top of page

Daniel von Sturmer

Focus & Field


May 23rd, 2014 – September 9th 2014


Young Projects is pleased to present the work of Melbourne-based artist, Daniel von Sturmer.


Sponsored by Arts Victoria and the Australia Council for the Arts, the exhibition will the largest presentation of the artist’s work in the US to date and will include the debut of a new body of work called Camera Ready Actions (2014), as well as an overview of past work called Focus & Field. The show will be accompanied by a new catalog published by The Narrows, with an essay by Tara McDowell, former curator at SFMoMA and the CCA Wattis Institute.


Born in New Zealand and educated at RMIT (Melbourne) and the Sandberg Institute (Amsterdam), von Sturmer engages a wide range of mediums in his practice, including photography, installation, architecture, and video. Formally, these works often use Minimalism, Modernism, Abstraction and Still Life as key reference points—often with the most minimal of gestures and/or humor. In the process the artist manages to explore the nature of perception, the physical embodiment of time, and how context and framing help to shape meaning and experience.


Daniel von Sturmer was has exhibited at numerous national and international venues including the 52nd Venice Biennale, where he represented Australia in the Australian Pavilion; the Gothenburg Museum of Art, Sweden; the Hamburger Bahnhoff Museum, Berlin; the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne; and the Auckland Art Gallery, New Zealand.

His works are held in many significant public collections including the Gothenberg Museum of Art, Sweden; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; the Art Gallery of New South Wales; the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane; the National Gallery of Victoria; the Auckland Art Gallery and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, New Zealand.


Special thanks for the assistance of Nick Gabby, Fritz Zimmerman and Matt Johnson for their extraordinary help during installation




Works in the exhibition:


(All works recorded in RED RAW 4kHD (3840x2160) 25fps, with a master format of pro res 4444 1920x1080p 25fps)


Gallery 215 Annex

(across the hallway, 2 doors down on the left)


Camera Ready Actions (2014)

9 screen video installation. Custom-designed MDF and pine wood scenery flats, custom rubber power cables, LCD screens, video projectors.


Gallery 230 (Main Gallery Space)


Entryway (left from the outside)


The Cinema Complex (Sequence 1), 2010

2 mins 33 secs

Single channel HD video,16:9 colour/ silent

with custom made stainless steel screen


The Cinema Complex (Sequence 2), 2010

3 mins 47 secs

Single channel HD video,16:9 colour/ silent

with custom made aluminium and stainless steel screen

Entryway (right from the outside)


The Cinema Complex (Sequence 6), 2010

1 min 10 secs

Single channel HD video,16:9 colour/ silent

with custom made stainless steel screen


Main gallery (clockwise, left to right)


The Cinema Complex (Sequence 4), 2010

3 mins 17 secs

Single channel HD video,16:9 colour/ sound

with custom made stainless steel screen


The Cinema Complex (Sequence 7), 2010

2 mins 19 secs

Single channel HD video,16:9 black and white/ silent

with custom made aluminium and stainless steel screen


Mid area (right)


small world (pen drawing) 2012

1 min 44 secs 

Single channel HD video,16:9 colour/ silent


(Vertical LCD)


small world (portrait painting) 2012

8 mins 40 secs

Single channel HD video,16:9 colour/ silent (vertical orientation)


Mid area (left-passageway)


small world (chalk drawing) 2012

1 min 34 secs

Single channel HD video,16:9 colour/ silent


Small back room (to the far left of the gallery from the front)


Colour Bars, 2008

7 mins 

Single channel HD video,16:9 colour/ silent 


Back hallway (flatscreen in alcove)


Set Piece (Sequence 4), 2009

7 mins 6 secs

Single channel HD video,16:9 colour/ silent (vertical orientation)


Frosted Screen on Wall


Set Piece (Sequence 1) 2010

Single channel, SD video, 16:9, colour, Frosted Screen mounted on a wall, digital projector, mono sound


Large back room (to the far right from the front)


Daniel von Sturmer, After Images, 2013

Archival inkjet prints on rag, unique prints

(see room-sheet)




Comments about Daniel von Sturmer

Excerpted from Notes from the Field a new catalog published by the Narrows on the occasion of “Focus & Field” at Young Projects

