Since 1985, Schneider has been working elaborately on the house on Unterheydener Straße in Mönchengladbach-Rheydt. The "u r" refers to Unterheydener Straße und Rheydt. Gregor Schneider created replicas of the existing rooms by building complete rooms inside of other rooms each consisting of walls, ceilings and floors. These doubled rooms are not visible as rooms within rooms to the viewers. Additionally he slowly moves the rooms out of sight by employing machines that push ceilings or complete rooms. Hollow and interspaces are the results of the form of the installations. Some rooms become inaccessible, because they are hidden behind walls and some have been isolated by concrete, plumbing, insulation or sound absorbing materials. Via outside fixed lamps, different times of the day have been simulated. The rooms are numbered consecutively (u r 1 -) for clear distinction. At the beginning the originals rooms have been all areas of a house: a bedroom, a coffee room, a lumber-room, a kitchen, a corridor, a cellar. Since the middle of the 1980s visitors of the Haus u r have been reported as having had frightening experiences inside the house.
It is difficult for us to know why Schneider decided to transform his childhood house into such a charnel. He has been doing so since the age of 16 when his father died, and critics have often suggested Schneider's continued investigations and manipulations are the result of trauma. If that is the case, Schneider is not telling. What he does say is that he hopes his work helps us to reflect upon and overcome our worst nightmares. That these fetid rooms have become highly sought after by collectors and museums certainly reveals how compelling we find the most disquieting aspects of the human condition.
Like the psyche as multiple dwellings imagined by the great Russian theatre theorist Constantin Stanislavski, the Totes Haus ur is actually several houses. It is made from parts of the Haus ur (begun in 1985) — which is both Schneider's home in Rheydt, Germany, and his major piece as an artist—and is also an autonomous work. It contains multiple houses within itself that register Schneider's ongoing project of reconstructing the interior of the house; his own description of the project reads, in part: "wall in front of wall, wall in front of wall, wall behind wall, passage in room, room in room." Unlike the orderly psyche described by Stanislavski, in which everything is easy to find until the last crucial moment, this labyrinthine environment felt like a particularly difficult place in which to locate the elusive bead, as if it were an architectural representation of a psyche so turned in on itself that the journey into it leads to dead ends, hazards, and conundrums like windows that open only onto other windows and rooms bathed in light that appears natural but is actually artificial. Or perhaps the Totes Haus ur is not so much the site of a quest as the product of a restless search that involves ripping out, moving, and rebuilding walls, doors, and whole rooms in the hope of finding or creating the place into which the invaluable bead disappeared.
PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art
"I come from the Expressionist corner," Schneider tells us over coffee. Precociously drawn to the arts, he had already gravitated in his early teens to painting, creating images of young, undernourished girls and screaming faces. He also dabbled in body art, covering his torso with flour or burying himself in the soil. Extreme practices of automutilation and self-inflicted pain fascinated him; he was especially taken with the story of Toronto practitioner John Fare, who in the late '60s hacked off parts of his body one by one and finally beheaded himself in an amputation machine. "I saw the human scream as the ultimate in expression," Schneider told Ulrich Loock in an extensive interview produced in conjunction with the artist's 1997 exhibition at the Bern Kunsthalle. "Then [I] flipped into the opposite mode." He began to build soundproof cells, rooms of total isolation, covered with layer upon layer of insulating materials. One of them--the ultimate in claustrophobic nightmares--has a door with no handle on the inside and a merely decorative, nonfunctional knob on the outside. Once the door is shut, the person inside is gone forever.