* 1941 Fort Wayne/Indiana, USA, lives and works in Galisteo/New Mexico, USA
Project: Square Depression (Quadratische Senkung)
In 1977, Klaus Bußmann from the LWL-Landesmuseum had the idea for a sculpture exhibition; Kasper König invited nine artists to realize projects outdoors, thus taking art out of the museum and installing it in urban space. Bruce Nauman planned an outdoor sculpture for the campus of the university’s department of natural sciences: a walk-in object made of white concrete, its edges extending downwards and crossing at the lowest point in the center, from where an observer could only just glance over the sides. Finally realized for skulptur projekte münster 07, Nauman’s sculpture is the inverted pyramid. Square Depression is literally a square let into the ground, but – then as now – Bruce Nauman’s title for the work is a play on the word “depression”. Depressive, helpless, to be at someone’s mercy is how the spectators may feel when they stand at the center of this sculpture. It is about the formal qualities of space and the vanishing point; at the same time Square Depression represents the spatial construction of a psychological state below the level of the vanishing point. As a sculpture, Nauman’s work shows us just how much perspective can be regarded as constraint – and to what extent it can actually inflict violence. Square Depression is a staged threat, which now – upon its completion in the year 2007, thirty years after it was originally planned – is as haunting and topical as ever.
Bruce Nauman has been awarded virtually all honours and prizes in the international world of art. He participated at documenta in Kassel already five times (in 1968, 1972, 1977, 1982, and 1992), and twice in the Venice Biennale (in 1999 and 2005) and in the Lyon Biennale (in 1995 and 1997). Nauman’s works were shown in individual exhibitions and retrospectives in the most important museums of the world, e.g. the New York Museum of Modern Art, Tate Gallery in London, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, Kunsthaus Zuerich, and Hamburg Kunsthalle. Since the 1960s, Nauman’s oeuvre has reflected different trends in art, including minimal art and conceptual art, performance and video. Language frequently plays an important part in his works. Nauman is convincing because of his focus on two themes: the role of the body as a medium, and space and the body’s interplay with it. Nauman’s architecture-related projects anticipate and incorporate the movements of the viewer, who reacts to the projects. For technical reasons, Nauman’s works for the sculpture projects in 1977 and 1987 could not be exhibited. In 2007, we will exhibit the project he had made for sculpture projects 1977. We, thus, pay homage to an artist, whose influence on art has been considerable since 1960.
For sculpture projects münster 07, Pawel Althamer constructed a path. Starting where a footpath and bicycle trail meet in a municipal recreation area near Lake Aa, Althamer’s path will lead, through meadows and fields, out of the city. Just short of one kilometre, however, it will abruptly end in the middle of a field of barley. Surprised that the trail has suddenly ended, visitors will have to decide how to react upon this open situation and how to return to the city.
Althamer’s idea for this project stems from his observation of how pedestrians and bicyclists here strictly obey the signs designating their respective paths, conforming to regulations in a way that appears unusually stringent to the average Polish observer. Footpaths are not used by bicyclists, and bike trails are not used by pedestrians – and it seems that no one would even consider leaving the paths themselves and walking or riding straight through the fields. With his path, Althamer is looking for a way out of these orderly circumstances. At the same time, the artist questions the obviousness of the city’s network of trails by offering an alternative that refuses to comply with the system’s tacitly accepted logic.
The path, whose sporadic quality distinguishes it from the more permanent paths, passes by a main road leading out of Münster and enters an agricultural area on the outskirts of the city. Simultaneously, this change of environment alters the way that the path itself is perceived, as it is transformed from an intervention in the city’s existing infrastructure into an adventurous way out of the routines of everyday urban living. Reminiscent of walks taken during childhood, the trail leads visitors into the countryside, past a small woodland area and across a stream – highlighting precisely the natural qualities that we often no longer perceive in our media-saturated world. At the place where it abruptly ends, the trail challenges visitors’ ability to make a decision, to face the situation at hand, and to assume responsibility for themselves. The special appeal of this work lies in its capacity to change familiar patterns of action and create an open-ended situation in which visitors can – and, indeed, have to – renegotiate possibilities. It is work that, for the duration of the exhibition, will continually change and grow as each visitor takes his or her own individual decision.
Pawel Althamer combines in his work aspects of classical sculpture, e.g. in his life-size figurative self-portrait made of hair and wax (1993), the characteristics of installations, and social elements. He frequently incorporates familiar everyday situations into new contexts, to cause shifts in interpretation. In 1994, he asked the museum attendants in an art gallery in Warsaw which objects would make their working day more pleasant, and then furnished seats, a radio, a potted plant and soft drinks.
People of the underprivileged classes play a major role in Althamer’s works. He focuses on the artificiality of their involuntary difference. For “Dancers” (1997) he has a group of homeless people in a white, brightly lit room, to take each other’s hands and dance in a circle. The dancers are naked, and without their clothes, they no longer reveal their social category. They could not be identified as homeless. Their dance became purely an expression of being human. Althamer’s creations can be seen as a new form of realism, that developed in Poland and other former East Block countries in the course of the political transformations of the early 1990s. Divested of their traditional patterns of orientation, artists, like Althamer, examine the world they live in and its values.