In the summer of 2009, the spatial installation Brick Fabric was constructed in the urban Villa Aichele in Lörrach and shown there for three months. Ken Koch was the architect responsible for the planning of the installation. Since 2009, he has been an assistant professor in Finn Geipel’s chair at the Technische Universität Berlin. Marc Glöde is a film scholar, critic, and independent curator. Since 2008 he has curated the film program at Art Basel (Switzerland) and in 2010 was curator of the abc—art berlin contemporary exhibition Light Camera Action in Berlin.
Since 2007, Sandra Peters, Ken Koch, and Marc Glöde have collaborated on various art and architecture projects. The conversation published here took place in Sandra Peters’s studio in August 2010. The objective of the conversation was to discuss the installation Brick Fabric from as widely ranging perspectives as possible.
Sandra Peters: It was about five years ago that I first exhibited my drawings at the Villa Aichele. Jürgen Moser, whose architectural firm is located in the Villa Aichele, makes the space available for exhibitions from time to time. The development of another spatial installation, Modifikation—stetig steigende Steine (Modification—Constantly Climbing Stones), for the Kunstverein Ruhr in Essen in 2009, marked the beginning of an intense period of work with brick as a building material. Then about two years ago, Jürgen Moser and I discussed showing an installation by me in the Villa Aichele that would relate to its architecture and space. The result was the installation Brick Fabric, in which a space within the exhibition space is constructed with calcium silicate bricks. In my site-specific art, I often work with spatial displacements, in which the inside is turned out ward and vice versa. Such displacements create altered spatial situations into which the visitors enter—much like what happens when you travel to an other culture.
Marc Glöde: First, I’d like to say that for me as a viewer of your works it is very interesting that you do not come out of a context of, let’s say, “pure art” training; rather, various other influences, such as your interest in questions of materiality or of space, have intensified your artistic activity. Yet I would add that the architectonic question is not the dominant one in your work but rather one aspect that has evolved only slowly. When would you say you began to work specifically with architecture?
SP: That’s an important issue when trying to understand my works as they developed over time. One crucial period for my interest in architecture occurred ten years ago in Los Angeles, when I was a visiting lecturer at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. During that time I produced collaged drawings with the working title Los Angeles, which I now consider a direct reaction to the architecture of the city of Los Angeles. From my present perspective, these drawings reflect what was for me a completely new urban experience in American cities. The structure of American cities is very different from European ones—and then there was the special light of California, which led to the use of color in my drawings. That was in contrast to my earlier works on paper, which were primarily black-and-white. I read my drawings like the ground plans of cities and landscapes. They can also be interpreted as a sequence of facades, as if you were driving through urban space in a car, with building facades passing by like a colorful ribbon. The choice of different materials in the collaged drawings goes back to the materiality I experienced in the city of Los Angeles. For example, an aluminum facade is next to a wooden building and then next to that is a concrete facade—everything has a mix of strongly contrasting colors. In that sense, I was grappling first with the surfaces of the city’s structure.
MG: So you see your drawings, at least some times, as a kind of cartography, which is a very interesting approach to thinking about drawing. There is something very precise inherent in this idea, something about constant localizing and positioning. Beyond that, there is also the question of color, which fascinates me personally even more.
What interests me in that respect is the question of how color in your works intervenes in space. By that I mean not the space depicted in the image but its actual surroundings. How does color penetrate the space? To what extent do planes of color represent an opposite pole to the linearity of the space? If I recall correctly, these questions were of vital importance to you at the time you were designing and building architectural models for Sauerbruch Hutton Architekten in Berlin, since they focused on color as a central means of design. It is quite funny actually to realize we are talking about color now, when this discussion is really supposed to be about the installation Brick Fabric, which consists of stacked white calcium silicate bricks in a white room. But nevertheless, it still interests me even if the bricks are simply white, since several questions are connected to this dimension: To what extent does color play a role in this work as well? Is the viewer’s perception influenced by the color of the space? Does the spatial layering of white on white result in uncertainty? To what extent do different dynamics grab me as a viewer and determine my gaze? Is color in your work like a transitional space that makes the engagement with spatial structures deeper? As you see, it really opens up a whole field of questions.
SP: It’s both. There’s a grappling with colors and color fields and a grappling with materials. Although I also conceive colors and color fields as materials, just like concrete, wood, metal, or language. To return to the drawings I did in Los Angeles, the individual fields in a drawing represent different architectural or urban mate rials that struck me there. The collaged and sewn works on paper could also be used as a score for a sound installation. The individual fields and drawings would then be translated by me into sounds, just as I am currently working with the mathematician Stefan Sechelmann and the musician Masayuki Ren to translate the installation Modification—Constantly Climbing Stones into a sound installation.
