Sebastian Stumpf

Îles sans nom


Surveying Deficits
by Lina Morawetz for the exhibition "Zenith" 2019 at Galerie Kleindienst Leipzig

The painter Eugene Delacroix is supposed to have said that there are lines that are monsters ... Which immediately leads one to ask: what lines? And: what monsters? It’s possible that Delacroix had horizontal lines in mind, as an uncurved stroke without the slightest upwards or downwards deviation definitely has something impressive, even overpowering about it. The horizon is nothing but a monstrous line.

The horizon divides the picture in two. The eight pairs of pictures that make up the photographic series Zenit [Zenith] presented at the Galerie Kleindienst in Leipzig feature an ambivalent relationship to this line. This is conveyed by monstrous settings. Another line is also to be seen. Thin, black, scrawling, almost invisible but far from negligible, this second line indicates that the protagonist of the pictures is the one releasing the shutter. 

The ocean is blue and green, in reality a breathtaking setting. But it’s not about the view. It’s about an image into which the protagonist inserts himself by means of breakneck, extremely precise work: work required to construct an image. Delacroix is also supposed to have said that of itself a line has no meaning. A second line is needed to lend the first expression. It is accordingly the verticality of the body in the photograph that as a sign or symbol lends the line of the horizon a kind of significance – “expression”. These two axes are so precise that a foot is allowed to point askew, like a footnote to a story that isn’t a story at all. 

This is not a narrative about connections or attempts. By capturing a leaping point Ozean [Ocean] and Zenit examine the construction of images in time and space in moments devoid of time and space. Like a media-ontological reflection or a derealization: retrospective, visual materializations of past performances, but also pictorial illusions on the edge of a ruinous, otherwise undefined world. 

The ground of this world is made of concrete, sand, and disintegrating blocks that look slippery and are presumably regularly washed over by the tide. In ancient Greece Ōkeanós was the current that flowed around the flat surface of the earth. Whereas nowadays the seas sweep over the globe, or rather humans pillage the oceans. The world is upside down, out of joint.

“Zenit” means “in the direction of the head”. As if trying to do justice to an upside down, out of joint world, in every second picture of the series the protagonist’s head is pointed “downwards”. 

But the head is standing on itself. It is clear that the head has been placed on the world and not the world on the head, upside down, out of joint.

By way of contrast the video Ozean presented alongside Zenit elicits in the viewer above all the ambivalent expectation that the protagonist has vanished in the ocean, as he dives into the water but never visibly re-emerges. This disappearance is suggested in an existential location – the point where land and water part ways. Bas Jan Ader is thus evoked, who once said: “The sea, the land – the artist has known with great sadness they too will be no more.”

Whether these leaps and headstands and dives are intended seriously or playfully can be answered with the observation that precisely the absence of sense has the monstrous capability of generating sense. In a footnote Jacques Derrida once noted: “The serious only has one sense: play, which no longer has one, is only serious to the degree that ‘the absence of sense is also a sense’, yet is always astray in the night of an indifferent non-sense.”1

To create art is to struggle. Against “nights of indifferent non-being”, against underexposure, even against breathlessness or meaninglessness. In the process the head is turned upside down. On the edge of the ocean the absurdity of creating art in the form of leaps and headstands is added to the image as a heavy, self-imposed task with no foreseeable purpose.

Production delays, analogue enlargement, the viewing time of the video, holding one’s breath for a long period under water (required when diving) – these things appear in the works as ambivalence, but also as artistic ambition. The ambition to generate a suitable aesthetic by means of which both the “creation” of something as well as the idea of living, as VALIE EXPORT describes it, “in a way that traverses time and space” can be depicted.2

The artist lacks a space. He visualizes the situation and then takes a picture so to have a space to move about in for a short time. Or the other way around: it is the camera that creates image and subject alike. The subject sometimes threatens to vanish or go under. Yet at the same time it places itself upside down with utter precision and elevates itself over monstrous things.