By Tara McDowell


…There are multiple interpretive frames we might adopt to parse from Daniel von Sturmer’s small world (chalk drawing), a video of the artist’s hand drawing and then erasing a circular line drawing. There is, to begin, the site at which it first appeared, the venerable Anna Schwartz Gallery in Melbourne, where the New Zealand-born artist has worked for many years. Within the framework of art, the artist’s hand is a primary vehicle for making, one that at times pictures itself—think of Albrecht Durer’s studies of his left hand drawn with his right, the left performing multiple semiotic gestures recognizable to medieval viewers. small world (chalk drawing) connects to an longstanding tradition of drawing as studio practice, though here that very practice becomes the work, carefully composed and executed rather than searching and open-ended. But more recent histories, ones with reverberations for many artists working today, are also invoked here. These include artists’ concerns with foregrounding process as the work, not just the work behind the work, in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as photo and video documentation of ephemeral gestures, some of which also took the form of drawn lines, like Richard Long’s A Line Made for Walking (1967), Yvonne Rainer’s Line (1969) and Walter De Maria’s Mile Long Drawing (1968). Or we might think of the convergence of Conceptualism, Minimalism, and Pop Art in the 1960s around a shared fascination with rote execution of a work based on predetermined parameters. “The process is mechanical and should not be tampered with,” Sol LeWitt advises in “Sentences on Conceptual Art.” “It should run its course.” As, indeed, does von Sturmer’s line. But just as LeWitt’s iconic sentences are unraveled by their author at every turn, as in the confounding opening salvo, “Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists,” so too does von Sturmer’s video offer and demand much more than its perfunctory drawn circle demonstration first suggests. As many of his interlocutors have noted, von Sturmer’s work asks us to engage with much larger, and harder, questions regarding perception, truth, knowledge, and reality. It proposes an adamantly philosophical line of thought regarding what it means to be in the world, where the limits of that being might reside, and how they might be both acknowledged and crossed. Lines are crossed and erased, even as their traces persist in delimiting how and what we know, how and what we see. 


Daniel von Sturmer might agree with the paradox, or provocation, LeWitt rolls out: conceptualists can be mystics, too. His mechanical process is never quite mechanical, and it often includes what I’ll call, hesitantly and with tongue in cheek, but in an effort to destabilize the term, special effects. In von Sturmer’s work, special effects coexist with what the British critic Lawrence Alloway, writing about Agnes Martin’s work, called “manual candor.” Von Sturmer’s work is shot through with such dialectic cohabitations of contradictory operations. Distance and proximity. Control and vulnerability. Materialism and thought. Rationalism and esotericism. Order and chaos. Movement and stasis. Language and image. Focus and field. The list could go on. But von Sturmer manifests his special effects with one tool in particular: video. He is also aware of the histories of this medium, and the ways in which its early practitioners in the 1960s and 1970s, including Vito Acconci, Joan Jonas, and Bruce Nauman, used video to stage task-based encounters between artist and viewer. Early video aims to summon the viewer, to lock actor and viewer in a pas de deux, Anne M. Wagner has argued. Yet there is a profound anxiety in video about its ability to create and maintain conditions of viewing because, as Wagner points out, “at this particular moment of its history, video and performance art are bound up in describing the technological effects of contemporaneity as simultaneously alienating and intimate, and how much aesthetic expectations are themselves refigured by such technological terms of address.” What, then, forty years on, are the technological effects of our contemporaneity? How have we changed as viewers? What expectations does a von Sturmer video have of us? What does he want us to see? What is the nature of this viewing relationship? Is it confident or anxious, or are entirely new terms, new relationships, needed? To think through these questions we need to recognize, first and foremost, that small world (chalk drawing) is not a stand-alone work…


…[it should be noted that all of von Sturmer’s oeuvre exists in distinct bodies of work, where multiple elements, videos and site-specific architecture] combine to create a demanding multiplicity and simultaneity of events. Demanding may seem a bit harsh at first blush, for surely these components are, in and of themselves, modest gestures, and generous too, providing moments of wonder and puzzlement through sleights-of-hand. Such focused experiments with paperclips, pencils, rubber bands, and Styrofoam cones—a class of objects both specific and generic—partake of the genealogy of the still life, or what Norman Bryson calls the culture of the table. Still life, as a genre, was located squarely at the “bottom of the hierarchy,” far below history painting, and hummed with what Bryson terms a “low plane reality,” which may be precisely the appeal for von Sturmer. It’s a more intimate address, made on a one-to-one scale, and offers a small rather than a large truth. And here, while slight reverberations of the list above persist, I want to make note of von Sturmer’s titles, which, like his class of objects, are strangely generic, almost awkwardly so. They seem to shun specificity and, when pieced together into a phrase like The Field Equation, refuse to cohere. It is as if he chooses words that won’t properly signify, or attach to any one thing in the world. Von Sturmer chooses objects, and perhaps also titles, that lie on the “periphery on knowledge.” As he explains, “artists often access things that slip between signification.”


