Measuring the World

Cai Wagner, Introductory Thoughts on the Work of Maria and Natalia Petschatnikov (English)

Now and then, one runs across land surveyors, in officialese also called surveying technicians, in the streetscape, where, with their tripods and GPS gadgets, they measure the city’s spaces. The art-minded person prizes the land surveyor as a literary figure. In Kafka’s 1922 novel The Castle, the reader participates in the vain struggles of the land surveyor K to get nearer to the castle and its functionaries. The novel ends without his succeeding.

Daniel Kehlmann’s best-selling novel Measuring the World from 2005 is also about two researchers who were at times active as land surveyors, the mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauß and the naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. The latter was an explorer and a networking pioneer. His five-year trip to the Americas (1799–1804) established Humboldt’s fame as a universal naturalist. In the most adverse conditions imaginable, he drew and measured fauna and flora, and was active as a vulcanologist, geologist, botanist, chemist, and much more. Having received far more than 30,000 letters, Humboldt spanned a global communication network that testifies to the dynamism of his exploratory spirit.

Though Kehlmann attempts to sound the relationship between science and society in the combination of both biographies, it’s the story of Alexander von Humboldt, born in 1769, that interests us here, when it comes to the work of the twin sisters Maria and Natalia Petschatnikov, born approximately 200 years later in St. Petersburg.
Maria and Natalia Petschatnikov are explorers in their own right. After finishing school, they set off to survey the world together. Stops in New York, Paris, and Hamburg lasting several years each led them finally to Berlin, where today they live and work. Since 2000, they’ve surveyed half of Europe thanks to numerous fellowships and residency programs. As in a prism, they find in specific places general phenomena. But the Petschatnikovs always remain explorers of the everyday. By taking a step back from the known and the banal, in their paintings and installations they allow viewers to look at the seen with new eyes.

The present catalogue arranges, for the first time, the multifaceted work of the artists from the last seven years, and, with almost twenty series, provides insight into the results of their aesthetic research. In his essay “Flaneurs in Berlin,” Hans-Jürgen Hafner describes the most recent work of the twins Maria and Natalia Petschatnikov. This volume appears on the occasion of the solo exhibition at Galerie Wagner + Partner in Berlin in fall 2011 and the related presentations in summer 2012 in the Kunstverein Münsterland in Coesfeld and in the Galerie Heike Strelow in Frankfurt.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Ulla and Heinz Lohmann, Hamburg, and their collection C15 for their long-standing support.

Jutta Meyer zu Riemsloh for the Kunstverein Münsterland e.V.
Margret Uhrmeister, Cai Wagner for the Galerie Wagner + Partner