Curated by Susanne Neubauer
Gaëlle Boucand, Rodrigo Garcia Dutra, Simon Faithfull, John Smith, Anne-Mie van Kerckhoven, Vermeir & Heiremans, Shirin Yousefi
(der mensch ist so etwas wie ein werden, eine lage, wie ein fall, eine situation [the human being is a kind of becoming, a state, a view, a situation]—Otl Aicher, erweiterung des ich, 1987)
The exhibition “7 Raumthesen” (“7 Propositions on Space”) is dedicated to the question how the architectural, built space and the “created reality” (“gemachte Realität”, Otl Aicher) relate to the subjectivity of people today. Inherent to such “created reality” is the question of proportionality, which is answered differently in each historical period. Once modernism became committed to an architecture of functionality and objectivity, there emerged designers, architects, and theorists such as Otl Aicher, Günter Benisch, Aldo van Eyck, Ottokar Uhl and Christian Norberg-Schulz, who developed counter positions. The human individual and the “use”—as a category of a possible aesthetic of architecture (and of everyday objects)—became the benchmark for the design and development of an alternative understanding of space. In the link between humankind and the environment, which today is described in biopolitics as the process-based planning and production of life, the focus is placed on the social demands within a designed environment. In the 1950s and 1960s this idea was key to the development of “other modernities” and attitudes, which continue to be very current. They are also at the core of various, also artistic research endeavors.
“Every house speaks for itself,” says designer Otl Aicher, for “it says how the living relationships within are organized and what value system prevails.” The Austrian architect Ottokar Uhl describes this kind of aesthetic as “democratized,” “social,” and “activity-oriented” (Uhl 1976). As a value system it is not static but subject to change, since it stems from people. Those are not just interested in doing “what is necessary”, but “what is doable,” and try not only to think “the practical imperative”, but “the thinkable” (Aicher 1987). “It does not make much sense anymore to differentiate between subject and object. We are in our objects, and our objects are us.” This incisive comment by Aicher, taken from the same context as the quote cited in the exhibition title, has served as the core guiding notion of the exhibition “7 Raumthesen”.
The ability of artists to engage with depictions of space, precisely in terms of its symbolic significance, is no longer limited to two-dimensional media or formal considerations in the context of modern and contemporary art. Given their array of narrative devices, video and film are particularly suited media for translating the questions into images that critics of modernism have theoretically and practically posed. The “erweiterung des ich,” or “expansion of the self,” in and through space has changed dramatically since the 1950s and has had ramifications not only in terms of the digital revolution but also in terms of the shift of capitalism into what is today a controversial and contested form of neoliberalism.
In an essayistic, propositional, and open manner, the exhibition “7 Raumthesen” presents an array of seven very different works capturing these highly complex situations at a particular moment in time. The selected works show spaces that are existential in nature. Architectural space, the house or building and its positioning within its surrounding, is shown as an area of protection and retreat, as a seismographic reflection of the lives of its inhabitants, as a symbol of prestige and as an investment, as a site of production with a life cycle, and as an expression of contemporary social structures and artistic norms.
In “Sliding Moments”, Shirin Yousefi brings together archival material and found footage of interior and exterior spaces into a sequence of images, through which in a personal and interpretive manner she links her native country Iran with foreign sites as well as with her own place of residence in Switzerland. The interiors and homes that she shows are private spaces and bear the traces of passing time. They raise issues of loss, change, and the fleeting nature of what one can call “home.” A very different work, “The Good Life (A Guided Tour)”, by the artist duo Vermeir & Heiremans illuminates the socio-economic revaluation of art-related spaces into high-priced lofts. The film shows a real estate agent guiding interested buyers through exhibition spaces. After being remodeled as apartments, these spaces will be transformed into a “unique iconic combination of art and architecture.” The investment project not only promises hip “urban living,” but through shared and representative spaces, such as the lobby and the bar, it also sells the access to a clearly selected social class. In the form of this “promotional film” the artists have found a both critical and revealing approach to investigating processes related to the appropriation of a certain way of living and the desire for personal creativity, which can also be purchased with expensive gallery art and a corresponding lifestyle. Gaëlle Boucand’s documentary film “JJA” is a portrait of a rich 85-year-old French businessman, who lives alone in his remote villa in Switzerland. The filmmaker shows the man as he recounts his story in his garden and in his house, which bears the symbolic name “Rosebud,” an homage to Orson Wells’ “Citizen Kane”. His is the story of economic success, in part due to the optimization of tax strategies and the move to neighboring Switzerland. John Smith’s work “Dad’s Stick” is, on the one hand, an examination of the dialogical relationship between abstraction and literalness on the basis of three objects. On the other, it is a personal look at the life of his father and his parent’s home. “Dad's Stick” itself is a wooden stick that the artist’s father used over decades to stir the paint that he used to regularly repaint the interior of the house. The artist’s analysis of the stick reveals that the different colors used to paint the house, in accordance with given preferences and trends, can be read much like tree rings. “Here lives my House” by Anne-Mie van Kerckhoven is a comparable homage to her parents’ home in Antwerp, which today belongs to a theater. Her parents had banquets and dinner parties in what were once the semi-public bourgeois rooms of the ground floor. After the sale of the house the artist walked through the differently furnished rooms one last time, even up to the attic apartment of the maid. Layered with historical photographs of earlier times, her walk marks a sad farewell and portrays her powerlessness over a process that she can only accept. The significance of a private home dating from the modern period is the subject of Rodrigo Garcia Dutra’s work “Projektion”. This kind of house does not age like many other so-called “anonymous” homes that do not have a renowned architect as a symbiotic part of their inhabitants. Later mostly listed as historic buildings, these homes were initially often commissioned as status symbols evincing a certain position in society. In his work Dutra superimposes an abstract film by Hans Richter of 1923 onto a black and white photograph of the “Casa Modernista” (1930), a model house designed by the Ukrainian-Brazilian architect Gregori Warchavchik in São Paulo. Dutra is only partially interested in the iconographic significance of this house in the context of the “international style” that spread throughout the globe and fostered an aesthetic of abstract forms (as did Hans Richter’s optical “Rhythmus” films). Instead of being concerned with modernism per se, Dutra is far more interested in its consequences: the problem of a lacking subjective dimension that is cut out by this kind of architecture and that is today recognized as an aspect of the failure of modernism (which is why the film is called “Projektion”, suggesting representation, figure, draft, reproduction, relocation). Simon Faithfull’s work “We climbed round a final ridge and saw a whaling–boat entering the bay 2500 ft, below. A few moments later we saw the sheds and factory of Stromness whaling–station. We paused and shook hands. Ernest Shackleton” marks the beginning and end of the hypothetical “7 Raumthesen”. As a “vision of the end of the world” (Faithfull) the artist’s film takes us through the waling station of Stromness, which was built in 1907 on the southern Atlantic. The place became famous, when the British polar explorer Ernest Shackleton reached land here in 1916 after two years on the open sea and was thus rescued. The buildings of Stromness have been left to decay since the 1960s. Like many sites with mono-structures important to mining or mineral extraction, the place was among the first “ghost towns” of modern civilization, having been preceded and followed by many other abandoned towns, which suffered this fate due to natural catastrophes, poor administration, misplaced investments, or political conditions.