Following an invitation from the World Wildlife Fund and with support from Villeroy & Boch in Mettlach, Stefan Szczesny has used tiles to create twelve murals for Expo 2000 in Hannover. The technical leadership of the program was handled by ceramicist Peter Thumm. Using as a basis the current WWF program “Global 200” – which espouses the idea that intensive protection of 200 ecological core areas in the world would preserve 90% of its biological diversity – Stefan Szczesny has created his world map of life.
The twelve murals are grouped in pairs on the front and back of supporting panels. Arranged in an oval shape, they enclose the WWF information pavilion on the Expo grounds like a large, freestanding paravant. Tradition and modernity are intertwined. Inside the pavilion, in keeping with the theme of Expo 2000, the WWF utilizes state-of-the-art communications media to present its message the importance of protecting the environment and endangered species. The murals of Stefan Szczesny congenially link to the origins of our world of images, the hand-painted imagination of a subjective view of the world.
The murals are larger than life. Each of the walls, which are composed of individual 5 x 5 cm tiles, measures 330 x 830 cm, creating a mural more than 350 square meters in size. 137.008 individual tiles are joined to create twelve pictures The image of the “network of life,” as postutated by the WWF in its message at the Expo, is mirrored in the intermeshed joining of parts, each of which in its specific location contributes its individual image information to create the complete whole. In this way, before visitors even ponder the content pictured, the contribution of Stefan Szczesny is already a parable/metaphor exemplifying the event and the message.
The painting technique with burned-in colors on tile is uniquely suited for largescale images in an exterior setting. The painting is scuff-resistant, weather-resistant and immune to frost. Thus, Stefan Szczesny’s work confronts viewers with a traditional technique that must seem an anachronism in the context of global devotion to new, electronically-based virtual media. Finally, however, it is an actively expressed belief in the origin of all of our image worlds, the expressive irnagination of each individual person. The picture imagined by the artist is a subjective view that can be communicated; an invitation to others to open their perception. The cross sum of Stefan Szczesnys murals at Expo 2000 is a kind of revolutionary poetry, in which opposites are unified without contradiction.
In its content and scenes, “The Living Planet Square” is a simultaneous networking of different image levels and storytelling structures. The basic pattern uniting all of the pictures is a world map. Divided into the five continents and – compiemented in the sixth pair of pictures by Antarctica – it serves as a framework in both form and content.
The composition of the picture segments on the outer ring provide an introductory view from afar. Figures placed across large areas, densely packed like pictograms, give viewers a clear introduction to the message of the mural. The numbers on the world map indicate the ecological regions designated by the WWF for its “Global 200” program.
Stefan Szczesny has layered a second image level over this didactic information. They are large, bright areas of empty space, white shadows as it were, that often require a second look before the viewer can realize their message. In addition to numerous animals belonging to each topography, one sees many figurines whose origin are often easily – but sometimes only with difficulty – reconstructed. What they all have in common is an origin in major works of western art. These are loose quotations which create not only a formal, compositional relationship with the animals’ outlines. For the artist, art and nature are in harmony.
Underlying this view is a hoIistic conception of life, nature and the world, which cannot be explained in rational terms. The artist’s perspective is shaped by his interaction with the world, and he draws strength from this sensual approach. The positive experience of the world becomes an esthetic, artistic experience which Stefan Szczesny desires to pass along to the viewer in his language of images.
The third level of painting is comprised of graphical elements. Black sithouette drawings which, analogous to the image level of blank white areas, along with typical examples of our earth’s flora and fauna, merge with biographically motivated images and quotations from prominent artworks. Contrasting references to the world of technology, to urban environments, and to exploitation of resources are suggested. The world as an endangered paradise ? Stefan Szczesny’s world view is in no way closed to the threats to our environment arising out of technological progress. Along with the oil tanker, the windmill stands as a paradigmatic note that technological development must not necessarily have a negative impact on the environment.
The panels on the inside of the longish oval are comprised of smaller compositions which are rnore oriented towards telling stories and closer viewing. As on the outside, a strong blue tone dominates the panels. The continents seem to float on the world’s oceans. Animals typical of each region populate the landmasses and give viewers a sense of the world and its inhabitants across all languages and borders, beyond political events of the day. Here the idea of art as a nonverbal, global language once again comes to life. The humans on this world map of life are present in the image of their technical achievements or in the parable image of a paradise-like coexistence in harmony with nature. Here also are numerous quotations from the well of themes of our western art history. In their image, the artist creates a temporal link from antiquity to our most current present, thus referring to the continuity of all creative forces throughout history.
Above all of this lies a series large portrait heads in a loose pattern, similar to an optical illusion. Here the artist has incorporated himself and his family into the picture. Thus the circle seems to close in the network of life, which should be conceived not in a nearsightedness stuck in each day, but across generations. Stefan Szczesny’s contribution to Expo 2000 is somewhat of across sum of the body of his art to date, but not onty because of its formal size and the motives depicted.
This work is also an homage to life, to nature’s beauty and manyfigured and color-intensive proof of a positive approach to life “One cannot create art with politics, but politics with art.” These words of Theodor Heuss come to mind when viewing these thematic panels by Stefan Szczesny, who without lifting the moralist’s finger, manages with his contribution to point out that which matters to all of us. Respect for nature and life, perhaps less for us, but much more so for our children. His ceramic panels are also visible proof that art in our time need not be a phenomenon removed from society. Rather it is suited to awaken synergies, focus commitments, and proclaim common goals and messages to all people in a way both old and new.
Friedrich W. Kasten