After 'New World' and 'New Heimat', 'non-places' was the third in a series of group exhibitions in which the Kunstverein pursued the spectre of globalization and its effects. The first stage dealt with the changes in society brought about by migration and Diaspora; the second with cultural transfers between the so-called 'first' and 'third' worlds. In this exhibition the focus was on spaces and forms of architecture with which we are all familiar: generic chain stores in the confines of inner-city shopping zones, faceless suburban apartment blocks, or the stereotypical, box-like buildings on the urban periphery that shelter everything from software mavericks to prefab furniture warehouses: non-places.
The work of Michael Blum created a bridge between the third project and the two previous ones: it was presented as an ethnological study complete with documentary video and materials. Blum tried to trace the path of a pair of Nike sneakers purchased at a footwear store in Paris to the place in Indonesia where, according to the label, they had been produced (My Sneakers, 2001). Shod in his object of research and armed with numerous letters of introduction, he never actually attained his goal - though not just because the gates to the inner sanctum ultimately remain closed to customers. It was soon apparent that it would be impossible for Blum to locate the actual source of 'his' sneakers among the many sweatshops that have sprung up like mushrooms in the Indonesian hinterlands. The uniformity of urban chic, despite its 'individual' label, has its counterpart in the uniformity of production workshops - two non-places mirror each other. Where there are no legal union labour contracts, however, other laws are also null and void, such as the one protecting trademarks - one particular sweatshop that works simultaneously for competing companies calls itself 'Nikedas'.
Marc Augé, whose book Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (1995) was an important resource for the show, describes the production of non-places as the most conspicuous characteristic of the Über-Modern, and sees an interplay between these new sites and old, historically situated ones: ' ... like the place, the non-place doesn't exist in pure form; it's more likely that new places are generated, relations are reconstructed within. Place and non-place are contrary poles; the place never disappears completely and the non-place is never fully established - they are palimpsests on which the confusing game of identity and relation finds its own reflection over and over.'
Friedrich Ludewig's Life Engineering at Home (An Experimental Interpretation) (2002) examined another palimpsest, of exterior and interior. The architect's work is based on the idea that webcams are not voyeuristic windows into the private lives of their protagonists, as is usually maintained. Instead, the calculated camera perspectives create semi-public spaces - a phenomenon that Ludewig sees in reciprocal relation to the privatization of urban spaces previously defined as public. As he showed - using various examples from architectural history - this is not a fundamentally new phenomenon: the theoretical model best known as 'Klein's bottle' (a glass container whose long neck is bent back directly into its belly) illustrates the notion that transitions from inside to outside are in flux. This in turn corresponds with Augé's observation that the flow between our private and public spheres is increasing, that the two realms are becoming less subjugated to a particular location.
A break in the flow occurred in one of the few sculptural works found in a show clearly dominated by documentary videos and photography. In crude, ready-made materiality Olaf Metzel's Drehkreuz (Turnstile, 1991-2) reproduces a principle of accessibility with which we are familiar from subways and public swimming pools. Since it was only possible to pass through this work in one direction, the visitor was (potentially) forced to wait. In this way the art consumer, who likes to regard himself an autonomous subject, is forced into a state of idle contemplation that can hardly be traced back to Kant's notion of 'disinterested satisfaction'.
'Maybe there is a substitute for experience', reads a poster included in one of Martha Rosler's photographs of airport architecture around the world (O'Hare, Chicago, 1986). Non-places can at least offer one type of experience: the surrogate.
Translated by Allison Plath-Moseley