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letter from germany
by Rosanne Altstatt  
 


Heimo Zobernig
Untitled
1998



Heimo Zobernig
Untitled
1998



Heimo Zobernig
Untitled
1998



Heimo Zobernig
Untitled
1998



Felix Stephan Huber
postcard for ambient green



detail from ambient green


detail from ambient green


detail from ambient green


detail from ambient green


detail from ambient green
   What is immediately striking about the solo exhibition by the Austrian artist Heimo Zobernig at the BonnKunstverein is its vast emptiness. The upper part of the first gallery has been cut off with a swath of gauze stretched from wall to wall, lowering its 20-foot ceiling. Neon lights shine through the material to give the newly made "white cube" a bright glow. A second space is completely dark, blacked out by covering the skylights and hanging the walls with thick material used for theater curtains. Between the two are brightly colored Styrofoam blocks, benches for visitors to use while watching a monitor. The video on display is by RUTVS, the production name of artists Stephan Diller and Hans Christian Dany, who are promoting an interesting scheme to broadcast want-ads on television, thus putting TV advertising in public hands.

Across the empty central area is an open rectangle whose floor and one long wall have been loosely hung with colored paper to make a "blue box" that is reminiscent of special-effects studios, or sets for TV weather reports onto which isobar maps and satellite images are projected. To the left is a space padded with soundproofing material. A painting by Albert Oehlen, called Discos, is noiselessly tucked away on its innermost wall. The remaining corner of the Kunstverein is occupied by an octagon pavilion with a flimsy wooden frame turned outward, which is covered with transparent jute and built around one of the building's tall columns.

Taken individually, each part of the installation seems to be someone else's art movement, but slightly subverted by the use of inexpensive materials, as if to provide an inside joke for budget-conscious art lovers. The bright and dark rooms can be seen as variations of light-and-space art, the blue box relates to media art or color-field painting, the benches to the UTV group's video, the soundproofing to Oehlen and his disco music that is not there, the octagon pavilion to utopian structures, theater stages or any number of other architectural spaces that could be read into it. As is the case with many installations today, the work functions both as Postmodernist "institutional critique" and as a Minimalist art experience.

Though each space is installed with great sensitivity, the works are unable to stand by themselves -- they need interaction with others. This is what makes Zobernig an excellent artist for group shows such as last year's Münster Sculpture Project. And the hall he designed for Catherine David's "100 Days" lecture series successfully primed the space for the theory-laden Documenta X.

For exactly this reason, the Bonn exhibition remains unwhole. It acts like a book filled with blank pages where anything can be written, which is also a field day for the art critics and theorists that Zobernig works so closely with, who are eager to ponder his artistic lineage, projecting their own thoughts onto the blank walls. As an experiment on different spaces for presenting and discussing art, it works. As an exhibition of art itself, it doesn't.

Ambient Green
A step across the threshold at the Städtische Ausstellungshalle Am Hawerkamp, Münster, and video beamers light up, slide projectors start clicking away and fragments of spoken text stream into the room. Felix Stephan Huber's video installation, titled ambient green, is a mechanical walk in the park.

One can move freely in the spacious hall between projections of people among trees and grass. Some are frittering away their leisure time. A circle of friends stand talking on a lawn with their dogs. Singular figures emerge from the forest, often looking into the camera. Two guys walk through the park, one with his eyes fixed on a hand-held video game, one talking. Sometimes it seems like the various figures are posing, sometimes they are just there. Other than the green leaves surrounding them, they have no direct relationships to each other.

The same could be said of the audio track, which consists of remarks that vaguely allude to man and nature, spoken by unseen agents. Though the viewer's movements through the space are what cause the images to kick in, the motions remain conscious acts and we never really become a part of what is happening in the room. The installation makes no illusions, does not draw us into a fantasy. Its machinery is obvious, just as the urban look of the figures reminds us that city parks are man-made constructions for a temporary escape from the asphalt jungle.

Perhaps this is why a feeling of artificiality and listlessness permeates the work. Detachment reigns, and the audience is plunged into a search for orientation. Herein is the link to Huber's previous collaborations, in which he documented long journeys to remote places such as the Arctic Circle, using the Internet for communication with civilization. Huber and his collaborators also used the Internet in their Documenta X project, "A Description of the Equator and some OtherLands." This time, it is fragments of the wilderness next door, within the urban landscape, that appear before our eyes.

ROSANNE ALTSTATT is a critic and curator working in Cologne.