BY Lauri Firstenberg in Reviews | 04 APR 02
Featured in
Issue 66

Christoph Buchel

Maccarone Inc., New York, USA

BY Lauri Firstenberg in Reviews | 04 APR 02

Rarely are gallery-goers requested to sign a release form relating to their clinical phobias. However, as soon as you got down on your hands and knees and started crawling through the rubble of Christoph Büchel's installation at Maccarone Inc., your anxieties and neuroses surfaced straight away. For the inaugural show of this 'un-gallery' Büchel assembled a daunting two-storey labyrinth comprising a disjointed series of simulated domestic and public spaces gone wrong. His principal theme is the architecture of failure.

An architectonic montage in the vein of Kurt Schwitters, Büchel's structure can be interpreted as an image of the city's institutional conscience - school, church, gaol - in a state of atrophy. His work is literally both a construction and a deconstruction. The bath was filled with rubble; there were holes in the masonry, and claustrophobic but undefined spaces composed of rickety ladders and raw punctured walls contributed to the air of a building site. Recycling various bits of building refuse, Büchel had even taken some old, tarred roof shingles and piled them on the floor of the gallery like a poured Linda Benglis. The sheer weight of all this debris seemed to have damaged the floor.

Büchel's most dystopic vision was to be found in a kind of makeshift schoolroom with an extraordinarily low ceiling. Marcel Broodthaers' remark 'I don't believe in any art ... I believe in phenomenon' was scribbled on the blackboard, punctuated by a nursery rhyme soundtrack that created a David Lynch-like ambience. A photograph of the school that used to occupy the building is stuck disconcertingly to a wall. Continuing on, the sheer accumulation of rubbish and discarded mattresses, sinks, piles of newspapers, pages torn out of magazines, and signboards created a dirty and disorienting void filled with the detritus of the city, images of its identity and psychology. The hallway leading to the exhibition - consisting of two pews, a basketball hoop and an ashtray - suggested the demise of religion, sport and leisure. Büchel also played with ideas of interior and exterior, like an ode to Gordon Matta Clark. One of the most important elements in the installation was the sound of simulated rain on the damaged roof, which was transmitted through several rooms.

Perhaps we should think of Büchel's work as a kind of three-dimensional automatic drawing. The architect Peter Zellner called this installation 'an unfinished, unrealized, violent and stuttering space'. Büchel's temporary structure was certainly a dense, cramped, even dangerous, exercise in defamiliarization, creating a space of doubt, uncertainty, even panic, but it both described and enacted some of the modern city's main themes - memory, oblivion and fear.