Despite such distillation, such focused framing proffered by each video act, the field of other events hums at our peripheral vision. Justin Paton captured what it feels like to be inside a von Sturmer installation especially vividly, so I quote him at length here:


To approach The Truth Effect or Screen Test is to enter a spare and almost tactile soundscape of clicks, hollow rolls, topplings, soft knocks, and elongated pauses. You take in the events screen by screen, each one setting up expectations that the next bends or stretches. Is the space of perception shallow or deep? Smooth or erratic? Paused in front of one screen, there’s always another waiting for your attention. And because each loop is of differing length, the sound- and lightscape is never twice the same. The papery rustles and sudden whooshes of air (balloons) all add to the sense that you’re inside a breathing system where one change triggers another.  


For von Sturmer, the video frame is “an analogue for the bounded frame of perception,” or, to borrow a phrase from Carlos Castaneda, a bubble of perception. Only an awareness of the bubble allows us to see its constructedness, its limitations and potential for expansion, and to sense, too, that other bubbles may exist. These ideas are also found in quantum physics. Likewise, illusions in each video are meant to show how very narrow our perception of the world is. Such propositions share some common ground with the Sufi writings of Idries Shah. Shah insists that Sufism is “not available on the basis of assumptions which belong to another world, the world of intellect.” Rather, Shah writes, “life must have more meaning than the officially propagated one.” Though he occupied a very different position, Jacques Lacan expressed a similar view in 1966, just two years after Shah’s The Sufis was published, when he claimed, “for centuries, knowledge has been pursued as a defense against truth.”


…As a title, The Cinema Complex is something of a red herring, since Von Sturmer is interested in installation, video, and the performative more than cinema per se. This 2010 installation comprised some seven HD videos strewn across the gallery space in pairings of video projectors and thin, precise, and elegant screens, some with razored edges that nearly disappeared, others with precise and elegant thin metal frames, all propped with clean triangular supports. Von Sturmer also populated the space with three white scenery flats, devices used in theater to break up the space on stage. Here they were as resolutely mute and reflective as Robert Rauschenberg’s white paintings, which John Cage once called “airports for lights, shadows, and particles.” These structures acted as sculptural elements, formal echoes of the video screens that visitors could circle around, revealing their gridded plywood construction and sandbag support. They also referred to the white cube of the gallery itself, almost as if squares of white had slipped off the wall and planted themselves within the space…


…What would she have watched in The Cinema Complex? Among other things, improbable balancing acts engineered by the artist, such as a gravity-defying tower composed of a paper clip, white block (is it foam?), and short length of string. In von Sturmer’s videos, a pencil stood upright doesn’t fall over, not even when the artist gently places a rubber band on its tip, fusing the two into a wobbly acrobatic pair. Such provisional studio sculptures are, we might presume, made with very strong glue and a 180-degree rotation of the frame. Video becomes performative, demonstrating, as the artist explains, “a process of ‘working things’ out within the constraints of the physical world.” These works call to mind the photographic series by Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Quiet Afternoon (also titled Equilibrium, from 1984-85), in which banal household items—chairs, bottles, tires, zucchinis, metal graters—are stacked in precarious arrangements that also defy gravity. Fischli and Weiss’s series is a touch more gleefully perverse than von Sturmer’s, and takes a certain pleasure in the Freudian whiff of these arrangements. Yet the two practices do share some important similarities: there is humor in both, certainly, and a recognition of the mind’s tendency to anthropomorphize these objects. But also every component is carefully considered:  there are no better or worse compositions in such balancing acts, Fischli and Weiss declared, just correct ones. Composition is simply “working things out” within the constraints of an object’s properties and behavior. Then there are the imperfect illusions, which Fischli describes in a way that von Sturmer would agree with, I think: “Part of the appeal of this deception,” he writes, “lies in the slight deviation, the failure, the incompleteness. A gap appears between reality and reflection. Strangely enough, this space inbetween can be exactly the point where you’re best able to access the work.” This statement recalls von Sturmer’s own description of artists’ ability to access what slips between signification. Such slippages and gaps could cause us to question how we perceive and understand the world around us, but these slippages and gaps must be shown, not told…


