Numbers provide an obvious, and possibly the most direct, form of associational grouping.
Constituents within a notational system that's generally expected to provide a logical outcome, at the same time they are plangent with possibility, their significance dependent on context and specific arrangement.
It's unsurprising, then, that they feature so prominently in the recent work of Berlin-based artist Nora Schultz (b. 1975), whose practice aims to reconcile distinct and even random elements into visible (and less visible) systems of meaning and expression.
Merging a sculptural approach with the possibilities of performance, printing and photography, the formats of presentation and reproduction attached to these media also form an increasingly central aspect of Schultz's work.
A series of 2010 installations feature the numbers zero to ten as printed (or printable) representations (left and below).
Echoing previous performances by Schultz in which sheet metal or wire is bent into a countdown of numerals (top left), a performative element is also intrinsic to these later works.
Used to create a series of prints prior to exhibition, the objects on show represent unseen process, yet equally function as intriguing, elegantly arranged statements of potential.
Reflecting this duality, the digital countdown they enumerate moves both backwards and forwards in time: representative of a past action, it also acknowledges the viewer's imminent engagement with the works on show.
This temporal flexibility is specifically acknowledged in the title given to the series of prints produced with the objects: Countup / Countdown.
It should be remembered, however, that the numbers 0-10 potentially represent far more than seconds in time. They are also commonly used with scoring systems; opinion polls; evaluations. How successful is what we see?
Numbers feature, too, in the title of Chairs Times 10 and Black Square Times 2 (2010, below left).
Here, however, simple mathematics is undermined by the appearance of the work itself.
'Black Square Times 2' is positioned next to a stack of metal 'chairs', an association that leads us, fleetingly, to consider it a type of table.
We quickly realise, however, that its unstable nature would prevent such use, and see it as the shapely abstraction Schultz describes.
Yet equally, the ten so-called chairs are entirely impractical, bereft of backs and seats. They cannot justifiably be named chairs at all, but are sculptural entities approximating an item of furniture.
Both constituents of Chairs Times 10 and Black Square Times 2 masquerade to varying degrees as household objects, the pairing of abstract and semi-representational form evoking associations that drag us from one reading to another.
In fact, the only immutable aspect of this work are the quantities quoted in its title: the numbers add up, but identity doesn't.
Numbers can be used to systematise, codify and configure, yet are also suggestive of randomness, chance, and even, for some, the arcane.
In other works by Schultz, found objects - often quite literally the first thing that comes to hand - are cohered into systems of considered composition and allusive meaning. These pieces arise from an active interest in materials and their contexts, emerging organically without a preconceived visual product in mind (above).
The act of imposing a formal logic on randomly retrieved objects (or "confiscated footage" as Schultz herself terms these constituents) is in itself a particular art; and once captured, Schultz's "footage" is often made to reverberate throughout her work, doubled and mirrored to create skeins of thematic continuity, as well as points of new departure.
Her slide projection Teufelsberg, for example, depicts a hill in Berlin beloved by BMX bikers. A principal interest for Schultz lies in the array of old mattresses, railings and other detritus arranged alongside the track to prevent accidents; the kinds of objects, of course, that consistently feature in her own work.
But the history of the Teufelsberg itself adds intriguing insight to readings of Schultz's practice in general. Topped by an abandoned U.S. listening station, the site was central to Cold War intelligence, a place of signals; codes; the piecing together of concealed meaning.
In addition, the hill itself was built entirely of rubble cleared from WW2 bombing sites - remnants shaped into something new. And the Teufelsberg contains a further burial: the vestiges of a Nazi headquarters designed by Albert Speers.
The apparent echoes the hidden, past informs present, and networks of meaning emerge.
related articles: 21st century sculpture