Joerg Staeger’s piece at Currents New Media is a psychedelic montage of images based on a vision of stretching and tearing fabric, with accompanying sounds and music that include a lovely rendition of “Hush, Little Baby.” The new media installation titled oK.v005_becoming is the most recent in the German artist’s series with the “oK” prefix. They refer to the German term meaning “body without organs,” Organloser Körper, from the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Staeger, who lives in Munich and Arroyo Hondo north of Taos, has written that this concept is “best understood as the way of conceptually emphasizing dimensions of an embodiment beyond organization, or in other words, of looking at how different kinds of bodies become organized, rather than thinking of them as static, already-organized wholes.”
“It is such a difficult concept to talk about,” he told Pasatiempo, “but it always keeps my mind in a certain tension or attention. One important thing about my work is you don’t have to know about that to experience the piece.” During his study of the concept, he created a series of works based on the animated drawings of Henri Michaux, pictures of plants, human brain scans, and other images. “I was interested in tension and the idea of a tearing apart, which is actually kind of a violence,” Staeger said from Arroyo Hondo. “And I was surprised that when I put them over each other at certain tempos, it wasn’t looking very violent any more. But I got the idea that this is happening all the time, actually, in your body, in your mind. There is always the act of tearing apart and revealing something underneath: If you want to get to something, you have to tear something apart to look deeper. Those thoughts were coming up while I was playing with those images.”
His Currents work consists of two large suspended pieces of stretched fabric, on which images are projected and then merge on the ground. Each screen is also activated with various types of sound. “The process was that I was playing around with the images, and I was at a composer friend’s home, and she had a small child, and they were playing with a musical box with a lullaby. I thought of the idea that you are in total chaos, like a child, ongoing and ongoing and ongoing, and to keep the chaos out, you go into a kind of trance with those musical boxes. You just listen to them over and over again, and that melody keeps the chaos out.” The aural element of oK.v005_becoming includes his recordings of that music box and vocalist Petra Richter singing “Hush, Little Baby,” as well as sound elements composed by Helga Pogatschar.
“I recorded the musical box and the singer and then I started to deconstruct or to make small samples out of the sound. And later on I connected those sound elements and my images and synchronized them and looked at how they worked. The whole thing is a kind of a composition.”
The artist grew up in Munich and Berlin. He said he was “a rock-and-roll hippie” when he was a teenager. “In Germany there was a lot of stuff going on with the left wing, the terrorism through the RAF [Red Army Faction] Baader-Meinhof situation. But we were so young, actually. I was not politically very much aware. Now we are in difficult times. The next piece I’m working on is probably getting more political in a way. You have to get involved somehow. I will work with real people collecting a lot of statements from interviews, things that pop up to me. I will have a huge collection of statements. I’m creating a pool of communication, creating a database of what people are saying. It’s quite a time-consuming work, and I have a concept of how to go on.”
He first visited Arroyo Hondo in 1991. He described his life on the mesa as sometimes lonely. “Here I digest a lot of things, the open spaces. It can be also quite hard. Here you’re thrown back on yourself. The distractions you have to make yourself.” He presented this most recent oK piece last September at the outdoor Paseo art festival in Taos. He expects the presentation at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe, amid dozens of other activated artworks, to be quite different from that one, which “was in an alley, and I was quite solitary.”
He has been to El Museo before. His piece Milieu — All I Have Is My Distance was part of the 2014 Currents festival. “Frank and Mariannah are heroes, what they’re doing,” he said about curators Frank Ragano and Mariannah Amster. “It’s unbelievable. I’ve been to many festivals, but the spirit they bring to it is very unique.” Staeger said his Milieu work also involved video projections, but it invited people to walk among the piece’s five screens and influence the images with their bodies. oK.v005_becoming has an opposite motive. “The projectors are very common short-throw business projectors, and I hang them very high up so it makes ovals on top of each other. Because the angle is so steep, people walking through the installation won’t cast any shadow, which I didn’t want, especially because the whole thing is translucent. You see one screen, and you see the next screen right through it.”