Ken Koch: I find it very interesting that you are bringing together the aspects of color, material, and sound. The first thing that strikes me is that your work Brick Fabric seems black-and-white and so when we talk about color now, I see it as an extension of your artistic work. There are countless grayscale values that result from the incidence of light. I have the same feeling when I think about the materiality of the work. Calcium silicate is by nature a very dense material and hence very heavy. But when I look at the photographic documentation of the work, the open grid — that is, the staggered layering of the bricks—gives the impression that Brick Fabric is very light. The opposite is the case; the installation is very heavy, weighing 8.5 metric tons. With regard to the third aspect, sound, I do not so much think of music as noise. At first, I think that inside the room the noises would be echoed. But then I can imagine that the openwork brick structure would absorb the sound of the space. I have the feeling that your work not only altered the structure of the space but also intervened in the sound space of the actual room. Without the structure of Brick Fabric, I imagine the sound in the exhibition space would echo, but with Brick Fabric I imagine the sound will tend to be absorbed. On the one hand, there is a reduction of color to black-and-white or to intermediate shades of gray, and, on the other hand, there is, I think, a reduction of the noises too as a result of this fabric of bricks. Those are in essence the things that strike me about your work.
MG: The more we talk about noises, sounds, and music now, it reminds me of the structure of acoustic panels in a sound studio. There too I think you find typical minimalist patterns: triangles, circles, or rectangles—just like you have the square perforations in the installation Brick Fabric. Could it be that the openwork masonry structure works like an acoustic panel?
SP: I don’t know. You’d have to ask an acoustics expert! But this might be an interesting point to say something about a concert that was given inside the installation Brick Fabric. For more than fifteen years now, the Stimmen (Voices) festival has been held in Lörrach. When I knew that I would be building the installation, I contacted the founder and director of the festival, Helmut Bürgel of the Burghof Lörrach, and asked whether it would be possible to arrange a concert in Brick Fabric. Mr. Bürgel was very open to my request and arranged for Anúna, a twelve-member choir from Dublin, to perform in the installation. It was a wonderful experience. The choir was located inside Brick Fabric, and some of the audience stood inside the installation, some outside on the veranda, and some in the corridor. I was in the space with the musicians, then between the wall and Brick Fabric, and finally I joined the listeners outside the room on the veranda, in order to find out to what extent the different acoustic levels of the concert could be experienced. The acoustics were good in all three places. There was no echo—on the contrary: the voices of the singers were sup ported very nicely. Brick Fabric condensed the sound into an acoustic fabric.
KK: That’s remarkable, since the room is not really large enough that you would expect the added wall to absorb the sound. I also think that singers and orchestral musicians place very different demands on a space and its acoustics. It is quite clear, however, that the Brick Fabric installation enlarged the area of the room, namely, by means of the holes in the masonry structure.
MG: It is nice to imagine twelve people singing in this room, creating an atmosphere that then encounters a kind of filter, namely, Brick Fabric itself.
But this filter does not remove anything, as you might expect, but on the contrary produces its own, highly complex acoustics. If you were to make these sound waves visible, to visualize them graphically, it would probably result in a minimalist pattern that would correspond in a very interesting way to the built structure. I like that idea. I think you would grasp the sort of complexity of structure that is otherwise subsumed to a concept like the “atmospheric.” Moreover, it would also make it clear how similar the acoustic grid and Brick Fabric can be. If one traces this idea back to the situation with the musicians and the viewers of the installation, it becomes clear that your work opens up a series of doublings, which I like very much. But more than that, we come to the truly important point, namely, that this sort of work, which is developed in such a site-specific way, should be understood with all the senses together, not just with one. It is precisely this interplay of haptic, acoustic, and visual experiences that gives the work a complexity in which all the physical sensations are involved.
SP: The installation Brick Fabric has several doublings in terms of color as well, as you and Ken have already indicated. It is, as it were, a White Cube within a White Cube. But when light enters, a play of shadows results that depends on the time of day, in which the woven structure is cast onto the floor and the surrounding walls. The many shades of gray found in the shadows ultimately result in a tonality that one would not have immediately attributed to the work. For several years I have been intensely interested in the architecture of the Japanese firm SANAA. In general, I have to say, the most interesting contemporary architecture is coming from Japan right now. What fascinates me about the work of the two architects of SANAA is the legerity and transparence their buildings radiate, which certainly contrasts with the actual mass and complexity of the buildings. I am fascinated by the ways they combine materials. One example of that is the Zollverein School of Management and Design in Essen. As I recall, the materials they combine there are concrete, glass, and fabric. All of these materials are left in their original color. I wanted to do something similar with my installation Brick Fabric. The materiality of the white calcium silicate contrasts with the plastered walls, even though both are white.
