the spirit of Goethe, combines her “power of invention and imagination […] with the material,” giving birth to metallic beings with a unique aesthetic: fragmented body parts with rough, weathered surfaces from once defiant sheet steel transform into frolicking pigs, a snarling watchdog, or a strong man carrying a horse.

1 GOETHE, Johann Wolfgang von: Material der bildenden Kunst (1788), in: LÖHNEYSEN, Wolfgang von (Ed.): Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Gesamtausgabe der Werke und Schriften in zweiundzwanzig Bänden, Bd. 16: Schriften zur Kunst, Stuttgart 1961, S. 665.

2 All statements of the artist mentioned in the text are based on personal conversations of the author with Dana Meyer on March 03, 2020.

3 An impression of the artist’s working method is provided by a report from MDR, which can be accessed online. C.f. MDR-Kultur – Nächste Generation. Dana Meyer: Die Stahlkünstlerin: (Last call off on 14. April 2020).

About the author

Ulrike Lade

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

student assistant chair for art history Friedrich-Schiller-Universität, Dr. Verena Krieger, Jena (Germany)

editor puplication des Jenaer Kunstverein

“Animal Crossing” Puplikation Jenaer Kunstverein (Pdf)