r-Lab: seminars, discussions, notes #1.

the Münster Skulptur Projekte July 19-20, 2017 notes:

July 23, 2017 Peter Lang

Once every ten years the Münster Art Project fills the city’s streets, squares, parks and gardens with the latest cutting edge—or if not cutting edge—trend setting statements in public based ‘place’ specific art. This year would prove to be no exception, the decennial  can easily draw huge crowds to its best installations… take for example Ayse Erkmen’s “On Water” located on the city’s inland harbour, the Stadthafen. Granted the day i visited temperatures were high in the mid 30s, and people were enthusiastically entering the canal barefoot to wade along shoulder to shoulder in water up to their ankles to partake in this refreshing experience. This biblical spectacle was intended to provoke visitors into considering  physical boundaries and gaps in the city fabric. Then again it would be hard not to detect that this marginalised neighbourhood was nearly completely gentrified.

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 23.01.18fig. 1. Eyse Erkmen, “On Water”

10 years is a lot of time between exhibitions, but that may be the Skulptur Projekte’s most prized asset. Each decade presents a completely different generation of artists and audience, and also very visible transformations to the city. When the Skulptur Projekte was first launched back in the sixties, the site specific installations were primarily conceptual art pieces placed within the historic city fabric, very much in contrast with Kassel’s Documenta, a city whose pre-war urban fabric had been wiped out and replaced with new infrastructure and modernist architecture. Münster was also destroyed during the war, but was rebuilt to resemble its former self. The contrast between the two cities would also be reflected in their political agendas, Münster more upper class conservative, and Kassel more politically to the left and working class.

In the ensuing decades, Münster’s expansion and increasing wealth found interesting counterpoints in the way the Skulptur Projekte interjected itself into the expanding city, along with evolving social sensitivities. Public space became increasingly commercialised, privatised, surveilled, and secured, and the artists increasingly reflected these disparities between the physical city and its evolving society.

Angelika Schnell, writing about “polyvalent” public space in the Skulptur Projekte’s catalog this year noted: “There is no museum building or exhibition in Europe where the obligatory ‘sponsored by’ isn’t posted somewhere—now more bashfully, now more openly—declaring the bankruptcy of the public sector. Conversely, political representatives calling themselves ‘city managers’ have taken to co-opting every major public art event—from the Skulptur Projekte to the Venice Biennale to Documenta—for their so-called city marketing activities.” Schnell’s response is to face this challenge head-on: “for architecture and art, actively involved in and committed to this ‘curiously hybrid realm’—the polyvalent public space—this nevertheless means not repressing it’s polyvalence but making that quality perceivable with all the senses.” (Angelika Schnell, in Skulptur Projekte, Catalog, Münster 2017. pp. 403-404.)

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 22.50.32Fig. 2. Justin Matherly “Nietzsche’s Rock.”

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 22.51.12Fig. 3. Michael Dean, “Tender Tender”

In effect, this is what the visitor is presented with as he or she bikes from one end of Münster to the other in this impressive Art orienteering event. And this year’s program raises several questions that i think are very relevant to the research for r-Lab: whereas the subject of monuments, effigies, and symbolic landscapes in contested public space, as we will encounter in Sarajevo and in Vilnius, revolve around issues mainly about iconography and iconoclasm— the appropriation and re-appropriation of one community’s or another’s narrative heritage… in Münster we are witnessing another kind of paradigm emerging.

This paradigm, as i see it, is made up of three basic creative attitudes toward public space: the self-ironic icon, the entropic ruin, and the uselessly functional construct.

The icon as once was, that is to say some kind of figurative 3d plastic art form placed in an urban context, like Silke Wagner’s depiction from 2007 of local activist Paul Wulf,  fig. 13, a freestanding statue of his likeness enveloped in an advertising column , is now a rare art form  though not exactly extinct (Silke’s Wulf is incredibly saturated in multiple meanings, which distinguishes this work from the countless state sponsored sculptures cropping up recently in places like Skopje Macedonia, Budapest Hungary, etc).

Instead, Wagner’s  “drop-in-monument” of Paul Wulf has given way to more self-ironic statements: Hito Steyerl’s “HellYeahWeFuckDie” fig.s, 5-6 plays in part on the corporate office lobby where it is located, and on the semiotics of the word-letters themselves, together with her plastic media form of hypertext, the blue robots that represent our bionic evolution (and to other references of ancient automatons from Eastern Turkey). On the other hand, Ei Arakawa’s oddly direct “Harsh Citation, Harsh Pastoral, Harsh Münster” fig. 7, establishes openly romantic landscape painterly references through the artist’s digital tapestries hung in a bucolic field (from where one piece was recently stolen, bringing up a critical concern about vandalism in public space). My own preference in this category is for Justin Matherly’s “Nietzsche’s Rock”, fig.2, that is in fact iconographic, but reaching a sort of extreme metaphorism, in alluding to Nietzsche’s ‘eternal recurrence,’  a quest rather then an artefact, as the rock-artefact may or may not actually have ever existed.

