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Sven Rünger ist ein Bildhauer, der ohne Abbildung der Realität viele Aspekte der Wirklichkeit in seinen Skulpturen neu interpretiert. Seine Formensprache ist reduziert, einfach und konzentriert. Er befasst sich primär mit Formen, die zum allgemeinen Körperverständnis gehören wie Rundungen, Wölbungen, Dellung, Erhöhung, Streckung oder Vertiefung. Er schlägt seine Werke aus edlem Stein wie Marmor oder Travertin oder lässt sie in Bronze gießen, gibt ihnen verführerisch schöne Oberflächen und rückt sie in einen immateriellen Zustand. Ihre Struktur und ihr Verhältnis zum Raum, ihre Oberflächenreflexe und ihre Farbigkeit sind maßgeblich für ihre Ausstrahlung und Wahrnehmung als starke Wesen. Diesen Steingeschöpfen, in denen sich Vorstellungen uralter Vergangenheit mit Visionen denkbarer Entwicklungen zu verbinden scheinen, haucht er als Künstler Leben ein.

Prof. Dr. Frank Günter Zehnder
Direktor Internationale Kunstakademie Heimbach

Vom Klang der Steine

Es ist ein Gesamtkunstwerk. Per definitionem.
Der Bildhauer in seinem Atelier mit seinen Geschöpfen. Lebewesen aus Stein, die eine Vision von Schönheit ausdrücken. Es ist die Vision des Künstlers. Sven Rünger liebt die Proportion, sie ist in ihm angelegt, angeboren und allgegenwärtig. Aus einer verfallenen Scheune hat er sein Atelier gebaut, außen Ziegel mit Holzgiebel, innen weiß und Stein, unbeheizt, roh und von großer Schönheit, die Regale wie Gemälde, jedes Teil und jedes Detail am richtigen Platz zu sich selbst und untereinander. Die Proportion, auch hier, wo die Gipsformen entstehen, die Prototypen aus Pappe archiviert sind, die Muster und Zeichnungen, Entwürfe, Vergangenes und Zukünftiges, Rundes, Ovales, kleine Berge aus Kristall, erste Berührungen mit dem Stein im Kindesalter. Mit sieben Jahren hat Sven Rünger seine Affinität zu Stein durch das Kristallgestein entdeckt, in einer Schachtel sind Teile der Sammlung. Das Regal ein Museum, ein Lebenswerk, ein Zuhause für die Kunst, unterbrochen vom Herd und Waschbecken, Parallelen zum Atelier Brâncuși tauchen auf, es mag am Sujet liegen, vielleicht sind Bildhauerateliers eben Bildhauerateliers, Räume mit Skulpturen und Material in harmonischem Miteinander. Hier in Meerbusch hat Sven Rüngers Zwang zur Proportion einen Ort erschaffen, der eine Welt für sich ist, eine Oase zwischen Stadt und Land und Fluss, allein im Wald. Hier hat der Schaffensdrang eine Schneise geschlagen für seine Skulpturen und Brunnen und Figuren.

Sie stehen im Freien. Im Licht der Sonne wird der Stein warm. Hier wird die Verbindung zwischen Himmel und Erde deutlich.

Der Kunst gelingt, was die Wissenschaft für sich beansprucht: Sie nimmt die Frage nach dem Platz des Menschen im Universum auf. Sven Rünger reduziert sie in der Symbolik des steinernen Körpers, als Skulptur zum Himmel aufstrebend, als Brunnen mit der Erde verbunden. Auch in der kleinsten Figur ist die Suche des Künstlers nach der Verantwortung des Individuums spürbar, nach der Form des Daseins. Die Frage nach der Verbindung mit dem Größeren, dem Unverrückbaren, dargestellt durch einen Stein, der Millionen Jahre alt ist. Die Formen sind Leihgaben aus der Natur, anthropomorph und biomorph, die der platonischen Formenlehre folgen, ewiger Bestandteil dessen sind, was wir auf der Erde sehen. Der Bildhauer hat den Stein nicht behauen, sondern die Form scheinbar aus ihm herausgearbeitet, das Innen ist das Außen und das Außen das Innen. Runde Wesen, die sich weich anfühlen, weil sie unendlich sind, wenn die Hände darüber gleiten.

In ihrem Rundsein drängen die Skulpturen nach außen und bleiben doch verschlossen in sich selbst.

