Too much is never enough

Skulptur Projekte, Münster, June 6 - October 1, 2017

By the time I arrived in Münster in northwest Germany, I had been on the Euro art trail for two weeks and had hit art-saturation point several times over. Thousands of artworks, kilometres of gallery halls, a thesis-worth of wall labels. In an effort to externally back up my tired brain, I had disrupted countless people by taking hundreds of photographs of works and texts I knew I would forget otherwise. I was exhausted—in a very privileged, self-inflicted kind of way—but determined to push on. Skulptur Projekte, it seemed, had other plans.

There is a certain rhythm to these art festival jaunts: arrive in town, drop your bags, locate an information point for maps and tickets. Plot an itinerary to cover as many venues as possible in a few days, and tick sites off as you go. This process, however, was thwarted in Münster. Our visit happened to coincide with Stadtfest, an unrelated city festival that saw the streets of the old town centre peppered with music stages, corporate sponsor stands and a fake beach. Over the weekend, it became clear that this wasn’t the only reason that Skulptur Projekte was difficult to consume.

Coinciding with documenta 14 and the Venice Biennale, Skulptur Projekte Münster is an exhibition of public sculpture—a term broadly interpreted—initiated in 1977 and staged every ten years. Site-specific works are installed throughout the town, both in the old centre and surrounding suburban and industrial areas. Most are temporary, although a few sculptures from each exhibition become permanent fixtures.

In 2017, the notion of ‘public sculpture’ seems to be a challenge for artists to push against rather than a structure to work within. Projects include wheat-pasted posters with QR-code links to videos; a beer brewed to particular audio frequencies; documentation of an intensive workshop for local residents on how to live together; and a functional tattoo shop with designs by Skulptur Projekte artists. In one sense this expands the definition of public sculpture, and in another it renders the term redundant. Although conceived for specific locations, the works seemed interchangeable with much of what I saw in Athens, Venice and Kassel (indeed, Emeka Ogboh actually made beers for both Skulptur Projekte and documenta 14).

There are 35 projects—some across multiple sites—and although Münster is not a huge town, many were difficult to find. As we ventured out on our first afternoon, the limitations of the official map became clear. Streets were omitted and locations of artworks were vague. Upon arrival at an apparent site—many were not signposted – it could be hard to determine what the work actually was. When public art is not on a pedestal, it can be surprisingly hard to pick.

On a grassy verge, part of a ring of roads and parks that surrounds the old centre of Münster, stands Lara Favaretto’s Monetary Monument—The Stone (2017), an unassuming, rough-hewn granite monolith. A horizontal slot admits coins, which make a satisfying hollow ‘chink’ as they land in its dark interior. Like a piggy bank, the block will be ceremonially shattered at the end of the exhibition, and the funds donated to a local organisation that lobbies to abolish pre-deportation detention. This information was not apparent without some research; the block does not give away its secrets.

In another park on the other side of town, Nicole Eisenmann has installed a square fountain surrounded by plaster and bronze figures. Unlike many other works, Sketch for a Fountain (2017) is visible from a distance and its status as ‘art’ is clear. The plaster bodies strike me first, their crumbling exteriors the seeming antithesis of public monuments. These bodies are imperfect, permeable, and grass is growing through the cracks. One has jets of water shooting from its shins, the surrounding plaster disintegrating to reveal hessian support. The bronzes feel unfinished too, with rough-hewn lower legs and incomplete heads. One sways on its heels, its calf spouting water; another lays on its back, a large can resting on its belly and spouting a constant cascade. Punters lounge on the grass next to the larger-than-life figures, several of which are decaying over time, just like us. Eisenmann denies the permanence and monumentality of public sculpture.

Some of the most successful projects are presented inside buildings. Hito Steyerl’s HellYeahWeFuckDie (2016) is a video, sculpture and architectural installation in the foyer of a major German bank’s headquarters. The architecture of the building itself is a strange mix of brutalism and futurism, making it a perfect site for Steyerl’s exploration of the violent testing of virtual and physical robots. Gregor Schneider’s N. Schmidt, Pferdegasse 19, 48142 Münster, Deutschland (2017) is a disorienting incursion into a wing of the LWL Museum (Centre for Arts and Culture). One at a time, a security guard ushers us into a low-lit apartment. It is claustrophobic, and feels too bland to be a set. A screen in one room shows footage of that very room, but it is empty; suddenly a figure passes through it, but I remain alone. In the bathroom a tap runs at full strength. I think the rooms have led me in a full circle, but the entry point is not how I remember it. When I eventually surface, I feel as though I must have missed something, but eventually realise that this feeling is part of the unease that Schneider so skilfully constructs.

