As part of this years Regionale 13, Kunsthalle Basel
is presenting When I look at things, I always see the space they occupy, a group exhibition featuring new and existing works by Sylvain Baumann, Renate Buser, Thomas Hauri, Markus Müller, Mandla Reuter and Capucine Vandebrouck. These six artists from the border triangle of Germany, Switzerland and France are showing a mixture of photographs, drawings, installations and sculpture over both floors of the Kunsthalle. All of their works engage with architecture, volumes and our experience of space in a very different, highly individual way. When I look at things, I always see the space they occupy thereby follows on from several recent exhibitions at Kunsthalle Basel showcasing contemporary artistic dialogues on the themes of architecture and space. In 2008, for example, Rooms Look Back showed the work of three women artists concerned with the representation of different concepts of space in the medium of film and photography, while After Architects (2010) examined the divergent attitudes of its invited artists towards contemporary architecture and the discontent over its legacy. When I look at things, I always see the space they occupy might be said to resume this same enquiry, but from a different angle, one that alludes far more directly to each artists practice per se and investigates to what extent the works on view can be assigned to a discourse on architecture and the perception of space. The focus falls on the individual viewpoints of the six artists.
The title of the exhibition, When I look at things, I always see the space they occupy, is taken from The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, an anthology of quotations and reflections by Warhol on his daily life and lifestyle. In his book, Warhol talks amongst other things about the perception of space and about the influence of artistic interventions in space. The same quote was taken up by German artist Mandla Reuter in 2004, when he used it as the title for a gleaming plaque bearing his name on the outside wall of a building. This earlier work inspired Reuters current installation at the rear entrance to Kunsthalle Basel. A doorbell has been mounted next to the door, directly underneath the Kunsthalles own bell. It is labelled with the artists name and rings in the exhibition galleries when pushed. It proclaims Mandla Reuters presence and even suggests that this is where he lives. At the same time it strips the Kunsthalle of its institutional identity, as the museum suddenly becomes the home of an artist.
Inside the first room of the exhibition, Sylvain Baumann has set up a blockade with his installation Bardage (2012), made up of several sections of wall cladding erected at staggered intervals. Their crumbling fragility makes us think of ruins and architectural remains. In positioning the wall sections so that visitors have to detour around them, Baumann criticizes architectures impact upon those who inhabit it. Visitors are confronted by a physical barrier and are obliged to adapt to the limitations it imposes and take the path it dictates. Alongside this installation, Baumann is showing three large-format photographic works: Étude de Cadre (La Forêt dEucalyptus), Étude de Cadre (Arctique) (2010) and his more recent Étude de Cadre 4 (2012). These three C-prints on aluminium offer views into and through different artificial landscapes, evidently the animal enclosures of a zoo. The frame of the glazed window through which each enclosure has been photographed provides a natural frame for the resulting image itself. Baumann once again shows how architecture sets boundaries and how we accept these as normal.
Renate Buser likewise explores architecture in the medium of photography. Architecture is not just a theme of her work, however, but its primary material and often, too, its pictorial support. Buildings, and more specifically their façades, provide the starting point for her photographic interventions. Over the past few years she has enlarged, interfered with, and transformed existing façades with her large-format photographs. The artist thereby investigates reversals of interior and exterior space and distortions and inversions of perspective, and in so doing renders visible spatial relationships and architectural lines that are often barely perceptible. Her work Ohne Titel (2012) at Kunsthalle Basel fills the full height of the wall and thereby presents us with a view of the room in which we are standing, seen from the same angle but from two galleries further back. In place of a solid wall, we find ourselves looking at the two doorways through which we need to pass in order to arrive at the spot from which the photo was taken. Also on view in the same room are the three photographs Centre Point (2012), Robin Hood Gardens (2012) and Elephant and Castle (2012). Buser has taken her motifs from modernist London architecture: Robin Hood Gardens is a Brutalist housing complex of the 60s and 70s by British architects Alison and Peter Smithson, Centre Point a high-rise block designed by Richard Seifert in 1967, likewise in Brutalist style, and Metro Central Heights a 1960s multi-storey complex originally built as offices by Ernö Goldfinger at Elephant and Castle. Each print is mounted on an aluminium support that bears clear signs of artistic intervention. By bending and folding the corresponding area of the support, Buser has relegated projecting architectural features in the photograph to an indented plane behind the surface of the print. Specific elements of the façades are thus emphasized.
