Although the majority of professors at the Düsseldorf Academy focused on concept art during the time when Danuta Karsten was a student there, she preferred to concentrate on the expressive power inherent in material. Her studies with clay, straw, untreated cotton, quark, woven plants, paper, water glass and soil pigments, partly on the ground and partly suspended in interior spaces or installed on metal stands, are shot through with the reverence for material that she learnt during her time at the Academy in Danzig. However in her first public installations in Germany, in churches and gallery spaces, these echoes of Arte Povera give way to an object-like grasp and a highly aesthetic staging of material similar to Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Polish textile art in the 1970s, or the paper and textile objects produced by the Romanian artist duo Ritzi and Peter Jacobi. Karsten’s installations made of paper soaked in water glass in the form of folded conical bags (1994) and hung in the Philip Nicolai church in Recklinghausen; and in the form of large flat sheets piled on top of one another to make a corner cone (1997) exhibited in the Kunsthaus Essen, still display the original, raw, manual and close-to-nature feeling for material deeply rooted in the origins of artists from Eastern Europe. It also characterises Karsten’s room dividers made of two hundred untreated cotton tubes painted black and stiffened with potato starch that were also shown in Essen (ill. 1).
This changed in 1996 when Danuta Karsten began to work with plastic foil, strips and string, and other mostly white or transparent materials. Alongside the white paper that she often uses, these materials also included white twine, matches, latex and soap, mostly arranged in geometrical patterns. The change from Arte Povera “poor” materials to everyday working materials, was evident in an installation made of hundreds of air cushions and shown in the octagon of the foyer of the Ostdeutsche Galerie Museum in Regensburg in 1999 (ill. 3). Her earliest installation of this type was in 1996. It consisted of sixty pyramids of sewn-together PVC sheets standing, solely because of the static potential inherent in the material, in the psychiatric hospital in Bedburg-Hau.
By contrast with the works she created before 1996 in which she used space solely as a place to present her artistic works, from now on she began to relate her work to the whole of the space available within a room, which was itself transformed into a work of art with the installed materials. Since then material and space have been inseparable in her work. She used PVC pyramids for further installations: in 1999 and 2000 in Nordkirchen and Antwerp; in 2000 in the installation entitled “Light Breath” in the Galerie Koło in Danzig; and finally in the eponymous two hundred and fifty installations in 2010 in the Zollverein Colliery in Essen (ill.11). Danuta Karsten rearranges her geometric modules time and time again to suit the corresponding space, thereby reinterpreting them once more. This principle can be seen in all of her work: she takes a found material, “declines” it in serial form and installs it in various spaces until she has achieved a final result which seems to have exhausted all the possibilities. The fact that she also “declines” material according to the way it looks and how it can be manually reworked, can be seen in a work known as “Clothes” that she installed in 2001 in Hattingen: here she took four identical falling-flowing figures and alternated them with hemp, metal wool, sisal and synthetic material (ill. 4).
In 1996 the artist created a three-storey metal object for the St.-Johannes church in Recklinghausen, in which she hung lenses made of water glass - a glass-like material that begins to flow invisibly under the influence of humidity. In 1998 she used a similar module (a hand-cast water glass lens in a cardboard ring) for an exhibition in the Ostdeutsche Galerie Museum in Regensburg; here she hung together around 1400 lenses to create an intermediate ceiling in the museum’s two-storey graphic hall. By doing so she redefined the original space so that the visitors could have differing visual experience from both stories (ill. 2 a, b). In the Galerie Koło in Danzig she then allowed the water glass material to flow under the influence of natural humility from a height of two metres all the way down to the ground. Time is a fundamental part of her installations. For the artist needs weeks and sometimes months to analyse the space and prepare the final work which can often consist of thousands of modules. For her installation in an exhibition entitled “Paper Moves“ in 2012 in Reutlingen she cut 66,000 tiny sheets of paper by hand (ill. 13). The material needs time in order to move in a certain form. Viewers need a certain period of time in order to truly grasp the spatial happenings from different perspectives and points of view. They have to “bring their own time into the dialogue in order to consider what they have seen and experienced”.
