Carsten Ahrens: Speculations About the Artistic Location

When in the year 1958 Lucio Fontana used a sharp knife to cut a gaping slash in the surface of one of his monochrome pictures, this -wound in the canvas opened a new space for painting. The concept of the picture as an imaginary window onto another world collapsed; the painted picture became a present reality in the here and now, a concetto spaziale in the space of the observer.

When at the beginning of the Seventies Gordon Matta-Clark began to cut through existing architecture with a massive utensil and his spatial incisions penetrated several stories of buildings like a drawing in space, he freed the vision for another view of architecture. In this process of reduction and deconstruction of the extant, a process of subtraction, there were created empty spaces in which the dream of a free architecture could be felt. In the tearing down of walls, the concept of his art found expression: "To transform a place into a mental state".

The transformations of places of art which Claudia Pilsl has brought about for several years occur in a medium whose black and white has now for 150 years promised the authenticity of the real, yet her alterations of architectural spaces take place on a virtual level, in the pictures of photography.

Claudia Pilsl photographs the museums and exhibition halls in which contemporary art

has its widely regarded performances. Thus the Kunstmuseum Bonn, the Museum Ludwig in Cologne or the Kestner Gesellschaft in Hannover have become subjects and material of her polymorphic photographic extension, its flat structure as a picture metamorphoses. With her camera Claudia Pilsl follows the gaze of the viewer wandering through an exhibition and taking

notice of not only the extraordinary exhibition objects but also the incidental situations in the surrounding space. In so doing she sets the works of art and the architectural space, the protective layer around the artistic, in a striking and thrilling relation to each other. The artist’s intervention is penetrating yet retains a self-satisfied, curatorial character. For the works of art are cut out of the photographs of the exhibition rooms, but there remain, as a sort of echo, the surfaces which the works occupied, in and as cut-out sections. The artist erases the works of art, subtracts the contents of the image but retains its extension, its flat structure as a picture section in the truest sense of the word.

The structure of the exhibition becomes a panorama of the empty spaces, and the iconoclastic commentary turns into a secret dialogue about the limits and dreams of architecture. And not least of all does the artist seem to be concerned with the sights and insights of architecture. For her incisions are not limited to the works of art alone - her spatial interventions also impinge upon the architectural structures - she breaks through floors, rips down walls and opens ceilings. In short, the subtraction of the extant is the profession, deconstruction the field in which the counterparts of the real glimmer forth.

Let us look for a moment at the fate of the pictures in the mysterious clarity of these photographs. The surface of the picture in a museum, which suggests entrance into another world, becomes in Pilsl’s spatial views an actual opening, an empty space which reveals a view of what lies behind. The artist radicalizes this opening aspect of pictures by delineating the surface which they compose as the space of another dimension. The task of filling this space falls to the active viewing of the observer. In the erased surfaces he may see a mirror in which the artistic potential of establishing meaning shows a meagre image of banal emptiness, or he may discover free spaces in which he can give free rein to his own imaginings, liberated from the weight of contents. In whatever inclination towards art this observation may unfold, Claudia Pilsl’s photographs possess an irritating, explosive energy with which she stages the zero position of art about which Roland Barthes spoke in relation to literature.

With the medium of photography she brings to view the unseen spaces which lie behind the pictures. These meta-spaces which her photographs open are thought-spaces, speculations about the artistic location. Especially in the stacked sequences, a kaleidoscopic labyrinth of views unfolds. The photographs, which have been mounted in a convenient format, are laid one upon another and together form the contents of a box. The incisions in the photo currently lying on top open a view onto the one lying below, and so forth. In the coherence and clash of these sequences there arise irritating and surprising spatial connections, views in and out of an architecture which has never before been seen in this way. The view of the artist interconnects the most diverse spatial sequences and thereby creates spaces of unimagined depth. Architecture attains a new dimension. Halls which are separate one from another, closed within themselves, join into the new spatial sequences of a speculative architecture. Thus I recognize with a look at the transformed Kestner Gesellschaft that the two-storied exhibition house has extended into new spatial levels and stands partially in direct contact with the stars. Imaginary ideas and fantasies receive here substantial artistic nourishment. Architecture becomes transparent; its closing character is broken open. In the series of incisions which perform these deconstructions, an open structure unfolds in which the distinct dream images of a free architecture glimmer forth.

It is not by chance that the artist avoids contact to walls when presenting her own works in the viewing-spaces of art. Fragile rods assure distance from the v/all-covering of the space, in front of which there seem to hover views of another space. If light shines onto the front of the works, there arises, moreover, an interesting play of light and shadow. The erased surfaces in the photographs allow the light to pass through - bright windows of light are outlined upon the wall-surface of the space – luminous edges of a further incision? The larger formats lean in slight diagonals against the wall; they as well seem in their massive fragility to be incisions from another space into the actual space of the exhibition. Spatial coordinates overlap, and in the well- founded irritation of vision we accomplish a criticism of our perception which finds in these works its broad and borderless field.

It would be interesting to see an exhibition with works of Claudia Pilsl which themselves had been created by photographs and editings of an exhibition of Claudia Pilsl. As with an onion, the layers of images would peel away; we would follow a never-ending path of irritation in which the place of art became an ever more fragile fantasy which would, as it were, disperse before our eyes. We remain alertly expectant.


This text was published in the catalogue ‘Aperture’ by As