David Berman once wrote about a day behaving as it should– as a place for a large number of things to gather and interact. “Not even a place, but an occasion.”
It is on such a rightful occasion, a sweltering late August morning, that I speak with Mexican-German contemporary artist Stefan Brüggemann. We gather at the DTLA outpost of Hauser & Wirth, where Brüggemann and a small team are in the midst of installing his first solo exhibition in Los Angeles. “White Noise” is still in a deliciously perilous state of becoming. Spray-painted canvases, slabs of marble etched with poetry, a golden door, all awaiting mount, form lean-tos against white and red gallery walls. Fine layers of dust cling to toolboxes scattered across the floor. Brüggemann sidesteps a man slicing through red carpet with a mechanical saw and touches his work with a broad, open palm. Everything about today: the suffocating heat, the cool bedlam of a gallery mid-installation, is behaving as it should, as an occasion of interaction.
As we walk through the space, Brüggemann gestures to one of the many lean-tos, a great canvas with print slathered with spray paint. “Do you like how it feels hanging? Should I hang it? I think I like it on the ground like this.” Perhaps the works aren’t meant to be hung. There’s something about this particular installation, one dedicated to the gunky chaos encouraged by mass misinformation and the hubris of modern consciousness, that seems to luxuriate in the glory of process as opposed to the finality of product. Such is the nature of Brüggemann’s work: the physical manifestations of his art seem to not be ends in themselves, but rather occasions of conversation. What else could be a more appropriate way to immerse oneself in Brüggemann’s work, than being part of that day, that occasion of installation?
Brüggemann, notorious for revisiting his multimedia projects over and over again as his subjects update themselves, imbues his work with a sense of immediacy. One such piece–“Headlines and Last Lines” – is perched by the entrance, drawing from the headlines from the last week of August. “I just did this yesterday,” Brüggemann tells me. “Outside the gallery space. About the writer’s strikes. Specifically for Los Angeles, specifically about the crises of the writers.” He locates the word pen on the canvas. “We’re losing the pen,” he muses, “which reminded me of the Wolf of Wall Street’s notorious ‘Sell me this pen’ line.”
“White Noise” is largely concerned with the saturation of misinformation in the modern era. The exhibition features a number of paintings, installation, and neon works that display Brüggemann’s long-standing exploration of intertextuality as a vehicle of both communication and chaos– not only does the artist use a variety of different mediums to explore his misinformation motif, he also uses his own previous art as an ideological jumping-off point “TRUTH/LIE,” for example, was first displayed on the last presidential election day in the US (November 3rd, 2020), on top of Tunnel House in Tijuana at the precise border between the US and Mexico. It now hangs suspended in a gallery room surrounded by another political series–“The Final Mess,” a series of spray-painted words over a gold leaf background that was completed in the eight days leading up to the 2021 inauguration. The aura of the room itself– a room filled with the distillations of political chaos that occurred years ago, injects the already poignant gallery with that weighty dimension of time.
Brüggemann was in London while making The Final Mess, and cites his arresting interest in the globalization of the American news cycle as a reason why the series still feels prescient: “Today, you are at liberty to listen to any music you want– watch any news you want– anywhere in the world. I didn’t know we were going to have an insurrection in America, but I could feel something terrible through the screen. This is part of globalization– I was watching CNN from London and feeling like the atomic bomb could go off. The boundaries of the globe are fading away.”
As Brüggemann draws inspiration from waning geopolitical boundaries and waxing news cycles, so too does he play with the boundaries of medium itself. “Hi-Speed Contrast” flirts with the digital and analog capacities of imagery. For the series, a number of digital prints are derived from pictures he’s taken of his other works, after which he uploads the photos to his computer and snaps a picture of the computer screen. The layered photography process results in an absurd and ostensibly digital-feeling tumescent grid, pixels bloated large as a fingernail, on top of which Brüggemann has printed more words, displayed like haikus: “SELF DENIAL EXPRESS/IVE” and “INSTAN/T FREE.” Brüggemann points to a large pixel on the canvas. “I think speed in our generation is an element that is very present. I wanted to create words that communicate a lot of information in a very short period of time. Like how you take a picture, right? It has all the gigabytes you want, and shows these pixels of the computer like units of time. It’s like sending an email to everyone that views it.” Information is often subsumed by the ways in which it’s conveyed, he tells me.
We walk on.
Brüggemann has oft brought up the phrase that art is a “generator of doubt.” As I talk to an artist that navigates the fraught frontiers of media misinformation, it seems appropriate to address the idea that right-wing conspiracy theories espouse a similar rhetoric–that of “punkness,” of right-wing “alternative facts” offering a way out of “the institution”. He disagrees. “I’m not giving facts. I’m an artist. I’m not breaking the system as a punk, I’m using readily available materials to make things resonate with people in a different way. We're losing the freedom of the unconscious, and this art is about personal liberation. I’m a part of everything I make. My art is very personal. It's my own point of view. It's serving the universe, making it my universe.” He does not purport to have a journalist’s point of view–the journalists are his source material. “Where you have a doubt,” he says as he brushes his palm across the gold leaf details of “White Riot,” “you have freedom.”
We round out our tour of the gallery. “I don’t know how I’m going to put things,” he mutters, looking vexed. “I wish this was done already. I like to work on things and have them finished and clean before I start a new project. I don’t like mess. That’s my process,” he tells me. Perhaps so, but one can’t help but feel that Brüggemann’s art, embroiled in the messy intricacies of linguistics and geopolitics, constantly revisited over years and years as the motifs take different forms and visual iterations, is never absolved of its state of constant mess. The process is the occasion. The occasion is a day. The day is always happening.
Stefan Brüggemann: White Noise is on view now at Hauser & Wirth through January 14, 2024.