Matches are simply marvelous. Not only when you are trying to find the keyhole on a pitch black winter’s night, wanting to light a candle or offering a smoker a light. The latter is true even in the age of disposable gas cigarette lighters – appliances that incidentally have the disadvantage of invariably dying on you when the thermometer plummets. In fact, just looking at those little square-edged wooden sticks lying peacefully next to each other in their handy cardboard box with their red or blue heads, just waiting to be used, to be lighted with a hissing sound, brings a warm glow to the heart and kindles the imagination.
Greek mythology would at least have it that it was the Titan Prometheus who shaped man and gave him fire after Zeus had refused accord us the privilege. And Prometheus’ cunning so fired Zeus up on his Olympian heights that he decided to take his revenge on the latter’s protégés. The dreadful affair with Pandora and her box is part of parcel of the same act of vengeance. Not that Zeus was exactly kind to Prometheus himself – the story of Prometheus, the rock in the Caucasus, the eagle and his liver is legion.
Was not the long stalk of a giant fennel plant that Prometheus apparently raised up to the heavens and lit like a torch on Helios’ passing sun chariot, subsequently using it to ignite a pile of wood on the Earth in fact nothing other than a large match? Was Prometheus, who is therefore also known as Prometheus Pyrphoros, the fire-bringer, possibly the inventor of the match? Or did he only use a torch? Be that as it may, anyone with a little box of matches in his pocket is locked in to the mythical power of fire.
And now this. Yet another handy little box similar to those that contain ordinary matches. Even the label with its woodish beige color seems the same as ever, if you don’t look too closely, that is. “Household product” was once to be seen above the drawing of a match on such boxes, complemented by the indication “safety matches”, “Deutsche Zündwaren-Monopolgesellschaft”, plus the words: “Maximum price for 10 boxes 70 Pf”. In this instance the box bears the legend: “PeterSauerer, 2009. Hazelnut. Carved. Painted”. And in a circle next to it: “Match no. 23”. If you then open the box you will be astonished to find that there is in fact only a single match left in the box – and even that one match is spent. Its sulfuric head, once red, is gray, a good half of its wood is black and charred.
Peter Sauerer is an artist or, to put it more exactly, a man who carves out pictures. He has carved – from individual sections bound together by rope – the Reichstag in Berlin and St. Paul’s Church in Frankfurt, the Batmobile from the 1966 TV series, John F. Kennedy’s Lincoln presidential limo and the Mercedes S Class in which Lady Di met her end. As well as Jochen Rindt’s Grand Prix Ferrari in a wooden hut, any number of Colts and pistols, Pope Benedict at the stake and much more besides. Not to mention the spent match in the box.
Peter Sauerer likes to poke his nose into things. He takes them apart, looks at them through the eyes of an inquisitive child, and shows us how mysterious and, at the same time, just how wonderful the world of things actually is. When Marcel Duchamp converted an off-the-shelf urinal into a fountain, ready-mades entered the world of art with a splash. When Andy Warhol exhibited his Brillo boxes the theory of art was confronted with the question of what distinguishes a box of scouring pads in a supermarket from a box of scouring pads in a museum and just what it is that distinguishes a work of art from an ordinary item. And now Peter Sauerer comes along and carves and paints a little piece of wood so that it looks like a spent match. A single match. The very last lucky strike.
Just what are we talking about here? About a carved image of a match that has fulfilled its purpose and seen better days? About a copy of this kind of thing calling to mind the original, with all its mundane beauty and dignity? About an allegory of the fact that some things only work once? About a melancholy reflection on the transience of the moment that will never return and can only be captured as an image of things past? Or even about a warning sign? Should we then assume that art has burnt out? That the flame has gone out – once and for all? Even though it has not even been ignited.
Zündholz, 2009 (Match, 2009)
hazelnut, carved, hand-painted with box
Match: length approx. 4 cm
MORE on Stylepark:
Teeth on a string and a Matterhörnli in a box: A Swiss army knife with the head of a bearded man hidden somewhere among the blades and tools but can’t do what Peter Sauer does, namely, carve.
(29 April 2013)