Otmar Sattel

Grass Glas Sound Machine II 2010

Otmar Sattel’s energy sculptures are once again topical. But perhaps they always were and only the questions about the relationship of society and nature are now posed anew, after the sculptures’ creation in the late 1980s. Faced with climate change, industrialized countries are now once again looking for ingenious alternatives to oil and nuclear energy.

The return of technological solutions is like a déja` vu. Which lobby had successfully pushed for its interests? And why had society not done any rethinking? Is it so fixated on technological progress? All the technological solutions make clear that a reorientation with respect to lifestyle is required. In this context, Sattel’s artworks gain a prophetic quality.

In order to make natural processes visible, Sattel invented a machine, Gras-Glas-Ton-Maschine II: a large glass cube — on loan from minimal art — filled with hay serving as insulating material for a further natural process of indeterminate length. The hay keeps a constant temperature for a system of boilers and pipes in which a mixture of sugar, yeast and nutrient salts ferments. Sulfur, CO2, and other gases rise from this and cause the air column to swing and resonate, which produces an uncanny sound. In this way, Sattel makes an organic process audible and lends it an acoustic presence; nature is no longer a silent closed system.

Sattel uses the term machine ironically, because his machine works autonomously, »nature runs around the clock«. On the one hand, he alludes here to the technological paradigm of modern art history. On the other hand, he prepares nature as a machine so that it reflects the consciousness of a society whose self-conception is based on technological feasibility. Where technology appears as the only answer, other solutions are rarely considered. Therefore the relationship between society and nature is still present as a superordinate question. Like for example Buckminster Fuller, Sattel defines the observation of nature as a learning process, and it is a firm component of his artistic practice. Thus the artistic play with nature and its sophistication results in an allegory of a possible existence beyond technocracy.
Text: Vera Tollmann