Dana Meyer's sculptures are characterized by high tension, powerful dynamics and anatomical precision. They depict animals and people, individually, in groups, or occasionally in fragments. Meyer's works are realistic and expressive, haunting in their expression, sometimes seeming metaphorical, sometimes portrait-like.
Dana Meyer forges her sculptures freehand from steel. She refrains from making initial design models. This virtuoso method requires a high level of craftsmanship in addition to extraordinary spatial imagination.
Dana Meyer recognizes a “physical affinity” between human and animal figures, that dissolves the boundaries of the animal kingdom. The artist writes: “In allegories and metaphors people recognize themselves as animals with their idiosyncrasies, characteristics and archetypes. The interplay and simultaneity of experiences in these visual worlds is more direct. In this way the figure refers to something felt and an individual reminiscence, and thus there is something familiar in the character it depicts.”
The artist welds individual forged pieces into figures. She attaches just as much importance to the spaces in between and the hollow areas as to the steel parts. Altogether they form the sculpture and its perceptible force field.
Dana Meyer already effectively uses the principle of the invisible force field in her first large composition, the “Ice-Skater”, which she created in 2011 as her diploma thesis: an almost life-size group, representing a man and four dog figures, pulling an invisible load, probably a sledge. Although not pictorially present, the vehicle is the logical anchor point of the entire composition.
In this early group of sculptures, Dana Meyer already expresses a far-reaching ideological position. She withdraws the protagonist's role from the human being, whom she depicts without a face, and places him on the same level as the draught animals. She designs a new hierarchy in which Homo Sapiens relinquishes his place at the top.
In 2013, the artist conveys the act of renouncing the “crown of creation” with the figure “The rebellious Aaron”. Aaron exchanges his head for a bull's head. He distances himself, as it were, from his human nature and performs an act of merging with the animal nature. The group “Pigs”, completed in 2013, presents the same idea from the other end. The animals in the herd prove to be curious individuals with humanlike preferences and vices.
The artist postulates an even more radical statement in the “Fox Hunt”, completed in 2014. Two wolves or wolfhounds attack an equally faceless human figure. The man is stumbling, the outcome of the hunt and his fate as prey are beyond doubt. In the same year Dana Meyer completes “Man Carries Horse”, a group of figures that demonstrates her views less aggressively but just as vividly.
“The Abyss” (2016) perfects the approach of the “Ice Skater” and deals with the invisible in an impressive way. A group of five masterfully crafted antelope figures of vivid dynamism represents a herd on the run, which encounters an abyss. The animals in front shy away, the ones at the back push forward. The sculpture group has been in the Eschborn Sculpture Park since 2019.
In 2017 Dana Meyer started a series of primate portraits under the title “It's Me”. The starting point was findings on ego-consciousness and metacognition in animals. Paradoxically, the series moves further away from naturalistic representation than any previous series; large sections of the portraits form abstract segments of curved surface and space, shadow and light. Surprisingly, the artist succeeds exactly in this way to achieve the impression of a very lively, conscious presence.
The following year the figure of “Arapides” was created. It refers to the custom of the expulsion of the "Kallikantzaroi", the midwinter spirits, in the Greek village of Volakas. Using sheepskins and other disguises, the Arapids transform themselves into animal-like creatures, blackening their faces and de facto putting aside their human identity by concealing their bodies and facial expressions. Dana Meyer's Arapides is different. A slender and muscular figure is standing diagonally on its left leg, upper body turned to the left, in a very unstable position. Instead of his head he wears a tube. Dana Meyer has so far only partially revealed the context of this figure. In view of her consistent working method, it is quite possible that the artist will provide clues to interpretation in the future, in a similar way as the grammar of her previous works has gradually become accessible.
Before her training at Burg Giebichenstein, Dana Meyer studied history, literature and cultural studies. Small publications bear witness to her linguistic and word-writing skills as do the titles of many of her works. She understands language as a co-ordinate system for orientation and positioning in history and society and plays virtuously with its associative possibilities.