What remains are the images – as actors that ultimately create the spaces that they, in truth, lack. Or in reality? A construction made up of two axes of significance leaning against each other: images and signs. Surveying deficits. Opticality, semiotics. Ozean, Zenit

(Translation from German: Chris Michalski)

1   Jacques Derrida, L’écriture et la différence, 1967
2   Stefan Römer, Reports from the Conceptual Paradise, 2013


The will and sense of the body
by Florian Ebner (in: Bulletin No. 20, Museum for Photography Braunschweig, May 2011)

If the human body was once considered ‘the measure of all things’, in the modern age it has come to be perceived as the last place for authentic experience. After the image and the art of representation were plunged into crisis in the 1960s and 1970s artists like Valie Export, Bas Jan Ader and Bruce Nauman discovered the experience of their own bodies as one of the few remaining truths. The body became a living image as well as a medium to be exploited, while a second medium was required to record the traces of this experience – the camera ( photography or video ).
If we look at the recent works of Sebastian Stumpf we find this same interplay between performance and the recording of performance, between the execution of a physical act and the documentation of it by means of a camera. The young artist operates in two distinct realms: in the empty spaces of contemporary art institutions and in urban settings with their preexisting orders. Stumpf’s appearance before the camera strikes the viewer as both artistic and subversive. An inconspicuous architectural detail suddenly becomes the catalyst for a physical exploit that astonishes, appalls, inspires laughter or troubles us. The art gallery becomes a space for action. Or by an act of functional mobilization the city and its walls, columns, trees, garages, bridges and passage ways become a kind of practice field.
Sebastian Stumpf’s interventions are physically impressive, but they also contain elements of slapstick humor, making clear that the artist is not interested in outwardly demonstrating the experience of his body. In this way his photographs and videos do not possess the existential pathos we find in many works of the 1970s. His experimental movements are ‘willful’ in more than one sense. They violate conventional codes of behavior in public spaces – climbing small trees along a promenade or jumping from a bridge – and they are essentially simple. The body tests its own physical processes as well as the laws of physics themselves by means of a direct experience, the same way a child might jump from the same step over and over again.
At the same time Stumpf’s works are not just actions but also precise images and reflections on the image. His interventions in museum spaces are shown in the same places where they have been created, thus exist in their own projection. The central element of these works is a paradoxical jest in which the artist’s body enters the ( image ) space only to remove itself again. The body moves ghost-like through the projected image on the wall as if the physical dimension of the performance did not exist. On the other hand the viewer is very much present in front of the image – not in the manner of a passive observer, in reserved distance to the artist ( as in a live performance ), but as an actor whose own body is placed in question: Can this really be done?
As the protagonist of his own photographs and videos Sebastian Stumpf examines art spaces and urban utopias – locations where the human body is only conceived as an abstract mathematical value in a planned structure. He feels out the clefts and crevices, the openings and blind alleys. In the 28-part photo series Sukima ( 2009 ), for example, his upright body appears squeezed between the strange geometry of the façades of buildings in Tokyo, like a whimsical revenant from Le Corbusier’s architectural system based on the Modulor ( the figure that stands for the modern human being ). From this perspective the presence of the artist in the images can best be described as that of a body attempting to calculate its own dimensions even as it remains resistant. An artistic and critical attitude towards these locations that has little to do with nonsense and everything to do with self-will.

  • 1980 born in Würzburg
    1999 - 2001 Studies of painting, graphic and object art at the Academy of Visual Arts in Nürnberg in the class of Rolf-Gunter Dienst
    2001-2002 Studies at the Ècole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Lyon
    2002-2006 Studies of photography at the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig in the class of Timm Rautert
    2006 diploma
    2006-2008 Master studies at the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig in the class of Timm Rautert
    lives and works in Leipzig

Solo shows

  • 2022 Iles sans nom, Galerie Thomas Fischer, Berlin
    Neue Räume, Kunsthaus Göttingen
    12x12 Video Art, Berlinische Galerie, Berlin
    Zenith, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
    Liquid Gaps, Frise Künstlerhaus Hamburg
    2018 Irrelevant Necessities, Drdova Gallery, Prague
    Still, Mies van der Rohe Haus, Berlin
    Irrelevant Necessities, Thomas Fischer Gallery, Berlin
    micro drames, Annex 14, Zurich
    Ocean, Thomas Fischer Gallery, Berlin
    2015 Bridges and Puddles, Anna Leonowens Gallery, NSCAD, Halifax (Canada)
    2014 Islands, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
    Drodova Gallery (with Vojtecj Fröhlich), Prague
    2013 Unexpected, Galerie Thomas Fischer, Berlin
    Sleep #03. Permanent installation, Kulturstiftung des Bundes, Halle/Saale
    2012 Bridges, Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Ludwigshafen
    2011 Nowhere Near, Museum of Photography, Braunschweig
    All these walls, Kunstverein Göttingen
    Highwalk, Galerie Thomas Fischer, Berlin
    a way, Kunsthalle Schweinfurt
    Brücken, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
    2010 Neue Räume, project space, Museum Folkwang, Essen
    2009/2010 Never Really There, National Gallery Linz (Austria)
    2009 Performance #19, Video installation, Kunstverein Frankfurt/Main
    Gravity Pulls Everything II, Goethe Institute, Stockholm
    Trees, Project Space, Graffiti-Etat des lieux, Galerie du jour Agnes B., Paris
    2008 Auf und Ab, annex 14, Bern
    Leaving Again, Talents 13, C/O Berlin,
    Trees and underground garages, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
    2007 Sebastian Stumpf - Videoinstallationen, Museum Folkwang, Essen
    Gravity Pulls Everything, Goethe Institute Lisbon
    Auf der anderen Seite, Flat of Felix Rehfeld, Bremen
    2006 Faux Terrain, Goethe Institute Lyon
    Free solo, Diploma, Gallery of the Academy of Visual Arts, Leipzig
    2005 Junge Kunst 10, with Jörg Obergfell, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
    2003 Hoch, in the series of "vino della casa", Academy of Visual Arts, Leipzig
    Die helle Kammer, Die Vitrine, Nuremberg