Im Freiraum des Meerbuscher Ateliers stehen sie auf Sockeln, begrenzen die lichte Schneise, bewachen das Areal, verbinden sich aus manchen Blickwinkeln mit den dahinterstehenden Bäumen, tauchen ein und dominieren sie. Auf der Erde die Brunnen, aus denen es blubbert und flüstert und raunt. Leise, stetig und sanft. Die Kraft des Wassers ist gezähmt. Die Form des Steins erinnert an einen antiken Mühlstein, nur dass der Marmor glatt ist, unsäglich seidig glatt. Auf der leicht gewölbten Oberfläche hat der Künstler in monatelanger Handarbeit Muster eingraviert, labyrinthische Spiralen, die Lebensblume auf eineinhalb Metern. Aus der Mitte des Steins quellen die Wasserblasen, rund und schillernd wie Glaskugeln, sie halten die Form, fast unmerklich fließt das Wasser aus ihnen über den Stein, dünn wie eine erste Eisschicht überzieht es den Marmor. Kein Millimeter bleibt frei. Im Glanz des Wassers zeigt das Material seine Eigenständigkeit, seine Farben und Strukturen: Feinste Äderchen durchziehen das steinerne Grau, einen Brunnen weiter eine hellgraue Musterung, die wie schwebende Wolken über die wasserumspülte Oberfläche zieht. Das leise Fließen des Wassers bewegt die Musterung zu immer neuen Formen, begleitet von seinem Klingen. Wenn Kunst beruhigen darf, dann tut sie es hier. Wenn einem Künstler zugestanden wird, etwas zu erschaffen, dann hat Sven Rünger die Steine zum Leben erweckt.

Der Stein ist Marmor und kommt aus Carrara. Im Plural Marmore. Marmi di Carrara auf italienisch. Marmor Lunensis auf Latein, benannt nach der römischen Kolonie Luna, in der 177 v.Chr. bereits Marmorhandel betrieben wurde. 30 Millionen Jahre ist der Marmor alt, entstanden im Tertiär aus den Calcit-Ablagerungen aus abgestorbenen Meeresorganismen. Sven Rünger sucht jeden Block selbst in Italien aus, lässt in Italien die Grundmaße vorschneiden und den noch rohen Stein nach Meerbusch transportieren. Bis zu sechs Monaten dauert die Entstehung eines Brunnens, das Herausarbeiten der Form, das Schleifen, und das Bildhauern des Musters auf der Brunnenoberfläche. Durchmesser und seine Wölbung stehen in harmonischer Beziehung zur Höhe und zum Rand, der den Brunnen umrundet und das Wasser auffängt. Proportion bedeutet hier nicht Gleichmaß, sondern Spannung der Elemente untereinander. Der goldene Schnitt, ausgeführt ohne Vermessung und Formel.

Am Ende gibt der Künstler dem aus dem Meer entstandenen Stein das Wasser zurück. Den Klang und die Bewegung und das Eigenleben.

Ein Atelierbesuch geht zu Ende. Sven Rünger bringt Käse und Brot auf den großen Holztisch unter dem Sonnenschirm. An der Atelierwand die Holzböcke vom Wetter graugebleicht. Drei Besen mit Naturborsten hängen in Reihe. Ein ungeschliffener Stein, Werkzeuge einsatzbereit. Strenge Zuordnung vom Blubbern der Brunnen begleitet. Vielleicht ist das Eigentliche an diesen Arbeiten der Mensch, der sie erschaffen hat. Der Bildhauer Sven Rünger, der den Stein versammelt hat, zu unendlich runden Formen gebracht hat, groß genug, um einen Raum zu verändern, und doch fast zu klein für den Mann, seine Hände und seine Visionen.

Ursula Scheid, 2021

Interview of Orla O’Byrne
with Sven Rünger in Italy 2021

Sven Rünger is a German sculptor, artist and educator who lives between Düsseldorf, Germany and Pietrasanta in Northern Italy. After his studies at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf and his apprenticeship in the early 1990s, he went to Tuscany and discovered the region with all its possibilities for a young sculptor. He sat down with me during a break from teaching at Campo dell’ Altissimo in the Apuan Alps to tell me about his beginnings as a sculptor, his practice and to discuss some big questions.