A vivid example of this cross-genre fusion is provided by Dana Meyer's “South Pacific Expedition”, a group of small metal figures that has been created (and continues to grow) over the past six years. These are representations of fantasy insects, allegedly caught between 1906 and 1910 during a fictitious South Pacific expedition and kept in antiquated preserving jars. The names of the “discovered” creepy-crawlies are at first contemplative like the travel literature of the time, (“White Double-Trumpet Mosquito”), but immediately it becomes absurd (“Diabolical Pill Wasp”) and grotesque (“Hunchbacked Market Sucker”). The attached Latin names and meticulous genus assignments create an apparently scientific environment. The places and dates of discovery (“Sulavesi Utara, 1906”, “Ona Liau, 1907”) refer to remote places and unapproachable times. A fabulously complex world of dreams and imagination is produced, created from sculpture and literature.
Dana Meyer (*1982) studied sculpture at Burg Giebichenstein Art College in Halle, where she received her diploma in 2011 and completed a master's degree by 2014. In 2011 she received the art prize of the Saale Savings Bank, in 2012 scholarships from the Kloster Bergesche Foundation and the Arts Foundation of Saxony-Anhalt, in 2014 the art prize of the city of Limburg together with Undine Bandelin, in 2015 the graphic design prize of the Nordhausen District Savings Bank and in 2018 a scholarship from the Federal State of Saxony-Anhalt. In 2019 the Alexander Tutsek Foundation awarded her a residency at the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle (USA).
On a rainy day in March, the sculptor Dana Meyer welcomes us to her studio in the west of downtown Leipzig. A long hallway on the ground floor of the charming old building leads us to one of her main workplaces: the backyard. Steel plates and bars lean and lie as scattered collections on the surrounding masonry. In the middle of the courtyard, attached to a makeshift steel frame, an unfinished piece of work in the form of a crocodile head awaits us. Its mouth, equipped with threateningly sharp teeth, is wide open; already cut pieces of metal are ready for its completion. Two horse sculptures placed next to them are partially provided with tension belts and are therefore always ready for transport. Raindrops flow down their steely bodies and let their reddish-brown hue shine.
Ms. Meyer, why do you mainly work with steel and how does this material behave in the development process of your work?
I like that steel is so stubborn, that it opposes you and therefore also works at the same time. Since the material cannot be bent at will, it determines the shape of the sculpture to a certain extent. It is not possible for me, for example, to bend a spine made of steel for an endless length of time - this creates limits to which I have to react.
Another reason is that I've been told many times that you can't get as much out of steel as you can from stone or wood, and it would never have the same vibrancy. That was an additional incentive for me.
So do you see steel as something living?
Absolutely. The material is ancient and something that has accompanied humanity for a long time and influenced its development. I perceive steel to be organic and living; Due to the natural weather, the material develops further and forms a unique color.
Your work process - hands-free forging your steel work - is unusual. Can you briefly explain your technique?
I cut out individual parts from - mostly found - steel plates, create finished forgings and then put them together like a puzzle. The nice thing about metal is that I can add something, but also cut it off again at any time. It is different from sculptors who work something out of stone or wood - if they have taken something away, it is gone too. But I am someone who likes to build and it would be difficult for me to have the finished sculpture in front of my eyes right from the start.
In this respect, the work process is much more intuitive. The work itself arises out of the process and not on the basis of an already existing model. I work piece by piece and also decide piece by piece what the directions of movement are and what kind of expansion the work should assume. Sometimes I stop at the head of a figure or I decide to make a huge group of sculptures out of it.
Together we enter the second part of Dana Meyer's studio, located inside the old building, which she shares with an artist colleague. Her tools are carefully lined up on the walls of the small room - files and clamps, saws and pliers, hammers and grinders - everything is in its place. On a work table is a collection of mason jars in which - although they are artistic objects of a fantastic nature - deceptively real insects seem to be crawling around.
How does the working method of your large-format sculptures differ from the production of your small works, the insects of the South Pacific expedition?
From a purely technical point of view, the large sculptures are forged, i.e. the metal is made hot. In the case of insects, on the other hand, it is a so-called cold deformation. The metal is relatively easy to bend and drift and does not need to be heated first; it is much more delicate. I can play a lot more with the materials - for example by adding mason jars - and consequently also with the materiality by applying different colors. I just can't imagine large colored steel sculptures, but it works well on a small scale.
How did you come up with the idea of creating a fictional trip for your South Pacific expedition? What was your inspiration from?
It's a kind of Humboldtian thought: people's need to collect, classify and understand things. The South Pacific expedition portrays people's desire to cross the world's borders.
I also find the wet collections at the natural history museums exciting. At the same time you are fascinated, but there is also disgust. Since the glass also protects you from its contents, you can look at it safely. On the South Pacific expedition, I myself become a person who makes this trip and who is captivated by the fascination of insects and the desire to collect. The focus is on the thirst for research and knowledge, the endeavor to categorize and present.
