Between chaos and order
Steff Lüthi is an artist who is difficult to pigeon-hole and who prefers to swim against the tide.
Even in his youth, he was fascinated by space and by the problem of how to animate space. This is reflected by his first artistic works: hollowed-out wooden objects. Steff Lüthi identifies with Joseph Beuys’ thematisation of opposites and translates them into his own work: warmth and cold, evolution and rigor mortis, creativity and rationalisation, his search for the “whole” person and in the movement of 1968. He exposes his sculptures – and also himself – to the elements, thereby demonstrating the fragility of his own psyche and that of the nakedness of his body against the force of society and nature. “I don’t give a damn for aesthetics and just walk on” is his credo.
His quest for space extends to the landscape, he makes pencil drawings which he turns into drypoint and intaglio etchings. “If you can’t fly you’re not out of the woods” is the title of one of his works. To escape the confines of rigid structures, whether his own or those imposed by society and his home country, is the tenor of this “storm and stress” period. Steff Lüthi expresses this with a bird trapped in the cross of the Swiss flag.
Yes, no wonder he so often finds the small country of Switzerland too restrictive. He escapes to the United States, visits Haiti and finds this is a journey of extreme experiences. The coexistence of rich and poor next door to one another is something he cannot forget.
Testing the elements
The elements inspire Steff Lüthi to engage in complex and complicated projects. He knows how to spark enthusiasm in experts in his field whom he employs to realize these ideas. He is by now living in Ticino and in the ravine of Ponte Brolla he tries out fire-throwing gloves, with which he seems to threaten to fly off like a dragon. The opposites of fire and ice inspire the artist to start a project which he conceives as an “intercultural act for the improvement of reciprocal cultural understanding” and as a plea for the implementation of solar energy, a project that he intends to take through the whole of Europe and as far as the African equator. The solar-powered machine freezes water-drops together. Icicles form and melt again: “The fire of the sun turns water to ice. From chaos comes order, from order chaos…”
During this period he starts a family. But then he is again drawn to travel, this time to Italy, and there follow seven years of nomadic existence between his studio in Pietrasanta and his home in Ticino. He is again preoccupied with inner and outward space: he produces delicate sculptures made of segments of plants, branches, grasses and flower-stems which he casts in bronze.
The death of a friend leads him to reflect on the transience of human life. These thoughts culminate in the figure of Icarus. This is his first human figure, a theme that from this point will not let him go, even though his preoccupation with renewable energy and the elements remains important and finds new form in the “Solar Ark” and in the “Flying Egg”.
Umans and cosmos
The Gulf War impacts on the artist’s work like a bomb. The cruelty that human beings can implement against one another shocks him to the roots. Where now the hope of evolution, where has technological development – from Icarus via the wheel to our present advanced technology – taken us? “We are strange animals” is the title of his first installation using the tiny figures. He is driven by the quest for meaning, by questions of human transience and cosmic eternity: where do we come from, who are we, were are we going? He places his figures at the edge of bowls (brass or bronze) whose inner is reminiscent of cosmic vortices. Steff Lüthi calls them spheres or galaxies. The small creatures, among them Beuys himself, express by their poses their approach to these questions (where am I situated at the moment?). We find winged figures among them. Are they angels who have already discovered the answers to these questions and are now forming a connection between the finite and the infinite? Perhaps they are forerunners of those who will venture into the water of the spheres – girded with flippers and snorkel. The artist has already produced a piece on this theme, a work commissioned for the “Garden of the Arts – Piccolo Venezia” in Ticino. The “Fontana Galaxis” is situated in front of the art patron’s villa in a large square and entrances us with its almost hovering concept. Other pieces are reminiscent of the Tower of Babel. Perched on the edge of huge iron towers the tiny people sit looking lost above the abyss. On the saddle of the Grimsel Pass, Lüthi places a small figure in the position of the Thinker on a rock and leaves him there for a good while. A (nearly invisible) monument? A reminder to reflect?
Steff Lüthi seems to me to have developed from a provocateur into a visionary. His early works were provocative: in them he obstructed, broke out, crossed borders, fought with the elements and socity and repeatedly appeared himself as a performer. With the appearance of the human figure in his works, he seems to me to place a finger in the wounds of our society, to throw an uncomfortable light on the way we live today. The bronze figures – each of them an alter ego – call us to pause and think on.
Is it not one of the tasks of every artist to build bridges into the future, to offer visions?
Minusio, Summer 05