Often propped up in a row or symbolically arranged, the ongoing series of charred matches by Wolfgang Stiller are oversized and surreal renditions of the book-bound lookalikes. The German artist sculpts human heads in bright red or gradient-lined black signaling previous use that sit atop the square posts standing about five feet tall. Aptly titled Matchstickmen, the nondescript figures span the gamut of human emotion, ranging from pained expressions and distress to joy and calm.
Stiller began the series more than a decade ago when he was living in China, and the earliest wooden iterations reflected his surrounding community. Today, they encompass a broader swath of identities and are sometimes cast in bronze for larger outdoor installations. Whether tucked in a large-scale box resembling a coffin or arranged as emblems like the Star of David to memorialize historic atrocities, the Matchstickmen series can be somber and even morbid, although Stiller tells Colossal they’re also speaking to the unpredictability and impermanence of life. He explains:
It is an undeniable fact, which we like to forget, that our present existence, (our) body is going to fall apart. We all have a certain lifespan. The Matchstickmen serve as a friendly reminder of this fact. That might scare a lot of people, especially those with a very materialistic worldview who think everything ends with the death of our physical body, but it could be also seen as an encouragement to live a more meaningful life.
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