Steffi Klenz’s lively still life Staffages

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In the late 1700s and early 1800s, painters sometimes included ‘staffages’ in their work – human and animal figures that weren’t the primary figure, but which added life to the work. ‘Staffage’ means ‘accessories’ or ‘decoration’ in German, and was used to describe figures that had no specific identity or story, but which were included for compositional or decorative purposes.

It’s the name German-born artist Steffi Klenz has chosen for her latest series, which was commissioned by Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery and features objects from its collection. Researching the museum’s collections catalogue, Klenz got interested in museum theory – the idea that objects are given equal status through the way an institution registers, describes, displays and cares for them, and gain their value through the way they represent our shared stories.

Each curator or artist who works with the objects displays them in a different way, the idea goes, and therefore shifts our perception of them; by putting the objects into another, radically new situation, Klenz’s images toy with our idea of their worth.

From the series Staffages © Steffi Klenz

Graduating from the prestigious Photography MA at the Royal College of Art in 2005, Klenz’s work plays with architecture and our perception of space, though never in a direct way. For this project she was given access to all the collections and buildings in the museum plus its adult education centre – which, along with the library, are soon to be redeveloped into a Cultural & Learning Hub.

“At this exciting time of change and to celebrate the uniqueness of our collections and spaces, we wanted to capture a snapshot of the collections, buildings and the people working in and using these spaces before the evolvement into the new Cultural Hub,” commented Suzie Plumb, the exhibition curator.

www.steffiklenz.co.uk Staffages is on show until 08 September at Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery, Civic Centre, Mount Pleasant, Tunbridge Wells TN1 1NJ www.tunbridgewellsmuseum.org

From the series Staffages © Steffi Klenz
From the series Staffages © Steffi Klenz
From the series Staffages © Steffi Klenz
Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy