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>> Interview: William Kentridge
>> The Legend of Two Islands: Pierre Huyghe
>> Game with Reality: Art and Theater
>> On Stage: Art, Space and Orchestration

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On Stage:
Art, Space, and Orchestration

Since the beginning of the 20th century, it hasn’t only been the sciences that have reinterpreted space in new and controversial ways. The fine arts have also made space the object of theatrical and minimalist stagings reflecting a variety of perceptual models. An overview by Christiane Meixner.

Gregor Schneider, Totes Haus Ur, interior view (Gästezimmer), 1985-97 (c)VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2005 Gregor Schneider, Totes Haus Ur, interior view, 1985-97, (c)VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2005

At the 2001 Venice Biennale , Gregor Schneider’s Dead House ur suddenly seemed very alive: onlookers were standing outside crowded together, while inside visitors kept running into one another as they wandered through the architectonic labyrinth. All of which hampered the work’s effect, of course, aiming as it did at a claustrophobic effect involving the greatest possible degree of isolation and disorientation.

Schneider was sixteen years old when he took over his father’s one-family house in Rheydt in the mid-eighties, a perfect example of architecture designed along practical needs. Since then, the artist obsessively rebuilt his opus magnum, furnishing it with isolated rooms and dead-end hallways. He then dissected it into parts, sold it to various collectors, and showed it complete for the last time in Venice, at least for the time being.

Gregor Schneider, Haus Ur in Rheydt, 1985-1999, (c)VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2005

Despite all the dismantling the dwelling underwent, what Schneider didn’t call into question was his idea of space as a fixed entity of perception. What he destroyed was the logic of the existing architecture, which he reassembled according to an entirely subjective dramaturgy, turning the house into a stage that can be entered, a manifestation of psychic states that mirrors the fears and phobias of its visitors.

That the concept of space can also be defined differently is documented by one of the most important German artists of the post-war era: Hanne Darboven. Over three decades ago, she began visualizing temporal sequences. Her method gave rise to a spacial image through an additive process of linkage: by transferring an abstract entity such as time into serial structures and arresting it in numerical columns, Darboven seeks to visualize the fleeting. Each additional presentation of the drawings also structures and marks the location in which it is shown – albeit in a highly abstract manner.

Hanne Darboven, 21x21, 1968
Deutsche Bank Collection (c)Darboven, Courtesy Galerie Tanit, Munich

In contrast to the content-laden House ur , Darboven’s concept can be summed up in a single remark: "I write things down, but I don’t describe anything." And while Darboven’s space is a construction, Schneider turns to architecture, whose affects and palpability emotionally take hold of the viewer. Yet both lay claim to the three-dimensional space surrounding their works, interpreting it as a dialogue, although of very different natures. Recently, narrative works of art similar to Schneider’s House ur have attracted more attention than austere conceptual strategies have. Entire exhibitions have been dedicated to the phenomenon of theatrically staged installation art – including On Stage at the Kunstverein Hannover (2002/2003), where, for instance, Christoph Büchel had a punk band’s entire equipment frozen at –25° Celsius immediately after their concert, arresting the transitory moment of the performance in a kind of standstill.

Christoph Büchel, Minus, 2002, Installation from 2005
in collaboration with the groups Los Chicros and I love UFO
(c)Büchel, Courtesy Galerie Susana Kulli, St. Gallen

The same year, the large exhibition of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster films took place at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, including film sets made from refrigerated Vaseline, while the magazine Texte zur Kunst published a critical issue on the theme of space.

The latter investigated the close connection between various methods of spacial orchestration and art’s basic understanding of spacial concepts. For over a century, the scientific disciplines have repeatedly interpreted space in controversial ways. Yet all versions refer to two basic systems of reference – space is defined either as an absolute quantity or as relative and constructed. And although a work of art like House ur feeds off the older, static idea of a spacial continuum, categories such as "contemporary" or "outdated" are insufficient when confronted with a respective idea of space. Instead, they illustrate how radically ideas concerning the relationship between humans and space have changed since 1905.

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