When I arrived at Joachim Koester’s exhibition at Jan Mot, I was invited to take off my shoes and lie down on a daybed designed by the renowned Belgian brutalist architect Juliaan Lampens. I was given headphones and an mp3 player so that I could listen to the three audio works that Koester has made in collaboration with artist Stefan A. Pedersen. The quasi-domestic scene, a partnership with the Brussels design gallery Maniera, was softly lit by brass lamps shaped like curved casement windows, made by the American designer Jonathan Muecke. Each recording, which lasts around 20 minutes, begins with a breathing and relaxation exercise, and a body-scan meditation, followed by a guided visualization that takes listeners on a journey of discovery to a place related to a historical work of art.
In the first recording, I visited the garden behind Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers’s ‘fictional museum’, the Musée d’art moderne, département des aigles (Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles, 1968), the first incarnation of which was in his Brussels home. The second took me to a parking lot that Robert Smithson explored for his famous Artforum article ‘A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey’ (1967). Smithson had found Passaic to be ‘full of “holes”’, a condition that helped him think through his ideas about entropy and the virtual existence, in a landscape, of all the buildings that would be erected there in the future: what he called ‘ruins in reverse’.
A third sound piece, Department of Abandoned Futures (2015), took me to an underground archive full of unrealized blueprints and abandoned plans. Its title alluded to one of Koester’s own works, Occupied Plots, Abandoned Futures. Twelve (Former) Real Estate Opportunities (2007), for which he photographed sites originally shot by Ed Ruscha in 1970 for his book Real Estate Opportunities. When Ruscha photographed these places, they were empty lots for sale – sites of pure potential. When Koester revisited them, 27 years later, many were the sites of boarded-up buildings, casualties of failed markets. As I listened to the descriptions and recognized the references, I found my mind looping around a spaghetti junction of academic and art-world lore, mixing with my own visualizations and physical sensations. The recordings ended with several minutes of white noise and a sound like ice melting, which gave me time to attempt a further foray into the landscape of my inner senses, to imagine inhabiting new places and give life to half-remembered locations.
Broodthaers’s spurious taxonomies and museological fictions, Smithson’s interpretation of an ugly town as a place for psychic time-travel, and the documentation of urban life cycles by Ruscha’s and Koester’s photographs: each involves a process of transformation through matter, mind and memory. Narrated here, they become fertile terrain for imagination and visualization. But, to free the mind it is also necessary to relax the body. In this respect, the installation of elegant furniture worked against Koester’s sound pieces.
Shaped like gold ingots, the taupe-coloured daybeds are really benches, and narrower than my shoulders, meaning I had to squeeze my arms against my sides to stop them from lolling in space. As I struggled to rest my head on the over-designed geometric pillows, I pictured myself as the cranky critic or, worse, a comfort-obsessed philistine. I wanted to ignore these inconveniences, but I couldn’t, because they prevented me from fully engaging with the psychic aspects of the work. The irony is that, in Koester’s show, an excess of style made me abundantly aware of my physical surroundings, whereas in the case of Ruscha’s and Smithson’s works, vivid imaginary worlds are summoned from the vacancy of lots and holes.