After waiting for a bus for what felt like hours—bikes were booked out across town for Stadtfest and buses were inexplicably off schedule—we make it to the disused ice rink of Pierre Huyghe’s After ALife Ahead (2017). The rink has been partially excavated, with islands of glossy concrete surface standing intact between gullies of orange clay. Walking into this cool canyon, we pass strata of concrete, piping, styrofoam and gravel. Parts of the ceiling open out like space-age hatches to aid the movements of an introduced bee colony; an incubator on the sidelines contains cells whose progress and division is entwined with the ice rink ecosystem. It is a cool, surreal, post-apocalyptic environment, and when pressed, an invigilator attempts to explain about the bees, the cells and the ecosystem. Although his English is good, he seems strangely under-informed. Elsewhere, invigilators are frustratingly disengaged.

On our final afternoon we join a walking tour, and eventually I ask our guide: why is everything so hard to find? Are we imagining it? Are we incompetent, or is it deliberate? By far the most helpful and knowledgeable of staff we had encountered, our guide explains that yes, this difficulty is intentional. It is built into the exhibition. She confirms our suspicion, which had mounted as we traipsed through town, faces in maps and brows creased, that forces were arrayed against us. Everyone expects to have things made easy, she explains, and for art to be served up ready for consumption. For Skulptur Projekte, travelling to Münster is not enough: you have to work for it.

This feels like a peculiarly European sensibility: I don’t think a major art festival could (or would) operate with this sort of ethos in Australia. With the arts routinely denounced for wasting taxpayer dollars at the slightest provocation, an Australian art festival deliberately seeking to confound their audience would be a total outrage (as if the art itself weren’t obtuse enough!). So, perhaps my frustration and sense of entitlement are products of what I have come to expect: public art geared towards public consumption.

Grudgingly, and having failed to see everything I wanted to, I have to hand it to Skulptur Projekte. My ambitions to tick items off a list were summarily frustrated and it was impossible for me to consume anywhere near all of the work in two days. In the midst of a frenzied art pilgrimage, Skulptur Projekte reminded me—however unwillingly—to slow down. To acknowledge the limitations of space, time and my own walking body. To remember that one powerful connection with an artwork is worth a thousand more rushed-past and forgotten.

Skulptur Projekte continues until 1 October 2017 at various difficult-to-locate sites around Münster, Germany

https://www.skulptur-projekte.de/#/

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Hito Steyerl, HellYeahWeFuckDie (installation view), 2016, 3-channel-video installation, environment, 4 min HD video. Skulptur Projekte Münster, 2017. 

Rebecca Gallo

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Hito Steyerl, HellYeahWeFuckDie (installation view), 2016, 3-channel-video installation, environment, 4 min HD video. Skulptur Projekte Münster, 2017. 

Rebecca Gallo

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Hito Steyerl, HellYeahWeFuckDie (installation view), 2016, 3-channel-video installation, environment, 4 min HD video. Skulptur Projekte Münster, 2017. 

Rebecca Gallo

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Exterior of the LBS Bank Headquarters where Hito Steyerl’s work is installed for Skulptur Projekte Münster, 2017. 

Rebecca Gallo

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Signage for disused ice rink, Münster. 

Rebecca Gallo

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Makeshift signage for Pierre Huyghe's work at Skulptur Projekte, Münster 2017. 

Rebecca Gallo

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Pierre Huyghe, After ALife Ahead, 2017, concrete floor of ice rink, logic game, ammoniac, sand, clay, phreatic water, bacteria, algae, bees, chimera peacocks, aquarium, black switchable glass, Conus textile, GloFish, incubator, human cancer cells, genetic algorithm, augmented reality, automated ceiling structure, rain. Skulptur Projekte Münster, 2017. 

Rebecca Gallo

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Nicole Eisenman, Sketch for a Fountain, 2017, bronze, plaster, basin. Skulptur Projekte Münster, 2017. 

Rebecca Gallo

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Nicole Eisenman, Sketch for a Fountain, 2017, bronze, plaster, basin. Skulptur Projekte Münster, 2017. 

Rebecca Gallo

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Lara Favaretto, Momentary Monument - The Stone (detail), 2017, Tittlinger coarse-grained granite, 420 x 140 x 155 cm. Skulptur Projekte Münster, 2017. 

Rebecca Gallo

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Lara Favaretto, Momentary Monument - The Stone, 2017, Tittlinger coarse-grained granite, 420 x 140 x 155 cm. Skulptur Projekte Münster, 2017.

Rebecca Gallo

Rebecca Gallo is a writer, editor and artist, based in Western Sydney since 2017. She has written for publications including Sturgeon, Vault, Runway, Look, The Art Life and Art Guide Australia. Gallo was a director of Archive Space (2014-15) and collaborates with Connie Anthes as Make or Break.

 

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