The floor of Room 3 of the Kunsthalles lower galleries has been laid with white carpet, deposited with obvious traces of dirt. Mandla Reuters untitled installation is not directly related to architecture, but it is nevertheless about space. More specifically, it is about the separation of public, private and institutional space, and about real and fictive spaces. Just as the bell at the rear entrance alerts us to the privatization of the museum space and the presence of the artist, so the white carpet functions in a similar manner, pointing to absence and presence. Reuters room makes reference to the existence of a piece of real estate that he recently purchased in Los Angeles. It is a building plot whose size and shape are recorded on the corresponding City of Los Angeles district map. The piece of land has an address, and yet it does not appear to exist. The letters that Reuter mails to himself there are sent back to him, stamped by the post office and marked no such street. The framed envelope is displayed beside the cadastral plan, a blueprint that proves that the artists parcel of land exists, just as do the dust and dirt that have been walked onto the carpet from the L.A. plot itself. The artist invokes a variety of media and different strategies in order to represent this piece of undeveloped real estate. He also links hopes and ideas for the future with the site, insofar as he exhibits letters that were impossible to deliver because the address could not be found.
Capucine Vandebrouck engages first and foremost in her sculptural works with the specific properties of the materials she employs. These include plaster, PVC sheeting, packaging and resin, for example. The artist pushes her media to their absolute physical limits, which means that her works are often short lived and indeed demolished after exhibition. Vandebroucks sculptures thereby fuse opposites such as full and empty, shiny and matt, creation and destruction. Her work Open Space (2012) is a transparent, fragile corner of synthetic resin that operates as a space within a space. Mouchoir (2011) likewise assumes its own form as a result of being soaked in liquid resin. The paper tissue absorbed enough of the resin to be able to stand upright once hardened on its own. In her works, Capucine Vandebrouck highlights the inherent qualities of construction and raw materials, which thereby assume their own, fragile beauty. In the last of the lower galleries, Thomas Hauri shows his large-format watercolour drawings. Each work comprises two or more sheets of watercolour paper of identical size. The forms in these drawings, although they seem to make reference to built structures, are freely invented during the painting process and arise out of Hauris aesthetic interest in the formal language of architecture. Their seemingly solid bodies would be very difficult to translate into reality. Hauri consciously switched from classic easel painting to watercolour, interested in its inherent impossibility of correcting errors. The delicacy and lightness that he achieves in his works can be associated to a certain extent with the medium, and stand in contrast to the sense of weight infusing their motifs. Something similar can be observed in Capucine Vandebroucks Sachets Graphites (2010) in the centre of the room, a sculptural assembly of plastic bags. Vandebrouck has coloured every inch of the bags in pencil, and the metallic gleam of their altered surfaces suggests weight. Another of Vandebroucks works with the same title can also be seen in Room 1. Here, the character of the Sachets Graphites is very different: instead of presenting themselves in rank and file, they are suspended in the vault below the ceiling, where they assume an almost organic shape.
Upstairs, in the Oberlichtsaal, Markus Müller shows his installation Place (2012), which shares the space with two wall reliefs. Müller works in the media of painting and sculpture. He uses chipboard, plywood and roof battens to create hybrid constructions, whose surfaces he often then paints in trompe loeil to resemble natural and synthetic materials. These constructions imitate objects, industrial structures and items of furniture that give the impression to be made out of other materials. Upon closer examination of the objects and their surfaces, however, this illusion is quickly dispelled. The artist alerts the viewer to the provisional and fragile nature of his creations. His works are a backdrop, a stage set informs us that we are in an artificial space. Another installation by Müller in the adjacent room, Glastisch (2009), imitates a podium displaying the would-be glass table of the title. Here, too, Müller plays with the properties of his materials and underlines their artifice. His installation is complemented by three photo graphic works by Renate Buser, focusing upon the Brutalist aesthetic of the façades, formal language and surface materials of Londons Barbican complex, designed by the architectural practice of Chamberlin, Powell & Bon.
When I look at things, I always see the space they occupy presents six artists, each pursuing an entirely independent approach, but all engaging with space. Their works function within space, seize upon it and delve into it; they draw attention to the limits and the possibilities of architecture, and invite us to reflect upon our perception of space. They both inspire and contradict what Warhol went on to say next: I always want the space to reappear, to make a comeback, because its lost space when theres something in it. Sylvain Baumann, Renate Buser, Thomas Hauri, Markus Müller, Mandla Reuter and Capucine Vandebrouck make it clear that the objects in a room can draw attention to the space around them, and that objects and space enjoy a reciprocal relationship. Warhol said that the object makes the space invisible; can we not turn his words around and argue that the space makes the object visible? Are not the nature and effect of a space ultimately also constitutive for our perception of the object?