When we look at ancient sculptures, we expect them to talk to us, but the fact is that they do not even see us, they “ignore us”. The “botany of death” cultivated by the West has turned these “mutilated traces” of bygone civilisations into lifeless museum pieces or “art of the flower-pot”. These are words taken from the beautiful argument put forward by Chris Marker in Les statues meurent aussi, which takes us back to the times when these “severe dolls” that we call idols were the “guarantee of accord between man and the world”.
The pieces by Stefan Rinck bear witness to the breaking of this pact between life and death. They are aware of the silence of the stone, of the profanation of their enigma over the centuries, of their subservience to Manichaean idolatry and demagoguery.
As an act of humility, though one imbued with a delicate irony, Rinck demonstrates, for example, the impossibility of interrogating an African mask: his subconscious mixes it with the vision of a GDR Stasi agent and a hipster from the Neukölln neighbourhood in Berlin (Observer).
He uses sandstone, the same type of stone employed in medieval capitals and gargoyles to reassign diabolical characters to the rich bestiary of Graeco-Roman and Byzantine times. He restores the signic ambivalence to these sly monsters (simians, dragons and the like).
He plays with ambiguity and misunderstanding by laying down a number of different strata of interpretation in a single icon: pointed hats are a reference to the Inquisition’s hood but also to the headdress worn by fairies; ruffs elevate figures to the nobility, but other attributes betray their chimerical status (masks, jester’s hats, etc.). Fable and history are inextricably intertwined.
His syncretic sculptures are the result of casting nets out over the history of forms and meanings, eventually joining Mayan pyramids with Brancusi’s Endless Column. Both poetics of ascension, based on the belief that we transcend beyond death, are mocked by Pinocchios and other charlatans whose busts crown these perfect geometries.
Skulls are common in Rink’s iconographic repertoire. However, far from representing “the roots of the living” (like the ancestors sculpted by Africans or revered by Mayans), they remind us of tragic fates (Orpheus and Eurydice, despotic rulers, etc.) or laughable beings such as Priapus after death, a skeleton with an erect phallus whose regenerative symbolism is cancelled out by its own fleshless condition.
The blind troglodyte led by a minotaur’s mask sums up this struggle between instinctive violence and the spiritual aspirations that have always guided human beings, who are incapable of finding a way out of the labyrinth that they themselves have constructed using the bricks and mortar of superstition, deception and an urge to dominate.