Steffi Klenz


Staffages (Beiwerk) in German means ‘accessories’ or ‘decoration’ referring to the descriptive term in painting for figures to whom no specific identity or story is attached and which are included merely for compositional or decorative reasons. Staffages are accessories to the scene, and yet their presence is vital for adding life, scale, and cultural detail.

In 2017 artist Steffi Klenz immersed herself in the collections and buildings of Tunbridge Wells Museum. Conventional collections tend to group works by chronology, movement, medium or subject, but Klenz takes a different approach. Her photographic work, Staffages (2018) questions the way in which the meaning of objects, images and historical artefacts can transition when filtered through the hands of the artist or collector. Klenz selected, positioned and redisplayed objects from the Museum collection to form new arrangements and associations across timeframes and sites.
Severed from their previous context in the Museum collection, and placed within non-hierarchical compositions, the objects and what they represent evolve into something new. In this work, the artist suggests that the collection is not a hermetic space as often presumed, but through rendering new connections between object, site and viewer, she proposes that the collection is a conceptual as well as a physical space.

The artist was interested to challenge the traditional role of the plinth to isolate the object from its surroundings and became more and more inspired by the work of Brancusi and his challenging views that a plinth can be more than the transportable base of an object or sculpture but a sculptural element in its own rights. In Klenz’s work, the traditional plinth becomes an abstract sculpture referring the viewer to the utopian visions of Modernist artists of the second and third decades of the 20th Century.

Klenz’ sculptural plinths not only hold the object but rather allow the objects ‘to do’ and ‘ to become.’ Here, the plinth is not only an actor but also a mediator rather like the staffage in the paintings of the late 1700s and early 1800s, whose purpose was to mediate between the viewer and the subject of the painting.

In contrast to the professionalism and perfectionism evident in Modernist examples of mass-produced objects such as the Bauhaus Bauspiel Construction Set designed by Alma Siedhoff-Buscher in 1923 or Wilhelm Wagenfeld’s Kubus Stacking Storage Containers from 1938, Klenz’ flexible modular plinth constructions are made out of scrapped wood pieces, undressed wood such as plywood, chipboard and OSB. Klenz’ sculptural plinths are remarkably improvised and unfinished, suggesting a sense of incompleteness, highlighting Klenz’ insistence that a collection is never complete or fixed in its representation.

Every object in the museum collection is registered in controlled terms, described in detail and given an accession number. These accession numbers feature in Staffages, translated into a colour code used on the framed work itself and the surfaces of the sculptured plinth. When showing the work of Staffages, Klenz makes certain adaptations to the museum’s walls and the display of her final images, incorporating coloured shapes and accession numbers, relative to the work displayed.

For more details please visit the Staffages website HERE. 

About the Artist

Artist Website

Steffi Klenz is an artist based in London. She works with photography and video; her practice has been consistently preoccupied with the built environment, critically exploring the notion of place and spatiality. Her practice indicates a clear interest in the political engagement with particular buildings, environments or geographies in conflict, considering the relationship between aesthetics, technology and representation.

Her work has been shown in group and solo exhibitions both nationally and internationally at institutions such as the Wellcome Collection London, The British Museum, The Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh and the Royal Academy in London, FotoMuseum Antwerp, Los Angeles Centre for Digital Arts, Phoenix Art Museum, The Fine Art Museum Luleå, The Finish Museum of Photography, The SeaCity Museum in Southampton, The New Art Gallery Walsall, Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, Kunstverein Ludwigshafen and Museum Künstlerkolonie in Darmstadt.

She published her first book “Polo bound for Passaic” with Cornerhouse Publishing and Schaden Verlag in 2009. With Mörel Books she published her book “He only feels the black and white of it, Berlin Wall 14-07-1973” in 2016 and her book “So to Speak” was published in 2018.

She has been commissioned to undertake the BBC East Tower Commission (2016-2017) in London, the Rights of Passage Commission for the 2015 Venice Biennale, Strange Cargo Commission for the Cheriton Light Festival 2018 and completed the Tunbridge Wells Museum and Cultural Quarter Commission in 2018. She is currently working on the Camden Alive – Mayor of London’s Borough of Culture Commission.