For me, coming here had such a strong impact. There were the marble quarries as well as stone from all over the world, foundries, tools, transportation and everything you need to be a sculptor. At that time, this was probably the centre of sculpting, worldwide. The first time I came here it was supposed to be for a six week project but I ended up staying for three months. At that time I got to know Peter Rosenzweig who I work for at the moment as a teacher at the school, Campo dell’ Altissimo. The Campo has been going for almost 40 years now and is located in a very special and historic place. The first street in this valley was constructed by Michelangelo. When I was still in the academy in Düsseldorf I heard about Pietrasanta and this whole area. Somebody told me I should come here, that I would find cheap places to work, pneumatic tools and electricity and a crane and stuff. So I came here with a friend of mine and just by chance I got a place in a very famous studio. I bought a block of marble a little over a tonne and started work.


So you hadn’t worked with marble before you came here?
Well, actually I had. At the end of my apprenticeship back in Germany I ordered two pieces of marble from a man who turned out to be my first contact in this area. At that time there was a big marble and granite factory in Düsseldorf and the contact person over here in Querceta was a Mr Falconi. Later, when I decided to come here I was told that I should speak to a Mr Falconi, he even spoke a little bit of German because he was married to an Austrian. It’s funny how things work out.

What made you start working with stone in the first place?
I think it was always like this for me. Ever since childhood I have been fascinated by stone. I spent all my pocket money on stones even from the age of five or six. As a child I came here with my family to visit the quarries of Carrara.

So you were carving from a young age?
The carving came a bit later but the fascination for minerals and stones and earthy materials was always there. Stone has always been part of my life. I always collected stones and on my birthday the most important presents were the stones I would wish for. I think the first time I really carved was in soapstone at the age of 17.

So, does that mean that there’s a love of stone in your family, then?
Well, in my family there is a lot of creativity. We have musicians, sculptors, good painters, drawers, architects. Friend of my parents were artists and sculptors so I was always in contact with art. Art was not an elite world for me. My parents never told me I needed to do something ‘normal’ as a job. My father had his own advertising agency, which he founded because he was really talented at drawing, painting and graphics. The agency was started as a way to make enough money to support a whole family. Just before he turned 60, he gave the agency to my brother. I came back from Italy around that time and was looking for a studio for myself but actually ended up finding a studio for my father, which he had for almost 20 years. He started a second career there.

What kind of work was he making?
Paintings. He calls what he does ‘painted jazz’. He is a jazz maniac and he collects all these old Blue Note records and paints his favourite jazz numbers. It’s quite interesting work. He has published a book about it and has a second one coming out this year.
We’ve also done a lot of exhibitions together and in fact this last 20 years has been our time. I didn’t see a lot of my him when I was a child so working together as adults has been really nice.

Stone, as a material, has an aura of seriousness, permanence a sense of history. When you are working with stone, are you conscious of that historic weight?
Maybe not constantly. After a while the barrier comes down and you almost become one with the material but I think you should never lose respect for it. No, the historic ‘noise’ of marble doesn’t bother me at all. I choose marble because it works very well with my subject. A lot of my work is around ideas of evolution and signs of life. This whole complex of evolutionary issues is already in the stone. I think of this material as a time capsule somehow. If I work on this piece of stone now and it’s taken care of, it will stay the same shape for thousands of years. It’s like sending a message into the future. It’s a message without words but my emotions, feelings and state of mind are all worked into the stone. That’s why before I work something into the stone I have to be quite sure it’s important enough to send into the future.

That sounds as though you are working with the seriousness of stone but you are not taking on board any of its baggage. But surely marble has has some issues? It is renowned all over the world. It’s expensive. It’s a status symbol. When you work with marble are you not conscious of that aspect of it?
Well, when you work here a lot you lose the reverence a bit. I mean, here they even pave the sidewalks with marble. It’s everywhere and it’s a cheaper material than wood. Of course if you buy the most expensive marble it’s still precious but here it loses its holiness.
I should say, though that even if a lot of things here are made out of stone and marble there is a huge difference between the ordinary marble and the very precious white Statuario marble which they are always looking for in the quarries. I don’t want to give the impression that marble has lost its worth. It’s just more common around here.

Maybe we can talk a little bit about your work. My first reaction to these pieces is that they look as though they are inflated. They look a little ‘unstonelike’. Do you enjoy pushing the material in this way?
No, I’m not trying to make it not look like a stone. Stone has certain qualities. It’s hard, it’s cold, it’s tough. When you look at my sculpture it looks almost the opposite. It looks soft but what you’re seeing is something to do with the force or the energy within pushing to the outside. The funny thing is this power is also worked in from the outside. When you start with a block of stone it can be really strange sometimes: you can remove a lot of material and in the end the sculpture looks bigger than before. This is about the volume or the power which you work into it. If you make a lot of concave shapes on the surface in the end the piece looks shrunken or sick. The energy in there is a sign of power or expansion. My pieces look as though they are expanding. I have noticed that some people who go to see my exhibitions will later describe a big piece they saw and I will tell them, yeah but actually it’s just half that size. They remember it twice as big. I always notice how placing just one piece in an empty room or exhibition space immediately changes the whole atmosphere. This is especially true with stone because it’s so condensed and compact.