…And Camera Ready Actions? Amongst certain denizens of Los Angeles, camera ready means ready to be in front of the camera: hair in place, makeup checked. But the term doesn’t only belong to Hollywood. In publishing, an artwork or copy ready to be photographed for printing is also called camera ready—though the term has become an anachronism, since most printers simply use digital versions of text and image. People, then, can be camera ready, as can images and words, but in titling the suite of new works made for Young Projects Gallery Camera Ready Actions, von Sturmer proposes that actions can be camera ready, too. This proposition radiates a spectrum of associations: it contains a sly reference to site—the title reads like a salad toss of Lights, Camera, Action. It winks at the controlled and highly edited nature of the studio experiments von Sturmer presents: this is not an artist who would show an action not camera ready. (Although, it must be said, von Sturmer frequently includes a work that undoes any possibility of a definitive judgment of his practice, as the preceding sentence attempted to do, by introducing elements of chance, for example, or throwing a wrench into his handmade universe by including a video of his studio floor.) The notion of a camera ready action also asks us to consider the set of actions on view, and why they, more than others, are ready for their close-up. It toys with notions of live and recorded, represented and real—indeed, standing amidst these various actions makes the viewer self-conscious of her own actions in the space. And, like the publishing term it appropriates, it toggles between analogue and digital, or real and virtual, as all this work does.


A hand cuts a round hole through a sheet of thick white paper. The circle falls away, and the light, color, and shadows shift. It’s unclear what we are watching, until the circle eventually comes back into view, placed into the space from which it was cut, as if suturing the picture plane. Lucio Fontana cut through his canvases, but never attempted to make them whole again. Elsewhere, a roll of black tape falls backward, and the camera’s focus suddenly shifts. That’s it. Or a hand lays lengths of black tape on a white surface, until the entire area is covered, and the image transforms, in a heartbeat, into the blackness discussed at this essay’s start. Frames are drawn and painstakingly colored in, exercises in patience, but also frustration. Frames and blockages, apertures and closures, transparency and opacity, echo throughout this body of work, asking us to consider what and how we see, and what and how we know. Such experiments may be pared down to basic geometry, simply drawn lines, a minimal set of props, and a muted palette, but these deliberate and naked acts—or camera ready actions—require us to consider what we would perceive, and what assumptions would be laid bare, should we, to gloss von Sturmer’s words, attempt to meet the world at it’s face more often. Are you ready?



Sol LeWitt, “Sentences on Conceptual Art,” Art-Language 1 (May 1969): 11–13.


Lawrence Alloway, Agnes Martin (Philadelphia: Institute of Contemporary Art, 1973): 10.


There are also instances in which artists used film and video to stage lo-fi special effects not unlike von Sturmer’s, such as Robert Morris’s 1969 film Mirror, in which a shaky, receding landscape, first presumed to be “real” is soon revealed to be the reflection of a mirror that the artist holds while walking backwards in the woods.


Anne M. Wagner “Performance, Video, and the Rhetoric of Presence,” in A House Divided: American Art Since 1955 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012): 231.


Norman Bryson, Looking at the Overlooked: Four Essays on Still Life Painting (London: Reaktion Books, 1990): 8, 15.


Some of Vito Acconci’s titles for his video and performance work in the 1960s and 1970s are uncannily similar to von Sturmer’s titles, such as Centers (1971), Proximity Piece (1970), and Performance Test (1969).


Email to the author, February 10, 2014.


Justin Paton, “Clearings: Some Times and Spaces by Daniel von Sturmer,” in Daniel von Sturmer: Into a Vacuum of Future Events, exh. cat. (Dunedin: Dunedin Public Art Gallery, 2005): 18. The description of the installation as a “breathing system” is an presciently apt characterization of von Sturmer’s 2013 commission for Melbourne Now at the National Gallery of Victoria, Paradox Park, in which blue liquids run by electrical pulses through plastic tubing. 


The Peruvian-born, American author wrote a number of best-selling books in the 1960s and 1970s that chronicled his time with a shamanic mentor who taught him to experience alternate realities.


Idries Shah, The Sufis (London: The Octagon Press, 1964): xi.


Jacques Lacan, Seminar XIII, January 19, 1966.


John Cage, “On Robert Rauschenberg, Artist, and His Work,” in Silence (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1961): 102. Rauschenberg, notably, also performed with and made set designs for the Judson Dance Theater in the 1960s.


Email to the author, February 10, 2014.


Phaidon 22

bottom of page