Group shows

  • 2023 Diese Fläche ist zu vermieten, Produzentengalerie, Hamburg
    2022 Atmen, Hamburger Kunsthalle
    Videokunstnächte, Kunsthalle Recklinghausen
    Image of Thought, Villa Heike, Berlin
    NEW, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
    With/Against the Flow, OCAT, Shanghai
    The Body and the City, Goethe Institut, Hongkong
    Sehnsucht, DG Kunstraum, Munich
    Line in the Sand, Galerie Thomas Fischer, Berlin
    2019 Haltung und Fall, Marta, Herford (Germany)
    When is now?, Wäinö Aaltonen Museum of Art and Turku City Art Museum, Turku (Finland)
    En Suspens, Le Bal, Paris
    Absurde Routinen, Kindl, Berlin
    open minded, KUNSTWERK Klein Collection, Eberdingen-Nussdorf
    Das Bild als temporäre Intervention, Galerie Maerz, Linz (Austria)
    Elsewhere is Nowhere, Kunsthalle Exnergasse, Vienna
    Biennale für Aktuelle Fotografie, Wilhelm Hack Museum, Ludwigshafen
    2016 Nuove esplorazioni, Fotografia Europea, Reggio Emilia (Italy)
    Elsewhere is Nowhere, National Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung (Taiwan)
    Reflective Architecture, ATMA, Ahmedabad (India)
    Storyteller, Vietnam Fine Arts Museum, Hanoi (Vietnam)
    4 Days, International Festival of Contemporary Art, Prague
    Iconic. The image as reference, Goethe Instutute, Madrid
    Werkbetrachtung, Art association Gera, Gera (Germany)
    Leipzig - city of heroes?, Goethe Institute, Marseille
    2014 Leipzig - Cité des héros, Goethe-Institut, Paris
    Buildering: Misbehaving the City, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati (USA)
    Eine Klasse für sich, Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau, Dresden
    F/stop. 6th Festival for contemporary photography, Spinnerei, Leipzig
    WIN/WIN. Purchases of the Saxonian Kulturstiftung, Halle 14, Leipzig
    2013 Roundabout, Annex 14, Zurich
    Was wir wollen, Königspavillion Central Station Dresden
    1.pers.sing., b-05 Art and Design Center, Montabaur (Germany)
    Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, Berlin
    2012 Mind the system, find the gap, Z 33, Hasselt (Belgium)
    Wasistdas, Franklin Azzi Architecture, Paris
    2011 Extrem-Body, Space and Movement, art room Lower Austria
    Dreams of Power, Centrum Kultury Zamek, Poznan (Poland)
    Act / Out, Onomatopee, Eindhoven (Netherlands)
    Bas Jan Ader - Suspendido entre la risa y el llando, Museo de Arte de Zapopan (Mexico)
    Offen auf AEG, Nuremberg
    2010 Out of control, BIP 2010, Liege (Belgium)
    Outside-In, Aichi Triennial 2010, Japan
    B.J. Adler, Suspendes Between Laughter and Tears, Pitzer Art Galleries, Claremont (USA)
    Take space for example, annex 14, Bern
    6. Berlin Biennial of Contemporary Art, Berlin
    Neues Ausstellen, Marion Ermer Award 2010, New Museum Weimar
    Realistische Abstraktion, Kunstverein Leipzig
    Where Am I?, experimenter, Calcutta (India)
    2009 Performance/Frame, Galerie Anita Beckers, Frankfurt/Main
    Levitation, Farg Fabriken Norr, Oestersund (Sweden)
    Close the Gap, city gallery Speyer
    On concrete, Tokyo Wonder Site Hongo
    Close the Gap, art association Pfaffenhofen, Kulturhalle Pfaffenhofen
    60/40/20. Kunst in Leipzig seit 1949, Museum of Visual Arts, Leipzig
    Performance #19, on the occasion of Talents 08, Kunstverein Frankfurt, Frankfurt/Main
    2008 Wir sind nicht hier, um uns nett zu finden, Galerie Löhrl, Mönchengladbach
    Drawcula, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
    Close the Gap, city gallery Kiel, Kiel
    2007 Ohne Schatten, master class Rautert, Galerie Eigen+Art, Leipzig
    Blaue Blume, École Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Lyon
    Zeig mir deinen Katalog, du Schwein!, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
    Fotografierte Landschaft, Museum of Visual Arts, Leipzig
    F-stop/ 1. International Festival of Photography, Leipzig
    2006 Artifizielle Präsenz, Kunst im Wohnraum, Family Pues, Essen
    Leipzig und die Fotografie, art hall of the Sparkasse Leipzig
    Multistandard - switch on the light before sleeping, Gallery of the Arts, Berlin
    2005 Alles was glänzt - Contemporary photography from Leipzig, Kunstverein Göttingen
    Wo bist du, Galerie Alexandra Saheb, Berlin
    Kalte Herzen, Klassenausstellung, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig / Kunstverein Radolfszell
    Junge Kunst 10, with Jörg Obergfell, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
    2004 50% Realität, art award of the Stadtwerke Leipzig, Kunstraum B2, Leipzig
    Just Good News for People Who Love Bad News, Galerie Eigen+Art, Leipzig
    Kalte Herzen, Klassenausstellung, Kunstbunker Tumulka, Munich
    3x2=7, Nikischplatz 4, Leipzig