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 22.55.04fig.4. Pierre Huyghe, “After Alife Ahead”

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 22.56.36fig. 5. Hito Steyerl, “HellYeahWeFuckDie”

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 22.56.57fig. 6. Hito Steyerl, “HellYeahWeFuckDie”

On the category of the entropic ruin, clearly Pierre Huyghe’s “After Alife Ahead” fig.4, takes the prize, in his spectacular upending of a commercial skating rink turned into a lunar landscape with eerie tubular soundtrack and towering dirt bee hives, thus creating an even more ruined ruin. This world is simultanelosly alienating and earthly, but mainly undermines any reference to architectural monumentality whatsoever. Otherwise, there are Shaina Anand and Ashok Sukumaran, from Camp, and their “Matrix,” fig.11, a collusion between the old ruins of the Münster Theatre and the adjacent modern replacement. The interstitial space is activated through a set of overhead criss-crossing telephone cables, but the real power of their intervention is the contrast between the partially standing superbly detailed classical stone theatre facade and the glass and steel building facing it, channeling modernism’s obsession with transparency. As these categories are not indelible, one could cross reference Steyerl’s video on the war torn city of Diyarbakir, or the selection of abandoned industrial sites that are gradually becoming gentrified on the outskirts of Münster.

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 23.00.05fig. 7,Ei Arakawa, “Harsh Citation, Harsh Pastoral, Harsh Münster” (Stolen panel)

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 23.00.44

fig. 8 Oscar Tuazon, “Burn the Formwork”

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 23.03.30fig. 9, Christian Odzuck, “OFF OFD”

Finally, for the category of uselessly functional construct, there is the modestly simple concrete fireplace tower “Burn the Formwork” by Oscar Tuazon, fig. 8, a circular shaped protected siting area rotating around a cylindrical chimney. Intended as a place to make barbecues and to get warm in an abandoned industrial area where teenagers hang out, (there is a skateboard park nearby), its a real beauty in its concrete rawness, especially now that it has acquired several layers of graffiti. Another very architectural piece is by Christian Odzuck, “OFF OFD,” fig.9, an elegant scaffolding assembly with viewing platform that is parasitically built over two remnant walls from a parking structure under demolition. Though it sits in a suburban residential neighbourhood the strangeness of its form and its questionable function, what after all is the viewing platform designed to view? suggests that it must be more than architecture. One of the most poetic details is how the upper viewing platform incorporates a lone street lamp, one of those very tall poles that served for the parking area, and that raises the status of this lamp to something very monumental. Arguably, Eyse Erkmen’s “On Water” piece belongs here too, though the mass attraction her piece has garnered does bring up another sticky question about art for the masses versus art for the elite few…

As I could only humanly digest so much, i have left out a few other prominent interventions, like Michael Dean’s “Tender Tender” fig.3, that in my view is a solipsistic obsession with trash, though the choice of venue, inside the LWL museum (main venue for the Skulptur Projekte), in a reference to Joseph Beuys also seems stretched. And there are others, most notably the “Nuclear Temple by Thomas Schütte fig.10, a building that should be tens times its size, but sits like a child’s play-house in a small garden .

Yet with all this exposure to art in public space, i can’t help but think of a project mentioned by the artist and theorist Judith Rugg, who describes a little art project in Poland. Rugg, speaking about “contingent spaces,” reflects on the work “Dirty Fountain” by Monika Sosnowska, set in the Polish Sixteenth century ideal-city of Zamość: “The water market is one of Zamość’s three main squares situated in its old town. Seamlessly set into the paving and appearing as if it had always been there, “Dirty Fountain” unsettled expectations. From its basin, the column of black water continually sprouted into a pool of its own making spilling over and dripping down the edges and seeping into and staining the size of the white concrete. If viewers were drawn to this splashing sounds of water they were initially confused and repelled by the object’s false promise of ornamentation or functionality. Undrinkable and apparently flawed in form and in function “Dirty Fountain” inserted a dissonance into an environment of constructed spatial and social order: it was an imperfect object in a  seemingly ‘perfect’ city.” (Judith Rugg, Exploring Site Specific Art: Issues of Space and Internationalism. London, I.B.Tauris, 2010, pp 45)

The difficulty then, is to try to understand how to dialogue between past subjects, conceived and materialised in completely different times, contexts and societies, and those works that we make today, highly self referential, entropic and uselessly functional. How else will we be able to bridge these differences, that in many cases result in iconoclastic acts of vandalism, where different communities act out their frustrations against representations that they cannot identify with. Conflict in public space is what true democracy is about, so there will  be infinite possibilities to address and work through conflicts in urban spaces of contestation.

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 20.43.34fig. 10, Thomas Schütte, “Nuclear Temple.”

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 20.41.35

fig. 11, CAMP, Shaina Anand, Ashok Sukumaran, “Matrix”

As Rugg noted: “as a utopian discourse, heritage denies urban decay, antagonism, human rights violations, suffering, violence in forms of political struggle, all of which are in discord with its own agenda. Tourism aligns its own Utopian project at the expense of the discontinuous, fractured, Multi dimensional and problematic aspects of history and memory. (Rugg, 2010, pp 47)

One last note, about one of the smallest gestures to show up in Münster, Ludger Gerdes’ neon “Angst” fig.12. from 1989. This intervention was originally made for the neighbouring city of Mari’s Sculpture museum. The piece is now mounted on the upper facade of a bland shopping mall right across from the LWL and depicts the word ‘angst’ paired on either side by icons of a golfer and church with spire. This initiative is part of a long running collaboration between the two cities of Mari and Münster, run by the cooperative “The Hot Wire.” There have been many of such exchanges over the years. But the boldness of this simple gesture is worth considering, as this sharing of public art could be a step towards breaking down simple prejudices that citizens of one town might hold for another. More on this soon. PTL. July 22. 2017.

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 23.04.24

fig. 12. Ludger Gerdes, “Angst (1989) swapped for the Art Project from Marl, mediated by Hot Wire.

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 09.14.57fig.13, Silke Wagner,  Paul Wulf, 2007.