BY Martin Pesch in Reviews | 03 MAR 98
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Issue 39

mitteln. raum vor ort

BY Martin Pesch in Reviews | 03 MAR 98

It seems obligatory these days to look at an exhibition's Web page before visiting the show. But often it doesn't make you very enthusiastic about going. In most cases all you see is a copy of the same publicity that the good old post office delivers to your home on old-fashioned paper: ideas, the artists' names, a few biographical details, some images. This is particularly disappointing for a group exhibition that appears to be about mediating art. And because 'mitteln. raum vor ort' (mediating. space before place) is specifically about the spaces in which art takes place, this is as a wasted opportunity to establish the Internet as a new kind of space for art.

Nevertheless 'mitteln...' is an ambitious project and its origins are anything but uninteresting. The exhibition was devised as a joint project by the Kunstverein and the art history department of Bonn University. The two institutions have always had close ties, the university students working as trainees in the Kunstverein and its Artothek, an art lending library.

Just over a year ago the university set up a seminar aimed at devising an exhibition on a predetermined theme. A condition for financial support from Nordrhein-Westfalen was that young artists must be included. The trainee art historians visited exhibitions with similar themes, went to trade fairs and studios, and finally decided on 13 artists. Each participant was assisted by a student, and they worked on contributions for the Kunstverein together.

The exhibition concept emphasises the distinction between space and place. Thus some of the artists (Marc Mer, Tomoko Mukai) addressed space as a three-dimensional challenge issued by the Kunstverein building - the low vestibule and hugely spacious hall are not easy to handle. But for the majority of the participants (Thomas Klegin, Norbert Kottmann, Christiane Post, Dirk and Maik Lobbert) the key issue was analysing the Kunstverein's history and institutional character.

The idea of critiquing institutions is now fairly long in the tooth, but faced with the interdependence of art associations, juries, curators etc., ironic gestures are about all that can be made. Thus Dellbruegge & de Moll changed the inscription over the entrance to: 'We are working on the periphery' (all works 1997). This new inscription suggests that art associations are still central to bourgeois art history despite the financial and cultural abyss that yawns beneath them. Colourful knitted caps with 'Periphery' embroidered on them are also part of this work. You can wear these for your walk around the exhibition, and thus the caps become thinking spaces. This is a fine allegory for re-investing common profit in individual progress.

Andrea Knobloch and Coop von Osten offered almost traditional 'context art'. For her work Yes, we're open Knobloch built a replica of the Kunstverein's substantial box-office, in which tickets and catalogues are sold, and shifted it a few metres back towards the centre of the exhibition hall. The original box-office is now closed and stands abandoned, like the gatehouse of a closed-down factory. Coop von Osten, in Mind Expander, took a close look at the ideology of Haus-Rucker-Co, who converted a former flower-hall to house the Bonn Kunstverein. In the 70s this team of Viennese architects were still aiming to improve life through architecture, and supplied rules and regulations for the spaces they designed. Von Osten follows their instructions in a video, showing, for example, how women are supposed to sit in order to become better people. The artist hung texts linking this authoritarian gesture in the garb of a social utopia with up-to-date phenomena such as the current 'Fit for fun' health promotion campaign, which embodies similar regulations.

Two other works remain in the memory. In Mit Messern (With Knives), Ulrike Kessl hung loops of yarn, reaching down to about one metre above the floor, from the high ceiling of the rear exhibition space, into which she inserted table-knives, placed above and next to each other to produce an angular spiral floating in the space. At the entrance was Hee Seon Kim's self-effacing work Jeden Tag (Every Day). Using a slide projection, she blurred the entrance and exit areas, reflecting views and undermining a secure sense of location by tilting the projected photographs of the space according to the rotation of the earth. She handles the given architectural situation consummately, detaching the space from the place under whose weight most of the works are groaning.

Translated by Michael Robinson