KK: That is like Japanese rock gardens. The idea is that people will concentrate first on the bright white gravel in the garden, which is spread like the water of the sea around large groups of rocks, making islands, as it were. If you then go further and see the moss-covered forest floor, it looks even greener, which is reinforced by the extremely different light relationships. Something similar happens with me in your installation: turning from the complete white room to look into the garden makes the colors of the trees and plants more intense.
MG: I’m interested in your relationship to the architects you just mentioned, SANAA. One aspect I find fascinating is their references to the European architecture of the 1950s and 1960s. I’m thinking, for example, of the facade of the former Centrum (now Kaufhof) department store on Alexanderplatz in Berlin. In your case, it is turned inside out, as it were. What was placed as a minimal grid on the exterior facades in the 1950s and 1960s becomes the interior of your installation in Lörrach. I read these facades or grids outward into the exterior as a set of questions. How does the structure of this or that building communicate into the city? What does this building say about itself? And in your case, these questions are turned inward. Something else occurs to me that establishes a contrast: the facades of the 1950s and 1960s that I’m thinking about are anything but heavy. They consist or consisted primarily of light metal and plastic, but in your case it is the heaviest and most dense material I can imagine: calcium silicate. Have you thought about the facades of the 1950s and 1960s? And perhaps more generally, does your work also come to terms with the Minimalist art of the 1960s?
SP: Yes and no. I have not thought much about facade designs in the architecture of the 1950s and 1960s, but I certainly have about Minimalist art. There are two direct points of contact: first, the works of Sol Lewitt and, second, the architecture of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The installation Modification—Constantly Climbing Stones, which I realized at the Kunstverein Ruhr the same year, is, like the installation Brick Fabric, based on the module of a brick. Mies van der Rohe used it as well: for example, the Haus Lange in Krefeld or his memorial for Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. At the same time, the aspect you observed—turning outside in and inside out—is an essential component of my installations thus far. I work with displacements: I “displaced” the chimneys of the Schloss Cecilienhof, in modified form, to the interior of the Kunstverein Ruhr and at the same time to another cultural context or space, namely, from a courtly context in Potsdam to an industrial context in the Ruhr.
KK: Yes, that’s true; I perceived the intervention into the space in Essen as fundamentally more intense. There you worked a lot with the presence of inside and outside. Moreover, at the Kunstverein Ruhr your bricks and columns caused the actual supports of the room to disappear. You massively altered the aesthetic of the unadorned, functional space—which is also an architectural idea from the 1950s.
SP: When I began to study Mies van der Rohe’s architecture, I was particularly impressed by the way he employed brick as a building material in many different ways. That is the nice thing about a module: that you can achieve so many different results with it. I am fascinated by the haptic quality of bricks and at the same time the abstract structure of this building material.
MG: It seems to me as if you were working with European construction materials but still trying to get closer to Japanese construction methods. The play with shadows, which has always played a big role in traditional Japanese architecture, is an equally central component in your installation Brick Fabric. And here too it results in interesting contrasts for me: on the one hand, you use heavy European construction material, which is not really associated with plays of shadow and light, and then, on the other hand, the way you use the material, you do indeed work with light by staggering the bricks in relation to one another. The play with light and the resulting shadows make the installation Brick Fabric very lively. I like that it makes one think of Japanese architecture without trying to imitate it.
SP: In that context, I would like to mention the shadows again: in my film Défilé des ombres. The film derives from the medium of drawing. The photographs document drawings in which shadows were traced with lines. In Défilé des ombres, the individual photographs were layered, like the individual bricks in the installations in Essen and Lörrach. The processes are analogous: the images are edited one after the other to make a film, just as the individual stones can be layered on top of one another to make an installation. In the Villa Aichele, it is even possible to move in the space in between, by which I mean the narrow corridor between the walls of the room and the walls of my installation. Then you are standing between the artwork and existing room, so to speak. The experience of the lighting—the fabric of light, if you will—is thus put into a physical perspective. That is why it was so important to me that this narrow space between the wall and the installation could be entered.
KK: That too is very Japanese, where nearly all the buildings are freestanding, and there is always a slight distance between neighboring buildings or the walls between the properties. As in your work, this interim space can be so narrow that only one person can walk through the opening.
SP: Where does this tradition come from? Why is there this gap between buildings in Japan?