  • 2018 Bauhaus Residency, Dessau (Germany)
    Foundation prize for photographic art, Alison and Peter Klein Foundation
     Scholarship for Contemporary German Photohgraphy, Foundation Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach / Museum Folkwang, Essen
    Fellowship Villa Aurora, Los Angeles
    Artist-in-Residency, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax
    Cité internationale des Arts, Paris
    EHF 2010 grant, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung
    Grant from the culture foundation of the states
    2010 Marion Ermer Award
    Working grant from the culture foundation of Saxony
    2006-2007 Grant of the DAAD in Portugal
    2005 Grant of the German National Academic Foundation
    Academy Award of the Academy of Visual Arts Nuremberg
    2004 Career Grant for Art of the Stadtwerke Leipzig/Halle
    2001-2002 Grant of the DFJW for studies at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Lyon


  • 2014 Steffen Siegel: Trompe- l' oeil in the Loop. Sebastian Stumpf's performative visual media theory." in: Steffen Siegel: "Exposures- for photographic presence." editor: Gottfried Boehm, picture and text: Wilhelm Fink, Paderborn
    2013 "l. pers. sing.- artist body between self Portrait and Performance"; exhibition, catalog, editor: b-05, publishing house Kerber, Bielefeld, Berlin
    2012 "Mind the System- Find the Gap"; exhibition, catalog, editor: z33, Hasselt, Belgium
    2011 "away"; with texts by Florian Ebner and Stanislaw Borokowski, Spector books, Leipzig
    2010 "All These Walls"; with a text by Steffen Siegel, Marion-Ermer-Preis, argo books, Berlin/ "was draußen wartet"; exhibition, catalog, editor: Kathrin Rhomberg, 6. Berlin Biennale for contemporary art, DuMont, Köln
    2009 "Never Really There"; with texts by Stefanie Hoch and Fiona Amundsen, editor: state gallery of Linz at the upper Austrian national museum, Fotohof, Salzburg/ "on concrete"; together with Yuko Kamei and Jörg Obergfell, Tokyo Wonder Site Hongo, Tokyo
    2008 "Leaving again"; with a text by Stefanie Hoch, editor: C/O Berlin, German art publisher, München Berlin
    2007 "weiße Räume verlassen"; catalog with texts by Dieter Daniels and Wolf Schmid, editor: Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
    2004 "cold hearts. class Rautert- photography/video/installation", Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig