Friday, 22 February 2013

Gregor Schneider - Totes Haus u r

Gregor Schneider (born 5 April 1969, in Rheydt) is a German artist, whose main area of work is constructed rooms. In 2001, he was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale for his infamous work Totes Haus u r exhibited at the German Pavilion.

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.

In 2001 Schneider won the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale when he exhibited his childhood home, Totes Haus u r (Dead House u r) in the German Pavilion. But this was no ordinary suburban dwelling: visitors walked up to an inconspicuous brown front door, the kind found on any German street, only to be admitted in to a house of horrors. The place was a maze of fake partitions, lead-lined rooms, makeshift sleeping quarters and a kitchen encrusted with mould. The most disturbing aspect was the basement, whereunder a low ceiling, amid the dirt and dust, hung a disco ball. Schneider is at his most gruesome when he alludes to sex and death, and more than anything this small prop suggested something sordid in the house of Schneider, as horrific as the nefarious activities of Fred West or Josef Fritzl. Although Schneider would argue (possibly disingenuously) that any associations we make concerning his art are constructed from our own ghoulish imaginations.

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.
Jessica Lack

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 

What is Schneider's Dead House ur? Nothing the artist tells us about the place seems completely unequivocal. Who owns it? Does he actually live here? Is Hannelore Reuen, whose name is on the entrance, a real person? We ask, but we get no straight answers, though a few things do appear certain: More than fifteen years ago, Schneider, a teenager at the time, began taking the building on Unterheydener Strasse apart from within. (The structure, apparently owned by his family, was once thought to be uninhabitable because of its proximity to an industrial complex.) By now, the original dimensions and configuration of the various rooms are all but impossible to reconstruct. The list of "improvements" the artist has made over the last decade and a half reads like a strange form of experimental literature, working through every conceivable repetition and duplication of basic architectural units: "wall in front of wall, ceiling under ceiling, section of wall in front of wall, room in room, lead in floor, light around room, light around room, wall in front of wall, wall in front of wall..." At this point, not even the artist can recount all the steps involved.

"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.

Esse est percipi, said Bishop Berkeley, but Schneider would beg to differ. He is interested above all in forms of existence that escape perception--substances, spaces, objects, and qualities that remain hidden. When one wall is built in front of another, a space is created between the two. Schneider fills such gaps with red or black bricks. Disappearing between the walls, these solid materials can't be seen, but they're there. The invisible works are just as significant as the visible ones to Schneider, and the very distinction between the two might be of minor importance to him. Listening to the artist talk about his interventions and constructions--workman-like descriptions of dimensions, materials, and tools--one glimpses a vision of the world that doesn't translate well into common sense. By no means mystical, it nonetheless involves a profound experience of space. "I was registered as having a perceptual disorder and being mentally ill, but I only told them what I was doing at the time. I didn't lie. I told them that I build rooms," Schneider explained to Loock, responding to the curator's interest in the genesis of the artist's activities."
Daniel Bimbaum


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