Another equally remarkable feature of her installations is their powerful graphic element that can be traced back to one of her earlier concerns: “the wish to draw within the space”. This has been confirmed by many commentaries on her work. One such drawing within a space was installed in the Museum Bochum in 2001: a 120 square metre curved area of paper made of thin glued strips (ill. 5 a, b). This characteristic is equally applicable to another installation in the Museum where paper garlands hung down from the ceiling; and to the “Paper Space” shown in Otterndorf in 2005, which consisted of 4000 hand-cut paper spirals (ill. 7). The graphic effect from every perspective applies all the more to her installation consisting of 60,000 matches, which she hung in the ten-metre high hallway of the Kunstverein in Ahaus (ill. 6).
Danuta Karsten’s work also contains “an intensive relationship to the free line”, where she works with taut ribbons. Two good examples of this were her outside installation above a circular flowerbed in front of Borbeck Mansion in Essen in 2006 (ill. 8 b), and her installation consisting of “100 kilometres” of synthetic strips in the Kunstkirche Christ-König in Bochum, which has the overwhelming effect of being a line drawing (ill. 14). But she can also create drawings in space when she inserts geometric figures drawn with paint sticks (ill. 8 a) or acrylic paint on hanging plastic sheets to create installations between which visitors can stroll. In doing so the black, white, blue and green lines of the installation in the Flottmann-Hallen in Herne in 2012 mirror the remains of the former line markings in the floor of the building (ill. 12) and transfer them once more into the space. Karsten’s “municipal dome” in a roundabout in Herten in 2013 can also be described as a network of lines, in that the idea came from a street map of the old town centre (ill. 15).
Light and movement are the main features of her installations. It is not only the white transparent materials but also the large amount of modules and their spatial distribution that give the impression of light refraction. Movement is primarily created by the slightest breath of air between the hanging or braced installations. This is also true of smaller scale works like the walls covered in bubble wrap in the foyer of the museum in Regensburg in 1999 (ill. 3), which continually changed according to the change of light and draught caused when the outside door was opened. Light and movement are particularly constituent features of her large-scale works like that in the Atrium of the Domino House in Reutlingen in 2012; this consisted of small paper cards hanging from 1,406 nylon strings (ill. 13): it was variously described as a “gigantic cloud” and as “an experience of indescribable multiplicity dependent on the daylight, the position of the sun or the artificial nocturnal light”, and triggered off associations with gigantic swarms, ice crystals and snowflakes. In 1913 visitors to the Kunstkirche Christ-König in Bochum (ill. 14) were “witnesses to a unique natural drama […] when the sunlight passed across the installation to […] conjure up optical sensations”. Her floor installation consisting of blocks of soap (ill. 9), first shown in 2007 in the Galerie Łaznia in Danzig and inspired by the building’s original function as a bath house, additionally stimulated visitors’ olfactory senses.
Art historical back references inevitably come to mind with the vibrating objects on the surface of works by Karsten’s academy teacher Günther Uecker; with the light and kinetic effects in the works of the “Zero” group (Uecker joined the group in 1961); and with the op art-related “vibrating images” of Jesús Rafael Soto. Danuta Karsten’s installations are however “shows”, scenic offerings in which a building’s architecture is the stage and where light and smell function as immaterial extras in the material work. She transforms multi-purpose buildings into sacred rooms. In these sacred rooms she reinforces our feeling of transcendence, spirituality and mythical, spiritual presence. She is inspired by historical spaces whose aura and history she materialises in her installations.
Danuta Karsten. Räume, an exhibition catalogue published by the Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte (on the occasion of an artist’s grant from the Westphalian business community 1997), Münster 1997
Lovis-Corinth-Preis 1998. Special prize for Danuta Karsten, an exhibition catalogue published by the Künstlergilde / Museum Ostdeutsche Galerie Regensburg, Esslingen am Neckar 1998
Danuta Karsten. Rauminstallationen, an exhibition catalogue published by the Museum Bochum 
Danuta Karsten. Neue Orte, an exhibition catalogue published by the Galerie im Schloss Borbeck, Essen 2006
Auswahl 2012. Danuta Karsten, an exhibition catalogue published on the occasion of the eponymous exhibition in 2012 of Herne artists in the Flottmann-Hallen, Herne 2012
Danuta Karsten. “Papier bewegt”, an exhibition catalogue published by the Atrium im Dominohaus, Reutlingen 2012
Danuta Karsten, Bönen 2012
Danuta Karsten. 100 Kilometer, Dortmund 2014