BY Kirsty Bell in Profiles | 19 FEB 15
Featured in
Issue 18

Sleep On It

Shrinking workspaces and reclining labour

BY Kirsty Bell in Profiles | 19 FEB 15

The relation, or rather distinction, of the sister disciplines of art and architecture is ever harder to discern, now that architects hold solo exhibitions in renowned art museums (think of David Chipperfield’s army of tree trunks that recently occupied Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie); or artists set up their own architecture offices as offshoots of their studios (see Olafur Eliasson’s recently established ‘Studio Other Spaces’); while retrospectives may take the form of a full scale interior remodelling (like Michael Beutler’s Haus Beutler at Kunstverein Bielefeld last Summer, to be followed in Spring 2015 with his transformation of the central atrium of the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin).

The most common crossover of the two disciplines, however, has less to do with such large-scale public events, and more with the artist’s place of work. Still regularly referred to as an ‘inner sanctum’, it is in the studio that art and architecture intermingle and the crux of the creative act is most persistently sought. As a pivo­tal space between private working process and public exhibition, the function of the studio has been continually scrutinized ever since Daniel Buren came up with the term in 1971, calling its effects into question. Back in 1957, Jean Genet equated the dusty squalor of Alberto Giacometti’s studio with the paintings and sculptures that emerged from it, describing the almost alchemical interchange that took place between artist, place and work: ‘the fingers play the length of the statue. And then it’s the whole studio that becomes throbbing and alive. I experience the curious impression that, if he’s there, old statues, already finished, alter themselves with no need for him to touch them, they transform themselves as he works on one of their sisters.’ The Studio of Giacometti, a vividly compelling analysis not only of an artist’s work, but also the significance of his working environment, has just been published in a new English translation by Grey Tiger Press, with images by Marc Camille Chaimowicz (himself no stranger to the creative resonance of place, having explicitly thematized the domestic arena in which he works since the early 1970s).

Such alchemical reactions between artist and workplace, albeit of different aesthetic orders, may be found in the work of Reinhard Mucha and Gregor Schneider (both featured in this issue). For them, the site becomes implicated and almost indivisible from the work itself, not only as a container for production but also a constituting material – a cipher of concealed meaning of a historical, if not directly autobiographical, nature.

The prospect of transforming an entire family house into an artwork (as did Schneider) or taking over a whole building complex as a studio (like Mucha) seems out of reach for most now, however, given the current state of the housing market and rising rental prices, even in a city like Berlin which has long prided itself on the affordability of its living and work spaces. According to a report published in October 2014 by McKinsey Global Institute, if current trends continue, by 2025 the global affordable housing gap could affect one in three urban dwellers, or 1.6 billion people. The slick high rises appearing across skylines in New York and London are evidence of this state of affairs: all panoramic views and price tags in the millions. According to an article by Boris Pofalla in FAZ the majority of their apartment units will be purchased by foreign investors and remain for the most part uninhabited, mere holding bays of the intangible capital of international investment. The resonance of the private, lived-in interior as a vessel of individuality, of memories and assembled possessions, the unfolding of social relations, or simply survival, is replaced by monuments to capital itself: ever taller, sheerer, emptier. Priced out of such urban centres, where will the artists – and the rest of us – go? This fate is being addressed by architects Jesko Fezer, Nikolaus Hirsch and Wilfried Kuehn and curator Hila Peleg in Wohnungsfrage, a timely exhibition and conference to be held at Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt in October. ‘It is high time to once again comprehend the shaping of dwellings, neighbourhoods and cities as a socio-cultural practice’, they claim, and to rethink the role of architecture in the provision of housing and social reality.

Meanwhile, as the affordable housing gap widens, artists’ working practices have changed. For some this has meant moving away from the tools and materials of a traditional studio practice, towards ever more ephemeral means of production, developed digitally and outsourced to workshops. Do such mobile practices, which ostensibly require only the space to work at a laptop, suggest an inevitable move towards the situation proposed by Beatriz Colomina whose concept for last October’s curated by _ vienna gallery programme was called ‘The Century of the Bed’. Based on statistical evidence that ever more professionals work from their bed – the utter inner sanctum – Colomina asks: what will happen when the bed takes over as preferred workspace, and is given over to the 24 hour demands of production, communication and distribution?

This shrinkage of workspace requirements seems to dovetail perfectly with the reduction of affordable living space, begging two questions. What will become of the Giacometti-esque lair of dust and squalor, or of the constituting materiality of a studio like Mucha’s, in the century of the bed? And where left for the inner sanctum when the ultimate refuge has been co-opted by work? At this point, I realize, a confession is in order – I’m completing this text from my own inner sanctum, on my laptop, in bed …

Kirsty Bell is a freelance writer based in Berlin, Germany.