Tell me a little more about these stone objects you make.
When I look them in reverse order, they are like a family, one coming from the other. It all started out with a found object; a shark egg. The work developed from there. The first ones were small and then they became bigger and some of them sat up and then they sat up straighter. They evolved. They lost their legs. The antennae became longer. If you look at my sketches you can see all this happening. Evolution is a never-ending stream. For a certain time we are here and we have an opportunity to evolve ourselves. And right now we are at a point where we have to decide which direction to take. Either mankind will continue or else our kind will not survive. What can help us is our consciousness. For most people it’s probably clear that we can’t continue like we do now. When you look at the quarries, for example, they look like big wounds and they are growing bigger, faster and faster. If you hollow out a mountain eventually it will collapse. People here know that they are working against nature but they still do it.

So, do you have any hope?
I do! I have children and I am very hopeful for the future because I believe that mankind is not stupid. Some people do seem to be very stupid, judging by the way they act but I believe in our ability to change. During last year’s ‘Corona times’, we as a family had a very good time despite all the bad things that were happening in the world. I also saw just how quickly things can change, which gave me even more hope for the future. If there is a really urgent situation, then things will change and mankind is intelligent enough to invent new ways. The thing is we have to change the concept of exploiting and put ourselves more on a level with the world as humans. For thousands of years it seems to have been more like a pyramid shape with one on top and the masses down below. But I think the form for the future is more of a circle where we are all on one level. The circle is a very important shape in my work. I don’t know whether these thoughts that I have effect my work or if it’s the other way around but, thinking back now, I made pyramids a long time ago. I think in forms and try to find images or shapes to describe a thought. For me the pyramid is a shape for the old times and when I think of the future and it looks different, more circular.

I am interested in the way that you teach. You have a very light touch when it comes to teaching. Is that a strategy you have developed?
Firstly, I never planned to teach. I came to it by chance because Peter asked me to assist him on the course here at Campo dell’ Altissimo. I liked to work with stone but I hadn’t done teacher training. It seemed to come naturally, though. In the beginning I taught differently to now. In the early days when my students failed, I felt it was maybe my fault because I hadn’t told them enough and, especially here, I was conscious that people had paid quite a bit of money and wanted to learn. At that age I still couldn’t see the whole complex thing with groups and people how they are and how they react to all the psychological aspects of a course. After about ten years and some difficult teaching scenarios it just clicked into place one day. I thought ‘this is not the way. You can’t be eaten up by it.’ As a teacher, when you try to give a lot sometimes some people can’t deal with that.

I certainly couldn’t have dealt with a lot of direct instruction last week, when I was approaching stone as a material for the first time. I just needed to discover it myself. But somehow you did teach me during that first week although I hardly noticed you.
That’s about presence. After almost 25 years of teaching I have gathered a certain amount of experience. I can hear from 100 metres away whether someone is doing something wrong. I don’t need to be hovering over students all the time. When you teach, the most difficult thing is not to say something. You’re always tempted to help and to put students right but the most deep and powerful learning experiences you can have are not when you are being taught but when you are feeling, seeing, failing. Failing is the interesting part. The mistake I made at the beginning of my teaching career was thinking that I was there to help people to avoid failure. Sure, support them and give them help if it’s needed but don’t stop them from failing. When I started teaching at the Alanus School , we had a teaching seminar. We did an experiment where a blind-folded person was led by a seeing person through an obstacle course and then it swapped around so the sighted were led by the blind. The seeing one represented the teacher and the blind one was the student. Not to say something when someone is on the edge or was so difficult. This made something clear for me.
You have to somehow be tuned in to this.

For a student, failing can be a tense and painful experience but it’s not the teacher’s to take on board?
Yes, this is the conflict I was in at the beginning. Their pain came to me because I was open to it, because I thought everything was my fault.

And failure’s not even a bad thing.
Exactly, it’s not bad. It is necessary!