We drive to a small village that is half an hour away from Leipzig. Silence greets us when we reach the large area where Dana Meyer keeps or stores her finished works of art. Half a dozen of her large-format works stand on a lawn. The sight seems like an enchanted sculpture garden in the middle of nowhere. Among other things, the caretaker can be seen: attentively, it seems, the steel watchdog assesses its surroundings as if it were anxious to protect its territory. Man carries horse towers up in front of a sweeping yew tree and the reclining horse completes the surreal-looking composition.
Animal sculpture is the focus of your oeuvre. Were there specific impulses that inspired you to dedicate yourself to the animal as the primary subject of depiction?
First and foremost, I use animals as metaphors or allegories. I have the impression that animal characteristics can come into their own in a more concentrated manner than if, for example, I wanted to depict a person in a fearful escape. A formal challenge, however, lies in the different proportions of animals, while the proportions of humans, on the other hand, are by and large always the same. In turn, I can concentrate fully on certain features of the animal, for example on the mouth or upper body, and allow me to leave a paw or a hoof as a mere hint.
With a smile, Dana Meyer tells us that in the spring months in her green idyll it has already happened that birds have nested inside the sculptures. After we have taken a good look at the works in the outside space, we enter their second storage location: a former dance hall. The floor of the elongated brick building is covered with creaking herringbone parquet. Large animal skins made of steel lean against the wall, on which there are fragments of frescoes from earlier times. In the middle, the artist's sculptural pigs frolic happily. Dana Meyer carefully reveals a “deer head” wrapped in bubble wrap for us.
You mentioned earlier that you don't make sketches. How exactly can you imagine the beginning, the initial creation process of a work? In your imagination, is the animal there first or, for example, just the idea of softness, as with your pigs?
So that is very different. If you stick to the softness of the pigs, there was already the need to give the steel something soft and to take the muscles back in comparison to other animal sculptures such as the horses. I wanted to counter these cold and steely bodies with something. The next step in trying out the steel consisted in the delicate and filigree of my group of sculptures of the antelopes, whereby I could also take away the strongness of them, as it happens with the pigs in the mass.
Her animal sculptures also appear in combination with human figures. This includes procedures of domestication or relationships of dominance. To what extent is the subject of power symbolized in your work?
If one deals with the things that come across in life in general, it always comes down to the same point: the problems that arise arise from other people's need for power. They are, so to speak, insignia of the power of others. And then there are different dialectics of power as well as different relationships between perpetrator and victim. There are aspects of power in my work - for example, man carries horse. This concerns human power over the horse that is being reined in and trained. A horse like this is big, strong and fast - mastering it is a statement of power. The bridle, as can be seen in my sculpture Blinders, is also used as a concept of power - you “put the bridle on someone” or “someone is kept in check”. The claim to power is also expressed in the hunt, such as through the hunt or in trophy collections. The act of killing is also an act of exercising power.
When we have finished our tour, we decide to go to a nearby café to clarify the remaining questions. Holding a warming cup of coffee or tea in our hands, we close the brackets on the beginnings of art in Dana Meyer's oeuvre and talk to her about her earliest works.
Did you come across animal representations during your studies and did you have artistic role models for it?
Not directly, but the need to use them as metaphors to express overarching topics was already present in the course. Perhaps that was also a development path, since I did a lot of nature studies there. First, I think I made a horse sculpture. At that time I often drove past paddocks, maybe that made an unconscious impression on me.
Before studying sculpture at Burg Giebichenstein in Halle an der Saale, you began studying history, literature and cultural studies at Chemnitz University of Technology. How did this reorientation from the humanities to the artistic subject come about?
After graduating from high school, I felt a bit disoriented, which went hand in hand with the prevailing expectation of having to start studying after leaving school. During my studies I had an increasing tendency to go into the craft; it was more or less by chance that I ended up studying art. I think the humanities studies have stayed a bit, because during the creation process of my work I always try to inform myself about the content and to absorb the existing knowledge. I feel the need to additionally read myself, to gather background knowledge or to deal with anecdotes from this area. In retrospect, I'm very happy about my experience in the humanities, because maybe the pure craft would have been too little for me again. The nice thing about art is that you can combine both - the artistic practice and the theoretical claim - with one another.