A Genuine Urge to Behold: ‘Meltdown’ by Kurt Steger

Opening night at ArtHelix, with partial view of Meltdown by Kurt Steger; photo courtesy of Vincent Romaniello

Suspended murky waterdrops on the verge of dripping from an icicle onto a sheet of paper prove to be almost hypnotic in Kurt Steger’s interactive project at ArtHelix. Utilizing elegant wooden contraptions made of a rotating large-scale low wooden table, a transportable tall crane-like sculpture, and a few low benches, Steger’s participatory performance evokes a genuine urge to behold the genesis of a fresh mark, from the first drip to the final circular tracing. The resulting drip drawings hang on the walls, mostly depicting  circular forms that range from dark sepias to vibrant yellows and rusty oranges.

(Above and below) Close-ups of Meltdown by Kurt Steger at ArtHelix; photos courtesy of the artist

Reminiscent of playing a board game or raking a Zen garden, Steger’s circles are formed by a group of participants sitting around a table and turning it. The ice that drips onto the paper contains materials such as carbon, rust, soil, and locally harvested toxic waters. As participants rotate the paper manually, the melting ice creates a Zen-like circle of urban stains. “The detritus frozen into the ice pods stains the paper onto which it drips in the same way that our devastating carbon footprint stains the earth,” Steger elaborates.  With notions of ritual, environment, and community in mind, the artist invites visitors to participate in what he calls “the creative impulse.”

(Above and below) Close-ups of drip drawings by Kurt Steger at ArtHelix; photos by Etty Yaniv for Arts in Bushwick

There is a shamanistic aura to Steger’s work. Yet, it is far from a trendy or ironic new age trip, a didactic sermon on global warming, or a doom and gloom apocalyptic scenario. “My interest in environmentalism and psychology are prevalent in all my work,” says Steger, who had resided in the mountains of Virginia and Northern California before arriving in Bushwick more than two years ago. His urge seems idealistic but also pragmatic with a playful bent: “Our planet is in deep peril, and yet even in the midst of its demise, there is beauty, and therefore hope,” he says. This series of drip drawings materialized after Steger moved to New York. “There was a dramatic shift between living in the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the urban grittiness of Brooklyn, and I felt the need to express my longing for nature,” he contemplates.

Large Circle No. 1 (1472 Drips) by Kurt Steger at ArtHelix; photo by Etty Yaniv for Arts in Bushwick
(Clockwise from top left) Runoff No. 2, Runoff No. 3, Runoff No. 5, Runoff No. 6, Runoff No. 4, Runoff No. 7; all works by Kurt Steger at ArtHelix; photo by Etty Yaniv for Arts in Bushwick

Besides conveying Steger’s love of nature mixed with his deep concern for the environment, Meltdown also highlights the importance of the communal experience. Steger projects an immersive John Cage-like meditation, in which process, form, and content merge seamlessly. The performance not only echoes the meltdown of the environment, but also urges people to seek a solution through a communal focus.

Artist Kurt Steger (left) with visitors to Meltdown at ArtHelix on opening night; photo courtesy of the artist

Similarly, in his ongoing project entitled “Lodge,” the artist invites conversation in an open-aired construction that alludes to a Native American sweat lodge. Installed in a wide range of locations, from gritty urban lots (e.g., Harrison Place, Bushwick), to panoramic coastal settings (e.g., Portland, Maine), the artist creates a spacious, sacred container for sharing stories. He believes that when we open our hearts to each other “we access the brilliance within and communally tap into our creativity. In doing so, we increase the chance of finding new ways to live sustainably.”

Lodge by Kurt Steger, installed in Harrison Place, Bushwick; photo by Etty Yaniv for Arts in Bushwick
Lodge by Kurt Steger, installed in Portland, Maine; photo by Etty Yaniv for Arts in Bushwick

Steger says that when an artist activates objects in the world, he also activates nature and brings it to a place of aesthetic resonance, which in turn leads to a positive societal change. “It is my hope that by bringing nature into an urban environment, I offer the possibility of mitigating both our personal wounds and our cultural malaise,” he elaborates. His work conveys an urgent plea to fight the ignorance that drives us to destruction, mixed with a subtle longing for human bonding. In Meltdown, Steger offers visitors this opportunity, by sitting together in a circle and focusing on a single drip.

Artist Kurt Steger (second from left) with visitors engaging with Meltdown at ArtHelix; photo by Etty Yaniv for Arts in Bushwick
Artist Kurt Steger with partial view of his works included in Meltdown at ArtHelix


Kurt Steger’s Meltdown will be on view at Art Helix from 24 October to 30 November 2014; ArtHelix is located at 299 Meserole Street, with gallery hours Friday-Sunday, 12-6PM