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Friendly Caricatures

PSE 900 Schalelemente, Lehmbrucksaal,
Kunsthalle Hamburg, 2000

Wall of shelves, labyrinth, construction site: at first glance, the works of Franka Hörnschemeyer could be mistaken for all kinds of things, everything, in fact, but what they really are - sculptures. Born 1958 in Osnabrück, the artist, who lives in Berlin, is a master of camouflage. Yet her room-sized installations actually bring about the exact opposite: they redefine space, making it possible to experience architecture in an unusual way and offering insight both into how space is created and how it functions. The Kunstverein Ruhr in Essen has recently dedicated an exhibition to the unconventional sculptress - an occasion for Ulrich Clewing to investigate Hörnschemeyer's works more closely.

Visitors to the Museum for Contemporary Art at Hamburger Bahnhof were amazed. In place of an exhibition of works by Franka Hörnschemeyer, there were plywood sheets standing around, held together by the heavy screws normally used in canal building to support freshly poured walls. Everything seemed to indicate that it was anything but fine precision tools that were being used here.

RSE 1296 Schalelemente,
Stadtgalerie Kiel, 1996

Yet this initial impression of heavy-handedness proved deceptive. After a while, visitors to the exhibition noticed that the artist had left pathways free for them to venture through. In the midst of all this stage set architecture, a complicated system of optical axes and perspectives was revealed that freed the ugly plywood sheets from their massive appearance in a remarkable way. It soon became clear that Hörnschemeyer had staged a game in which the apparent and concealed, states of impenetrability and permeability, open and closed, appeared in ever-shifting roles, transforming the overall work into a fascinating spatial experience.

Franka Hörnschemeyer had already presented similar installations in, among other places, the Stadtgalerie Kiel, the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, and the Hamburger Kunsthalle. As different as the various situations were, they all had one thing in common: the artist always created a dialogue between existing and added architecture, using nothing but easily available, industrially fabricated materials.

Untitled (10/93), 1993 and Untitled (11/93), 1993
Deutsche Bank Collection

In the Deutsche Bank Collection, there are a number of graphic works that illustrate Hörnschemeyer's principle of mutual dependence and cross-fertilization between fine art and architecture in a particularly sensuous way. Take the fact that the tracing paper the sculptress has chosen for her drawings and collages is normally only used in architectural and engineering firms. To varying degrees, the drawings themselves depict forms reminiscent of building blueprints or city topographies. The features of Hörnschemeyer's large, three-dimensional installations can be detected on a smaller scale, as well: the combination of prescribed order and free design, of external statics and inner openness, uniformity in form and chaos. More than any other works, those that in addition to the name Untitled bear the numbers (11/93) or (12/93) clearly demonstrate a proximity to the technical drawing. A closer look makes it clear that these are by no means the elaborate intricacies of an engineer's accuracy, but rather their amicable caricature. Just as the large architectural sculptures embody a fundamental contrast with their environment, the measurements in these drawings will most certainly not be used to construct a building.

Drawing for the installation for GKB 205
At Kunstverein Ruhr, 2005

Hörnschemeyer's drawings theoretically anticipate what her larger sculptures realize in praxis - one, or rather several new spaces within a space. When she first traces a geometric figure with fine lines and then "encases" this figure completely in black ink, the different visual weights of these two elements allows a spatial construction to arise out of the flat surface with at least two planes in between, causing the eye to continually jump back and forth.

This constant shift from one perspective to another is a chief feature of her installations. At the Kunstverein Ruhr in Essen, the artist recently installed a work fashioned after what is basically a simple pattern. In the comparatively small exhibition space, somewhat displaced from the central axis, was an oblong, closed-in box form approximately thirteen feet long, six feet deep, and eight feet high. Just like the wall covering that Hörnschemeyer had installed, it too consisted of panels of ordinary sheetrock. The artist had broken these sheets exactly down the middle. All that survived unharmed was the thin sheet of paper covering them, which now functioned as a kind of hinge. Thus, one half of the sheetrock panel formed the vertical, while the other half jutted into the space at a 90-degree angle.

GKB 205, installation view at Kunstverein Ruhr, 2005

Hörnschemeyer placed the large form in the exhibition space such that there were only two narrow pathways between it and the wall. These paths were so narrow that the visitor had to take care not to bump into the protruding sheetrock parts. Which wouldn't have been so bad after all, as this was part of the intention. What's more important is that the viewer is gently urged to sense the space in a direct bodily experience. This means that the work of art is only complete the moment a person moves through it.

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