Against the background of an art world whirling ever more rapidly around itself and propagating the absolutely newest trends in an almost weekly rhythm, only to praise tomorrow the grandness of something even newer, the slowness and tenacity that is inherent in Jörg Gelbke’s work seems strangely anachronistic. This may be due partly to the fact that, during his studies, the artist’s primary interest was in the traditional processes of casting technique, which still characterize the processes of creating his work to this day. Second, the temporality of the procedures that lead to the sculptural results plays a decisive role in constituting their meaning.
As George Didi-Hubermann elucidates in his book “Ähnlichkeit und Berührung” (“similarity and touching”), in recent art history, casting procedures bore the stigmata of two supposed defects. First, casting produces nothing original, since it is based essentially on the blind impression made by something that already exists; and second, the forms created by casting can be reproduced in identical form as desired, thereby further eroding the idea of the original. In his work, Jörg Gelbke made both of the tradition’s supposed defects productive in a surprising way. For the work “Ohne Titel” (untitled, 2014), for example, he made three different castings of a banal object – a found iron bar cut to the length of 187 cm. The clay impression is dried in the air, thereby developing cracks; the gelatin casting is buried underground for a long period and exposed to partial decay, while a bronze casting of the iron bar was exposed to extreme heat after it was made, which distorted its shape uncontrollably. As a result of this process – the clay mold and the gelatin mold were both also cast in bronze – we see three bronze bars all based on the same object, but exhibiting different characteristics and leaning laconically against the walls of the exhibition room.
A similar procedure is the origin of three bronze castings of a found tree root welded together in a single object of strange-seeming monumentality (“Uprooted Object”, 2015); three polyurethane foam molds were buried in the earth and used to cast iron. Gelbke manages to inscribe his sculptures with a temporality – or perhaps we should say duration – and to put the process of their becoming in focus; he thereby formulates something like an indissoluble contradiction within the medium itself, which, after all, is actually based on immediacy and touching.
The work “Ohne Titel” (untitled, 2012) clearly reveals that it is possible to acknowledge the poetic-romantic dimension of Jörg Gelbke’s artistic project, despite all its conceptual precision. Here, the interior of a homemade oven was cast in wax after smelting 15 kg of copper, creating a material-oriented monument to a process. In his art, Gelbke repeatedly seeks what can’t really be had, namely to give lasting form to what is incomplete and to becoming. That the results of this unavoidable failure are able to move us both intellectually and emotionally testifies to their sculptural quality.