File Note 100: Florian Roithmayr - Camden Art Centre

Essay by Pavel S. Pyś



Florian Roithmayr: with, and, or, without Images References Quote Biography Credits

Florian Roithmayr: with, and, or, without

Solidity and durability are misleading properties, as sculpture, just as anything in the world, is subject to both wilful and unintentional change. Even the most precious of antiquities are defenceless against the vicissitudes of human history. In 2011, the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, and only in the past months, ISIS hacked to bits countless examples of statuary in Syria. An act of care can also alter the state of a sculpture, as in the case of Martin Kippenberger’s Wenn’s anfängt durch die Decke zu tropfen (1987). While on view at the Ostwall Museum in Dortmund, a cleaner mistook a paint-splattered part of the installation as unintentional and scrubbed it clean, forever altering the work. One person’s idea of repair is to another an act of violence. Earlier this year, the artist Cady Noland disowned her Log Cabin Blank With Screw Eyes and Cafe Door (1990) claiming the work as irreversibly transformed, when its rotting wooden parts were replaced without her knowledge or consent. Nature, the most pervasive of forces, also shapes, or rather misshapes, sculpture, with earthworks such as Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) serving as a prime example. A monumental winding coil that jets out into the waters of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, Spiral Jetty is gradually becoming discoloured and weathered, making the issue of its preservation paramount – whether to conserve the work, or let it gradually disintegrate.

Although made mostly of industrial materials, such as concrete, rubber and steel, Florian Roithmayr’s sculptures allude less to technology or machinery, and more to the natural world. Scattered across the gallery floor, the ridged, globe-shaped spheres of Adoration recall the form of fruit and vegetables, while Strike resembles coral and fossilised natural specimens (both 2015). Sized to the human frame, many of the elements of Roithmayr’s sculptures approximate human forms – a shoulder, knee or forearm. Placed within the body’s reach, and of highly tactile textures, their surfaces entice touch. While some are singular objects, others are made of several elements slung together, suspended from a wall, leaning or resting atop one another. Rarely fixed in place, one piece holds the next, with the pressure between the parts forming a whole. Through balance and tension, Roithmayr’s materials enter into dependencies, relationships and coincidences, acutely suggested by the exhibition’s very title – with, and, or, without.

While Roithmayr’s sculptures appear immovable and static, each is part of on-going processes and economies. The distinction between what counts as a useful and useless piece of material is slippery, as throughout his work Roithmayr recycles objects. Conscious of wastefulness, he recombines existing components, with his sculptures frequently evading fixed form. Assembled directly in response to the nature of Camden Art Centre’s gallery space, the wall-mounted ‘I did not bring myself to do this – I was brought’ is a discreet new work, yet each of its parts has its own history within the artist’s past production. The tightly wedged bits of cardboard, plastic, felt and carpet are off-cuts, left overs or parts of existing works, recombined here to form a new sculpture. For Roithmayr, even titles are as malleable as the many materials he reuses. While at Camden Arts Centre, the concrete spheres are titled Adoration, they have previously been shown as Crustacean, bringing to mind crabs or lobsters scurrying across the gallery floor. By alluding to a sea creature that habitually exchanges one hard shell for another, this title points towards Roithmayr’s use of sculpture as a vehicle for exploring movement and change. While the spheres of Adoration each rest in their place, they do so only temporarily. Moved daily, their number and placement within the gallery are decided entirely by the invigilation team who handle them. In forgoing control, Roithmayr separates the work from his intentions, conscious that to make and exhibit sculpture is to necessarily place it within the world, subject to events and decisions beyond the artist’s will. Each encounter with Roithmayr’s exhibition will inevitably vary as one day’s arrangement will differ from the next, emphasising that experience is highly personal and contingent upon time and place.

Roithmayr has continued to rearrange and accumulate works on public view, positing on the exhibition as a growing process. For Matter of Engagement at Site Gallery in Sheffield (2014), Roithmayr worked as an apprentice to a ‘concrete beautician’, a technician who specialises in repairing cracking building façades. Over the course of two weeks, the master craftsman and Roithmayr worked on what appeared like a substantial layer of seamless concrete on an existing wall. Audiences were free to view the exhibition throughout the time of construction, and no photographs of the completed wall were taken. Each person’s experience of Matter of Engagement differed, depending on the stage at which they visited the exhibition. Some might have mistaken the space for a dust-filled building site, while others might have been puzzled by a seemingly emptied contemporary art gallery with nothing on view. In purposefully refraining from photographic documentation, Roithmayr lodged the future legacy of Matter of Engagement within hearsay and personal recollection, destined to be corrupted and fictionalised by the fallacy of human memory.

