The Austrian philosopher, social reformer and esotericist Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)—founder of anthroposophy—formulated a curious theory regarding children. He believed that until the age of six, they are unconsciously absorbed in impulses transmitted to them from their forebears—they slowly make these impulses (physical? psychological?) their own when they acquire a sense of awareness.
Steiner’s ideas are source material for Gehard Demetz, who presents them with his own unique take. He writes: “I am convinced of Steiner’s hypothesis, together with the idea that children are, at the bottom, conscious of their transformation into adulthood, perhaps also in virtue of my personal experience in overcoming infancy, which I remember in a particularly intense way.” Born in 1972 in Bolzano, Italy and based in Selva di Val Gardena, the highest village in the Dolomites, Demetz is well trained in the centuries-old practice of religious sculpture of his region. He skillfully marries traditional craftsmenship with contemporary style.
Children are at the centre of Demetz’s art. He shows them caught within a world run by larger forces of war, religion and politics. In some works, little boys and girls are strangely fused with figures like Jesus and Ganesh. In others, they are alone—their structures made of wooden blocks with pieces missing—with objects and items from the outside world—toys, tools—that might exert and influence on them. The children have different expressions—nonchalance, contemplation, sulkiness, helplessness, sadness, , a quiet anger. Overall, the sculptures intrigue as they unsettle—they lend themselves to multiple interpretations.
When they are fused with religious or mythical figures, the boys and girls seem like a pure but highly impressionable human core. The weight of their ancestors is heavy on them, indoctrination closes in from all sides. The children also, somehow, seem suspended in a state of transition, and look not unmindful of what’s happening to them. They may or may not want to/be able to resist and break away. In other works, the missing pieces appear like the lost or as yet unfilled fragments of the building blocks of their being. Perhaps they have shed away an unquestioning innocence and are gradually assuming an independent faculty that could allow them to make decisions and complete their own selves the way they wish.
Demetz explains more: “My sculptures transmit the awareness of becoming adults and thus losing, as Rudolf Steiner says, their ability to be able to “hear” their unconscious. They live with the burden of guilt transmitted from generation to generation, which does not belong to them. They are children who feel sad about not being able to really be children, but who have, on the other hand, the possibility of choosing to become adults, totally independently, thus freeing themselves little by little of all the influences transmitted by their ancestors. They are witness to all the effort involved in the process of growth and development, which is achieved through individual will and concentration.”
Gehard Demetz is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City. Solo exhibitions include Threshold Space (2012), The Invocation (2014) and Introjection (2017). Since his debut in 2005, Demetz has been invited by prominent galleries to exhibit in the United States, Spain, Germany and Korea. He has also produced monumental sculptures on commission for collectors around the world. He studied at the Institute of Art in Selva 1986 to 1989 and then went on at the same school to study sculpture. After a 1992 apprenticeship with Matthias Resch, Demetz received his degree in 1995. From 2000 to 2001 to further his education, he spent the summers at the Salzburg International Academy studying with several well-known teachers.