Hammer Projects: Bjorn Dahlem

Hammer Projects: Bjorn Dahlem

Berlin-based artist Björn Dahlem creates imaginary models of the cosmos and illustrates abstract principles of astrophysics using discarded materials such as untreated lumber, industrial neon light tubes, dustbusters, or carpet remnants. At turns earnest and wryly humorous, these constructions subvert the viewer's expectations of precise scientific models and question the mythological and narrative qualities of scientific theories as they develop within popular culture.

Hammer Projects are curated by James Elaine.


Björn Dahlem was born in Munich in 1974 and currently lives in Berlin. He studied at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf from 1994 to 2000. Solo exhibitions include Coma Sculptor at Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York; Im Krypton at Galerie Maschenmode Guido W. Baudach, Berlin; and Club Horror Vacui at Luis Campaña, Cologne. Recent group exhibition venues include Blum & Poe, Los Angeles; Galerie Neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Kunstverein Hannover; Kunstverein Düsseldorf; and Kunstverein Hamburg.

Björn Dahlem: Solaris

By Andreas Schlaegel

Solaris, Björn Dahlem’s spectacular new installation at the Hammer Museum, owes its title to the fictional planet in the eponymous 1972 film by Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, based on a novel by Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem. The planet itself, under the close scrutiny of scientists trying to determine the reasons for inexplicable phenomena that suggest the presence of a nonhuman and completely alien intelligence, is the film’s unlikely protagonist. The scientists learn that it is capable of playing tricks on the human mind—reproducing reflections of their astronauts’ memories, fears, dreams, and wishes—and they are forced to travel to the inner realms of human nature and culture. It is as if Hollywood, the dream factory itself, has come to life on this primeval soup of a planet.

It is not only from the sphere of fiction that Björn Dahlem draws inspiration; his work is informed by the whole universe provided by the language of popular science, its imagery, models, and phrases. He translates these into idiosyncratic sculptural constructions and architectural installations, based on thorough and wide-ranging historical and scientific research. Although he employs well-established theoretical models of the microcosm and macrocosm, theories pale in confrontation with the stunning virtuosity of his cunning inventions, the bold elegance of the linear constructions he easily knocks up into the exhibition space, his use of frugal means and concise humor. Orchestrated from cheap, standardized, and overfamiliar DIY materials—wood battens, two-by-fours, Styrofoam, light bulbs, fluorescent tubes, and the occasional sausage or cucumber—his works point to a different world behind the physical models that they appear to illustrate. As precise as they are in rendering the abstract issues of complex scientific theories in three-dimensional sketches, these structures probe model, theory, and possibly even the concepts of science and scientific truth as such. In a similar vein, Lem spoke of science as a presumptuous way to obtain truth: “The contact, the target that is aimed for, is as nebulous and obscure as the Congregation of Saints or the coming of the Messiah. The exploration is similar to the methodological formulas of the existing liturgical system; the scientists’ humbling labor consists of waiting for fulfillment, for the annunciation, because between Solaris and earth there are and cannot be any bridges.”

 Solaris  Gedankenexperiment

 Dahlem’s Club Schrödinger’s Katze


Andreas Schlaegel is an artist and writer living in Berlin.


Hammer Projects are made possible with support from The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Annenberg Foundation, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, and members of the Hammer Circle.