Modification—Constantly Climbing Stones

Sandra Peters

The art project Modifikation—stetig steigende Steine (Modification—Constantly Climbing Stones) at the Kunstverein Ruhr in Essen is an installation related to the exhibition space, in which two supporting square pillars were walled in using two distinct brick bonds, each based on a helix structure. These bonds are a direct reference to the chimneys of the Schloss Cecilienhof in Potsdam. The intended effect is an aesthetic one: the brick structures seem to wind endlessly, upward and downward, through the architecture. In addition, they enter into a dialogue with the outside space, which enters into the exhibition space through the broad window facade of the Kunstverein Ruhr.

The chimneys in Essen and environs are industrial structures. The chimneys of Schloss Cecilienhof, by contrast, are ornamental structures intended to display the prestige of the royal court. Yet they share a symbolic character: the chimneys in each case characterize the overall urban and rural image of the region where they are located. By transporting the chimneys of Schloss Cecilienhof to the Kunstverein Ruhr, I strip them of their former function and cause them to emerge from the ambivalent tension between “ornament and function” and “ornament as function.” Hence they enter into a rapport with the chimneys and brick architecture of the Ruhr region. On the one hand, they allude to the craft skill of construction workers and, on the other hand, they liberate the perception of such skill from any specific purpose.

This exhibition project is directly related to the room. The latter is rectangular, has a surface area of approximately seventy square meters, and is 2.3 meters high. On the street side, it has a glass door and a large picture window. Its interior is structured by four load-bearing supports. Two of these supports are round; the other two, square. The two round supports (of painted steel) are located on the left and right, slightly staggered, just next to the glass facade; the two square supports (of painted reinforced concrete), by contrast, are nearly in the middle of the room and are parallel to each other, so that the room can be perceived as divided. Each of the two square supports is walled in with a brick bond featuring a helix structure, though the two brick bonds differ. Because the brick structures seem to spiral though the architecture endlessly upward and downward, the notion of a supporting function is canceled out. The viewers feel their physical perspective and disposition to movement is addressed by the two helix-like brick bonds. Not only does each bond have the other as a partner, but both also make the viewer a partner—all the more so as the round supports in front of the window and the bricked-in square columns of the pergola, which is located on the square immediately in front of the picture window, seem to be drawn into the dialogue.

The bonds used in Modification—Constantly Climbing Stones are composed by alternating an ordinary brick with a so-called shaped brick. This method has a long tradition. The immediate model for the bonds used in this work is the chimneys of Schloss Cecilienhof in Potsdam. They are based on English bonds from the Tudor period (e.g., Hampton Court Palace and the cathedral of Westminster Abbey, both ca. 1510), which have in turn even older precursors, for example, in Seljuk architecture of the eleventh and twelfth centuries in Persia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The brick is the oldest artificial architectural element known to humanity. The art of the decorative bond is based on a procedure that resembles weaving. Just as a weaver gradually creates the motifs of a fabric line by line by leading the weft threads through the warp threads in different rhythms, so the bricklayer draws the wall decoration upward by placing the bricks differently course by course. It results in the impression of a “garment.” This inner relations hip of two techniques is also what gave the art of brick ornament its Persian name, which means “thousand-fold weave.” The so-called brick style points to the skill and creativity of artisans and works, on the one hand, and to the pretention of the upper classes, on the other, who used this skill and artisanship to indicate their social status. At Schloss Cecilenhof, for example, the higher the person’s rank, the more artful and complex the pattern of the brick that—as visible from the outside—leads from the fireplace of his or her room in the castle.

Modification—Constantly Climbing Stones is based on a tension between the task and the use that is manifested as “displacement.” Transferring the brick structures to an exhibition space points rather to inventive and productive forces that cannot be traced back to an individual creative person. This idea could be extended, for example, in relation to Gabriel Tarde’s concept of the social. The social here is a principle of connectivity and productivity that is manifested in surprising associations and forks of reality, in which new information and new forms of knowledge and action tend to cause the world to become increasingly complex. While this suggests a perspective for the future, it is at the same time possible and important to turn this perspective toward the past as well. Schloss Cecilienhof stands not only for Germany’s courtly past (in the context of Prussia’s industrialization) but for Germany’s fate as a whole. After the Second World War, representatives of the victorious allies met here, with the most imposing rooms (and chimneys) assigned to Churchill, Truman, and Stalin. The decision to divide Germany was made here, and perhaps it is time, now that this division has been overcome, to lend a new meaning to the chimneys, especially since the architectural layout of Schloss Cecilienhof already has the character of a stage setting. In the process, however, a completely new experience of the space should be the focus in the Kunstverein Ruhr, and no specific prior knowledge should be required of the viewers.

Sandra Peters: Modifikation—stetig steigende Steine, ed. Peter Friese

Exh. cat. Kunstverein Ruhr, Essen

Essen: Kunstverein Ruhr


pp. 20–22