Concrete is a material that has played a key part in our economic, ecological and socio-political development since ancient times. From the construction of water conduits and aqueducts in antiquity, the Colosseum and the Pantheon, through to the indestructible bunkers of the National Socialists, from the modernist architecture of Le Corbusier and Brutalism to the gigantomania of vast skyscrapers and entire islands in the present day, concrete also stands as a metaphor that signals our potential for development and destruction, as well as the folly of human hubris. An essential component of concrete is sand, the most widely used raw material in the world – and one which is running out.
In 2020, the anthropogenic mass has caught up with the biomass, which means that there is more man-made material – most of it concrete – than flora, fauna and everything that arises from nature.
As a material, concrete appears contradictory – between rawness, brittleness and fragility, banal for art production. Weber’s interest in and reflection on its origins, significance, changeability and shapeability leads to his dissection of concrete, generating differentiated formal conceptual possibilities in sculptural self-understanding and poetic serenity as part of new materialisation processes – “I work with, about and against concrete”. At the same time, he focuses on the means of linguistic representation in the choice of a title, which refers to human intervention.
As the raw material for his work sechs komma vier, he has chosen a freshly quarried limestone weighing about 200 kg from the quarry of the LaFarge cement works in Mannersdorf, at the foot of the Leitha Mountains. It was here that the calcareous red algae once lived in the middle of the Paratethys Sea, 16 to 14 million years ago, subsequently forming the limestone found today.
During the industrial process, once blasted the limestone is usually further crushed by the concrete industry, then baked into clinkers and ground into cement – a process that emits CO2 on an enormous scale. Cement is the hydraulic binder for sand and gravel that allows concrete to harden. Paradoxically, this hardening process can only occur through the addition of water, making concrete a liquid substance. This apparent contradiction turns out to be a tautology in which the fluidity of the material is just as true as its stability. Christoph Weber draws on this tipping potential in terms of material and meaning.
He determines the amount of cement that the selected limestone would have yielded and calculates that the same amount of cement can be found in 6.4 copies of the original stone in concrete. From this, in absurd formality, emerges the logic of his sculpture: a machine-blasted and randomly quarried, yet natural appearing stone is cast 6.4 times in a classical way, and, resulting from the calculation, reassembled in multiples, whereby the seams of the casting process are unconcealed and recognisable.
In this way, and in the percentage clause first used by Weber, the “madeness” of the product is emphasised. The play between the apparent naturalness of the stone and human influence, imitation capacity and production acts as an irritation, since the stone is a sculpture that has actually been moulded anthropogenically. The multiplicity of an initial form, which is itself merely a fractional part or random section of a whole, also appears absurd.
Here, concrete does not just change its aggregate state. It simulates the authenticity of its original material, limestone, in its appearance, feigning the authenticity of a rock structure formed by nature when it was actually produced by machines designed and built by humans. Its fractures result from the randomness of the strength of detonation. The examination of the origin, the processing and re-evaluation of the meaning of source material and artistic setting are inherent elements of Christoph Weber’s thinking and work.
Oscillating between the poles of ‘the raw and the cooked’ in the sense of Claude Lévi-Strauss, the nature-given and the human ability to construct, the supposed original form and its capacity for transformation due to precisely calculated deciphering processes, Weber develops a new concept of sculpture that reflects the supposed redeemability of promises in terms of form and content.
In his ongoing engagement with the subject of resources and concrete, Weber also explores the “New Materialism” – explicitly naming Rosi Braidotti, who overcomes Lévi-Strauss’s division of nature and culture, addresses human relations with technology, nature and the environment and takes nature-culture relations to be continuums. Bruno Latour’s Anthropocene discourse, which demonstrates the absurdity of the idea of infinite economic growth on a biophysical planet and calls for an end to the dualism of nature and culture, is also important to Weber, whose thinking oscillates between these models.
In the work sechs komma vier, Weber’s reference to photography, to the question of segments of reality, authenticity, reproducibility, multiplicity and seriality also becomes evident. It is equally clear from the 6.4-fold edition, which results from the material composition inherent in concrete, that this is a matter of exact calculation and not of arbitrary further production, which also raises the issue of a global material availability that appears to be basically infinite.
In this way, Christoph Weber’s tautological loop examines questions regarding multiplication and scarcity of resources, while his specific sculptural approach juxtaposes anthropocentric influence and the bio-geological in laconic sentimentality. The natural-looking shape of the stone was in fact already the first stage of an industrial process of blasting, the materiality of the apparent copy does not correspond to the original, even the succinct and yet exactly equal spacing in the Sculpture Park on the edge of the path borrows from the inflationary placement of stones of a similar size to mark plot boundaries or to stop cars from parking on lawns. This raises not only the question of truth or fake, but also that of correlating potential, transformation, expression and impact in a calculated and limited repetition of form.
Apart from the fact that the Austrian Sculpture Park is located directly next to gravel lakes and a concrete factory, Weber references two other aspects of the park: on the one hand, it is in part situated on a former landfill site, which points to human intervention as well as the construction of a pyramid landscape architecture. On the other hand, the artist positions his work near to Lois Weinberger’s work made up of numbered stones: Weinberger’s own work consistently engaged critically with the concept of nature and human intervention.
Elisabeth Fiedler (Österreichischer Skulpturenpark)