Just as exhibition making offers Roithmayr the possibility of gradually renouncing control, so too does the very act of making a sculpture. While many of his works are prescribed by what already exists in the studio, others allow the innate properties of materials to dictate their ultimate form. The plinth-based, window sized concrete Fermata (2015) and Strike play upon the relationship between the amorphous and distinctly shaped, the hollow and full. The result of chance, these sculptures are made by combining expanding foam and concrete within wooden cases. As the two struggle against one another, they eventually settle and cure, giving way to a form beyond Roithmayr’s planning. Unseen by the artist until the very moment of installing the exhibition, these sculptures are taken from their moulds directly in the gallery space and presented however settled, without any additional adjustments or alterations. While hinging upon Roithmayr’s acceptance of their final form, shape and appearance, Fermata and Strike are already part of events and forces that escape the artist’s control. To see Roithmayr’s work is to be reminded that sculpture, although solid and weighty, is never fixed nor finished, but always part of on-going changes and movements, some serendipitous and others deliberate.


Cozens, Alexander. A new method of assisting the invention in  drawing original compositions of landscape. (London: A. and C. Black, 1952)

Cristaux liquids. Dir. Jean Painlevé. France, 1978

Cristo velato (1753). Giuseppe Sanmartino, marble, 50 × 80 × 180 cm Capella Sansevero, Napoli

Festa dei Serpari, Cocullo, Abruzzo, Italy

La Terra Del Rimorso. Dir. Ernesto di Martino and Gianfranco Mingozzi. Italy, 1958 and 1982

Les Mains Négatives. Dir. Marguerite Duras. France, 1972

Papet, Edouard, ed. A Fleur de Peau. Exhibition Catalogue. (Paris: Musée d’Orsay, October 2002)

Pasolini, Pier Paolo. Lutherian Letters. Trans. Stuart Hood. (Manchester: Carcanet Press Ltd., 1987)

Pingeot, Anne, ed. Le Corps en Morceaux. Exhibition Catalogue. (Paris: Musée d’Orsay, 1990)

Portrait of Cardinal Filippo Archinto (1558) Titian. Oil on canvas, 114.8 × 88.7cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadaelphia

Rilke, Rainer Maria. The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. Trans. Stephen Mitchell. (London: Random House, 1983)

Simondon, Gilbert. Du Mode D’Existence Des Objets Techniques. (Paris: Aubier – Montaigne, 1958)

Walser, Robert. Jakob von Gunten. Trans. Christopher Middleton. (Dallas: University of Texas Press, 1975)

 "Wie Du dich ausstirbst in mir: noch im letzten zerschlissenen Koten Atems steckst du mit einem Splitter Leben."

 "How you die yourself out in me: down to the last worn-out knot of breath you’re there, with a splinter of life." Paul Celan, lightduress


Florian Roithmayr (born 1976, Germany; lives and works in London). Recent solo exhibitions include: Service, MOTINTERNATIONAL, Brussels (2015); Matter of Engagement, Site Gallery, Sheffield (2014); Treignac Project, France; BURG with Alexander Heim, Laure Genillard Gallery, London; Assault, THE SCHTIP, Sheffield(all 2013). Selected group shows include:Annals of the Twenty-Ninth Century and The Influence of Furniture on Love, Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridgeshire (both 2014); The Y, Rowing Projects, London (2013); £5.34, Carl Freedman, London (2013); Fifteen, S1 Artspace, Sheffield (2011); Bold Tendencies IV, Hannah Barry Gallery, London (2010). He was included in New Contemporaries (2006) and has undertaken numerous residencies including British School in Rome, International Archaeological Project Sudan, and Helsinki International Artists Programme (HIAP). He is represented by MOTINTERNATIONAL, London and Galerie Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt.


Pavel S. Pyś is Curator of Visual Arts at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

With thanks to: Reading University, Department of Art; The Slade School of Fine Art; and Wysing Arts Centre for their support.