Product Sculptures

by Barbara Straka
The Product Sculptures represent an important workgroup in Semjon’s artistic program of Unity in Difference/Einheit in der Differenz. They are original product packages with their contents being encapsulated in bleached beeswax. This has the remarkable effect that the body of the commodity, more precisely the consumable in its essence, is preserved, but the form and outer skin have disappeared as if behind a milky veil and the use value withdraws behind an aesthetic appeal: "The Product Sculpture," the artist explains in a press release, "retains the play of form and image as its basis. The latter is achieved through semitransparent painterly structures. The familiar picture appears to be painterly, or rather is transformed to painting, to a picture, to a painterly sculpture."
Afterwards the Product Sculptures are placed in a plexiglas box with a blue swivel pedestal, or they are installed together as Combination Sculptures.
Semjon realized a significant extension of this workgroup in 1996 in Berlin with his Kiosk project. This work was set up by the artist in a kiosk protected as a landmark in a revived intersection in Berlin-Zehlendorf. In the shop window, there were a total of 200 original products normally offered in a kiosk on view on chrome and glass shelves specially produced for the occasion. However, it is not the primary goods, i.e., the chocolate bars, the Wundertüte or the Coke can, all with their color intensive consumer aesthetic, that is of concern, but how the kiosk products present themselves transformed into sculpture after they have been worked over with bleached beeswax by the artist.
A glance back to art history lets us think of here the names of at least two artists: Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys. Warhol with his position in American Pop Art brings together those claims that, "all is pretty" with the decisive extension of art as concept to products in the consumer world. Warhol’s Campbell Soup cans and Brillo powder soap boxes are then no longer to be thought of outside of the museum context, because they are icons of art history from the 60s with which the development of art received a strong shove through the expansion of its horizon. This is a development from the beginning of the century referring to Marcel Duchamp as he horrified the critics with his ready-mades, using objects from the everyday-world, like the bottle-dryer or bike rim, and placing them on the museum pedestal.
A second artistic connection naturally establishes itself, especially in the Kiosk installation, with Joseph Beuys and his installation originating from 1984, Wirtschaftswerte. At that time Beuys set up hundreds of goods from the GDR, ranging from flour sacks from the Brandenburg agricultural cooperative to the Karo cigarette box, on simple wooden shelves in the Düsseldorf exhibition Von hier aus. With this, Beuys carried out - five years before the collapse of the GDR state and its economy - an extraordinarily provocative action against the shimmering aesthetic of the western consumer world in that it referenced sensual aspects of the GDR products and their tangible qualities, but that the self in the so-called real existing socialism could not be taken for true, because the products were understood as mere deficiencies as mediated through western television advertisements.
The contrast of deficiency and wealth, everyday and art, goods and artwork, the eternal and transitory are also polarities in the artistic work of Semjon. "Beuys was concerned with the transitory, for me it is about the eternal," formulates Semjon in a conversation.
This distancing effect of the known, its protection from decay, Semjon relates not only to the goods exhibited in the kiosk and their artistic transformation, but also to the entirety of the building. It is this concept of art concerning the exasperation of everyday perception, and, lastly, about the stimulation of remembrance, that is worthy of being preserved, just as is the kiosk and its moving history (neglect, threatening demolition, place of reference for the cultural life of the area). "We then first perceive something, when it is about to disappear," states the artist. With this the kiosk no longer stands only for itself, but to a certain extent as synonym for our contact with history, art and culture, which, in its current act of disappearance, must be protected.
Semjon plans to create a fixed home for the 1996 temporary and now placeless, Kiosk installation. He has designed a mobile kiosk pavilion, set on wheels, to be seen as representative and prototype for the kiosk creation.
The Product Sculptures workgroup experiences a further dimension in the mobility, interactive and intermedial communicableness in Semjon’s plan for a New York Deli/Grocery-Store (his Deli/Grocery Project 2000) with ca. 1000 sculptures to be staged in a simulated store in an actual street in downtown Manhattan.
Semjon‘s artistic claim and quality lies not only in the moment of the Product Sculpture in themselves as tactile, differentiated, aesthetic artworks, but in his expanded frame of effects like the contextualized installation and the moment of projectable mediated communicability.

Translation by Scott Budzynski