BY Holger Liebs in Reviews | 06 JUN 99
Featured in
Issue 47

David Roth

BY Holger Liebs in Reviews | 06 JUN 99

If you mix cement, sand, gravel and water you get a material that's not just useful for building houses - you can also cast mountain valleys with it, or drown an unloving person in it and say goodbye to them once and for all. Concrete cast in a pre-formed bowl becomes a dense monolithic form that can only be sculpted with a jack hammer. Concrete is an ideal disposal method for the Mafia and a favourite material of 20th Century master builders, but it is also the subject of Daniel Roth's topographic fictions.

Perhaps it's something to do with the fact that Roth comes from the Black Forest, that mountainous southern German region whose melancholy springs from its dark pines and which teems with fairy tales and myths. If a village in the Black Forest were engulfed by concrete, as Roth suggested in an earlier exhibition, it might suffocate the stories that infest the place in a heavy grey and heavy avalanche and reveal, in the process, a new and imaginary architecture; a departure point for an archeological fantasy.

At the entrance to his exhibition 'Wie die Leichen der Mafia Vorbeitreiben' (How the Corpses of the Mafia Float Past) Roth displayed a model village covered in concrete. Two places were marked: a so-called 'stone farm', the other a power station, both are which have transcended their original function to become exhibition spaces. In his accompanying text, the artist gives instructions to step into these imaginary spaces through a drill hole in order to begin a journey through a series of fictional, visualised worlds, that combine the topographic extremism of Jules Verne with a futuristic den of robbers from the hand of James Bond's set designer Ken Adam.

Virtuously, Roth swaps imaginary with real spaces, designs models that appear again in drawings on the wall and integrates the photography of real buildings into virtual landscapes. Following the path that the artist reveals in his storyboard, we move like remote controlled Indiana Jones dummies through his landscape, falling through trap doors, swimming through a thick mass of goo, ascending mountains on a chair lift and stumbling through turbines, hotel rooms or holes in the ground: Monolith Church 1-3, Wall painting 1-3, (all works 1999). The structure of these 'painted stories', as Roth calls them, resembles the structure of a dream. There are no boom gates, every border is passable and distances are shrunk into insignificant measures. The visualisation is limited to presentations of rooms which are actual sites in the story. There are no people in the huge halls of the bravely designed mountain towers, just furniture. The thin graphite strokes with which Roth draws delineate only the outlines of the architecture.

His drawings, especially when they are painted directly onto the wall, are easy to overlook. Architecture, in the form of photography and drawing, is also included in the show: an image of Moscow's communication tower is placed over a cross shaped outline of a monolithic 11th Century stone church in Lalibella, Ethiopia, while a stadium in Palermo is embellished with a subterranean lake. Far below, the corpses of Mafia victims float past.

The charm of Roth's work is about making connections and holding a balance between contingency and consequence. Who knows how many invisible towns and stories are hidden under that concrete?

Translated by Dominic Eichler