KK: It surely has something to do with property regulations, but especially, I suspect, with the climate, since it is very humid in Japan, and so such open, ventilated areas are very important, to keep mold from growing everywhere. Also, that way you can get around a house to do maintenance work. There is a clear distinction between interior and exterior.
SP: At the exhibition, only a few visitors were prepared to enter the interim space—or let’s call it the gray zone.
It was mostly children who ran around the installation in the exhibition space. Only a few adults were curious enough to explore this interim space. But it is not just the fact that the space in between can be entered that is interesting but also the layering of the levels. You have the neo-Baroque structure or surface of the space as a backdrop, then you put the light and shadows of Brick Fabric on top of that, and then you have the structure of the solid, heavy material—Brick Fabric itself—as a third level.
MG: In order to go beyond the shadow in the Japanese context, perhaps, I would like to mention someone else who worked with the play of light, namely, László Moholy-Nagy, who pursued these issues in many complex ways from 1920 onward in photography, film, and especially with his Light-Space Modulator. What I find interesting about this is that the reception of Moholy-Nagy’s activity in this field very often makes the object itself the focus of observation, whereas he himself was often more interested in the question of the shadows in the room, which were projected, redirected and distorted, onto walls by the mirrors. When the modulator began to turn, the shadows cast on the wall would also turn, and the entire room was set in motion turning. What I find fascinating about this, and I am thinking of the Bauhaus period as well as today, is the extent to which the aspect of movement in architecture plays a central role. The different dimensions of motion are interesting here: on the one hand, there is the dimension of my movement, a person walking through the space. On the other hand, it raises the question of the extent to which movements are fundamentally inscribed in the architecture. Finally, it raises an entirely different question, namely, of the extent to which we are prepared, in our Western thinking, to think of architecture as such as always itself mobile.
In Western thought, there is an emphasis on tectonics and an effort to building architecture for eternity. This certainly has interesting dynamics for our current thinking and efforts, which increasingly concern concepts of sustainability. In Asian cultures, by contrast, even in the oldest architecture, such as temples, the concept of movement is already inscribed, since they are regularly renovated—that is to say, dismantled and rebuilt. It is most definitely not just about the movement of the building material. Be cause the temple was dismantled and rebuilt, there is always a spiritual movement as well. What I like about that is the idea that something is preserved or retained even if it no longer exists as material. The fetish of the object plays a secondary role here, since its value results from a movement of ideas or is preserved as an edifice of ideas.
SP: I find the aspects of movement in the context of architecture you describe very important. Much like the temples you have described, which are dismantled and in some cases exist only as ideas, the installations in Essen and Lörrach were temporary, site-specific installations. What remains, apart from the publications, are the memories of the spatial experiences of those who visited the exhibition. Nevertheless, there is a considerable difference here, because my site-specific works may refer to architecture but are not themselves architecture and from the outset were planned as temporary. In my installations, I am primarily concerned with another aspect of movement: the flow of space and the displacement of spatial situations. In the case of the artwork Brick Fabric in Lörrach, the walls cancel one another out, in a sense: the white of the outer wall and the white of the perforated wall of the Brick Fabric installation vibrate with one another, so that you could say the planes of the wall break down. Because the work is open on top, where the plaster decorative stucco moldings are, a flowing movement toward the ceiling results. The inserted structure evokes a white cube, but it is not a white cube; rather, together with the white cube of the room, it breaks down.
KK: I would like to come back to Mies van der Rohe and specifically to the Nationalgalerie in Berlin. In a sense, the large room of the Nationalgalerie can be described as a monospace. This room also consists of different layers—I’ll call them filters—such as the supports, the facade, and the canopy. Their materiality is quite different than that of your installation. I would like to introduce here this painting of Jerome that I picked out yesterday. It is a painting by Antonello da Messina of Saint Jerome in his study. The story tells how Saint Jerome saved and tamed the lion seen here in the painting. The saint sitting in his study is at the painting’s center, and the lion is sitting, almost unseen, in the shadow, in the gray zone, but both are together in the big room. In architecture, we observe this space not under its artistic aspect but exclusively under the aspect of the monospace itself. Saint Jerome is sitting, as you see, in a large space into which his study has been placed. That was my first association when I had seen Brick Fabric.