Do you feel that the teaching gives you anything or feeds your own practice in any way?
For sure. Sculpting is a lonely business and getting to interact with people is important. You can become really weird if you are just by yourself with your pieces for years. There is also the element of ‘practice what you preach’.
When I’m working on my own pieces I occasionally realise that I’m making the same mistakes as some of my students do. I can be impatient when I have an idea and patience is one of the things I try to teach. In the beginning of all this, I thought it would be nice to teach and after a while the feedback from students started to support me to find my actual vocation. This is a vocation.
I’m always curious to know whether teachers are conscious of learning from the process of teaching.
It’s a whole learning process. I get a feeling from people. It’s about picking up thoughts and being sensitive which sometimes can be a bit difficult for me. I can pick up tension from a student who might think I’m not helping enough or saying enough. With stone, it’s not that I see a stone block and I immediately see the sculpture in there. It comes out gradually. You gradually free the piece from inside the stone. Some students can’t deal with that process. They would rather be told exactly how to do it step by step.
And here is another aspect of teaching. I think that being an artist is not teachable. I mean, either you have something to say or you don’t. I even felt that back at the academy. There’s a difference between learning vocabulary and having something to say.

So you think then that some people just aren’t artists and they can’t be?
Yes. Well, consider Beuys and his assertion that ‘Every human being is an artist’. Artist is a big word (I don’t even know if what I do is art) and I think Beuys was misunderstood in so many ways. It’s not that everybody is the big artist like Gerhard Richter or Henry Moore or Mozart. There is a kind of ‘genius gene’, I think. Some people are born with certain abilities which are given and not learned. However, if you have an interest in something you can learn to model, paint, sing. Another motivation of mine is fun. It’s not about always having fun but there must be something that attracts you or interests you or is a kind of therapy for you. You can reflect and enter dialogue with yourself and with others – something you should always do when a piece is in progress. If you are not able to enter that dialogue then it’s hard for you to be an artist.

What are the possibilities of sculpture? What can sculpture do for us in the modern world?
For me this is personal. I always try to find physical laws. Are there laws for life and forms? Is there a universal language of form? Are forms funny? And if they are funny, then are they funny in every culture? I’m sure there are morphogenetic laws governing how things become a certain shape or how they form. Does matter grow in an invisible field? Does that come first.? There are signs that this is the case for certain structures. These are really interesting questions, I think. Look at a spiral for example. There are these tiny little spiral-shaped shells on the beach and at the same moment we are living in a huge spiral galaxy of exactly the same shape. There must be information in the air or the universe or within our spirit which gives things a certain shape. This is basically the question behind my piece, Inside Out. It started very simply. I bought a tomato here in an alimentari and found its shape so interesting. I think that behind this shape there is a morphogenetic field because it has a shape which in geometry is called torus. Basically, it is a donut shape and it has a rotating field. I call the piece Inside Out because, depending on how you’re feeling, it either seems to be rotating outwards from the centre or else inwards towards a black hole. Anyway, these rotating fields are everywhere, especially in nature. In every fruit when you cut it and in every tree which sucks the nutrients from the earth and up the central trunk and then out to the leaves which fall down again, completing this circuit. The magnetic field of the earth is the same principle and without this field there would be no life on earth. This huge invisible field is actually giving life.

When you deal with stone it’s heavy, dense, compact and hard. But it is said that on the molecular level there is much more space than material. When you go to lift a stone it’s heavy and therefore hard to believe that’s it contains a lot of nothing. And this brings me on to the Big Bang theory. We accept it because science is very certain but when you really think about it…..I mean, and before? What was that? And how can everything come from nothing? How is that possible?

I am not so much interested in what I can see already. I don’t feel the need to make a dog or a tomato, even though of course I really appreciate those forms. I just don’t need to repeat them. For me it’s more about the dynamic behind them. What made the dog become a dog? How are things put together? How are we put together? How does everything function? At a certain point you arrive at this big word God. Is there a universal intelligence?
I read something interesting once: the odds that everything in the world is like this simply by chance are the same odds as a tornado moving over a rubbish dump and spontaneously creating a Concord. That makes me think of the Big Bang again. What are the chances?

These are huge questions.
Sculpture doesn’t give you the answers. It is a way of questioning everything, making you wonder. Part of the message behind my work is not to forget to wonder about things. A big question for me when I was in my late teens was how do we talk about things? Where do the words come from? How do words form? How do pictures or ideas form? Where do these sentences come from? Am I perhaps just an antenna? A receiving device? Many, many big questions. The sculptures don’t give me answers but they give me time to think.