SP: I find it extremely interesting that you are introducing the painting of Jerome in his study into our conversation. The house always determines an inside and an outside. Jerome is always in his study—famously, he is the patron saint of translators. But the house is not a windowless monad. It is rather the precondition for the activity of translation—that is, for an establishing of relationships between different yet relatable preconditions. My installation Brick Fabric initiates this sort of establishing of relationships between different preconditions. The activity of translation is based on a complex interpenetration of different languages, cultures, and layers of meaning. This kind of interpenetration can at the same time grow into a clarification of fundamental factors—in the case of my installation, for example, of the spatial disposition, of the relationship between people and space or material. Another aspect that occurs to me in relation to Brick Fabric is to compare it to texts that consist of different strands of narration. The exhibition space with its neo-Baroque decor forms the outer framework of the installation, which can, conversely, be regarded as the inner framework of this room. The interplay be tween these frames results in a virtual story that divides into narrative strands that frame each other.
MG: It is interesting that you speak about the field of literature. Intuitively, I would not think of the format of a novel, for example, since for me it is often more linear in structure, even though textum in Latin explicitly means “that which is woven.” One word follows the next, and so the story develops from piece to piece. Personally, I find the comparison to film more logical, since the cinematic form is multisensory, multiperspectival. The film is fundamentally more complex in my perception than a literary story. For me it is always a multisensory experience and therefore corresponds more to the medial nature of architecture. Moreover, a wonderful idea occurs to me that Gilles Deleuze developed in connection with the film, which, I think, corresponds very closely to your work. For Deleuze, it is about shifting the gaze away from the individual images of the film to the gaps between the frames. This area between the images of the film, according to Deleuze, is what really produces the movement of the film: a movement that is carried into the individual im ages and hence into the film. He calls this in-between space the actively operating filmic moment. When analyzing a film, you can of course always go from image to image, but what is interesting is really that this black between the individual images works like an attractive force or, more precisely, triggers movement. And designing something begins in the actively operating area. And I think the same is true of your work as well, to return to the gray zone of the Villa Aichele. It is where the walls come together or rather the way you have related the things to one another that a moment develops where movement results and where I too am moved, not just spatially but by all means emotionally as well. Here the focus shifts, and for me it raises the question of the potential, of our functioning, of our subconscious.
SP: I would like to point out a difference, though, since we are still talking about an interim space or gray zone, as if there were two clear boundaries that produce this in-between space so distinctly. There is one wall, namely, that of the room proper, which represents a clear demarcation. Then there is the body of Brick Fabric. The masonry of the installation draws a permeable boundary—if you want to speak of a boundary at all—that is, a boundary in the space, a space that is experienced as a totality, and hence in a multisensory way. Light and air can circulate freely, and you can see what is happening on the other side of the wall. The openings also function like planes, and in principle what results is a kinetic moment where a movement begins to emerge. The wall flows—to call attention once again to the movement within the structure of the space and the installation.
KK: Speaking of permeability, I would like to mention that the neo-Baroque wall also has something diffuse and permeable to it. Moreover, the exhibition space has doors and windows that also function as openings to the outside, so I don’t find the distinction you have made entirely convincing. Acoustically, too, you hear also sorts of things from the adjacent room—that too is a sign of permeability.
MG: This openness and permeability seems to me to be a central dimension of the gray zone.
KK: But can’t a room as such also become a gray zone?
MG: Yes, that’s just what I mean. You can connect it to the idea and discussion of Foucault’s heterotopian theory: if heterotopias are alter native spaces into which I must enter like everyday spaces, where I then might have the feeling that the heterotopian spaces keep getting wider and wider, it raises the question of the relationship of everyday spaces to the heterotopias. Are they even conceivable within this dynamic? Do heterotopian structures keep stacking up, so that it is necessary to ask the question of the everyday again? Is the heterotopia then still the alternative model to the everyday or don’t the moments ultimately get switched around? I find that is a very interesting point, where a dynamic comes into play in which the gray zone is not so much an undifferentiated area or part of an undefined area but rather produces a different quality, precisely because it is undefined and overdetermined—and they say that is precisely the highly differentiated area of the shadow. So in the case of Sandra’s work, it is the realm ruled by the play of shadows.
KK: Sandra, this is a very different question, but let’s say you were invited to have an exhibition on the upper floor of the Nationalgalerie in Berlin: Could you imagine presenting a structure related to the one in Lörrach there as well?
SP: Oh yes, I’d like to do that. Although I’m not sure a translation of the work in Lörrach would be the right thing. I believe the work as it is now would have too many small pieces for that space. And that I think is the big challenge of an installation in the Nationalgalerie: working with the proportions and structure of the space.
MG: What I would find interesting about presenting Brick Fabric in the Nationalgalerie would be how and where the gray zones would result or, as we said earlier, where the transitional area would be. I think the whole interior would become the gray zone.
KK: I think so too.