Spatial Inventions: The Art of Andrea Pichl
The relation of art and architecture has often been described in erotic terms. As the British architectural theorist Jane Rendell put it: “Are art and architecture entranced by the better version of themselves they think they see in the other? […] While architecture provides a subject matter and setting for art, art is an expanded field where architecture can develop its critical potential and capacity to construct concepts as well as provide solutions.” The artwork of Andrea Pichl not only refers to buildings, both historical and contemporary, built using modular construction, it also refers to architects’ designs for living and conceptions of the good life. At the same time, the artist is also interested in the ways inhabitants of these buildings use and appropriate the spaces they live in. In this respect, she partakes in a broader fascination in contemporary art that makes use of materials from architecture, cities, and urban structures.
The Gaze from “Above”: Appropriating Floor Plans
In Pichl’s work, sculptures based on ground plans and building layouts reveal critical strategies toward modern architecture’s utopian potential. She is interested in this structuring and planning of living conditions. And the ground plan is the most basic plan used by architects to organize spaces of living.
Her organization of space alone is quite remarkable, whether in the Hamburger Bahnhof, Kunstmuseum Moritzburg, or galerie weisser elefant. Often she seizes on apparently insignificant structures and materials, rearranging them in unusual constellations. One of her strategies is to combine and/or collage the blueprints of international residential buildings made with modular construction. The result—in works like Doublebind (2011)—is a kind of hybrid, taking the form of a connector diagram, as when she superimposes, in 1:2 scale, the dimensions of four-room, two-room, and single-room standard apartments, all drawn from the East German prefabricated housing series 70. In 2014, Pichl created Klub Zukunft (Club Future) for the M HKA, Museum for Contemporary Art, Antwerp, which represents a continuation of principles outlined in Doublebind. She made the work at the invitation of Belgian artist Anne-Mie van Kerckhoven as part of the “Dialogue” exhibition series.
The 2014 piece Unterkunft Freiheit (Accommodation Freedom) resulted from intensive engagement with the urban structures in the housing development of Halle-Neustadt. The installation’s title refers to the newspaper Freiheit, the organ of the Halle branch of the SED, East Germany’s ruling Socialist Unity Party. In this piece, Pichl combines different construction methods as well as urban structures from a number of locations. Her interest is focused more on their similarities than their differences.
From Below: Uncovering “Uncertainties of Taste”
In “widerstreben” (disincline, 2018) at galerie weisser elefant in Berlin-Mitte, Pichl showed six installations containing elements of everyday life. Her sculptures make use of concrete casings, miniature fences, and flowerpots. Exhibited in nine site-specific installations, Pichl sprayed them silver, gold, or bronze. In using spraying as a technique, she valorizes material that would originally have been seen as “basic” or “cheap.” She also makes conscious use of a strategy of sublimation. One of the installations consists of two floor mats imprinted with the grain of the gallery’s wooden floors. Another of these “doublings” can be seen in a public work created for the town of Schöppingen: it takes a curtain from the guest rooms of Wiepersdorf Castle (a location used by the East German elite) and superimposes it onto the photograph of a curtain from Goebbels’s former villa (later used as a training school for the FDJ, the official socialist youth organization).
In the Between
Something all of Pichl’s works have in common is a fascination with aesthetic modes of appropriation. Walking through cities, Pichl records the rituals of embellishment and improvement that inhabitants make to the buildings in which they live, filing the images away in her photographic archive. In this archive, Pichl documents users’ strategies of spatial appropriation. While architects develop utopian designs, people seek out free spaces. What Pichl addresses is the potential for creative resignification in everyday life. Precisely these “spatial tactics from below” undertaken in reaction to “spatial strategies from above” also interested French sociologist Michel de Certeau in his book The Practice of Everyday Life, which focuses on New York City. A central metaphor structures de Certeau’s short passage on the difference between tactics and strategy: the view from the World Trade Center onto the city is a result of a planning, or spatial, strategy. But when a passerby below moves through the streets, they carry out a bodily spatial tactic, everyday praxis from below that the city coproduces without distance. Pichl’s artistic strategies of space move in this area between strategy and tactics, between above and below, between planning and use. Uniting these sets of contrary practices, her sculptures create a space of the in-between.
Composition of an Associative Title
The titles of Pichl’s works are also worth mentioning: “widerstreben,” Natürliche Mängel (Inherent Shortcomings) and Doublebind are titles that bring together opposing tendencies or forces. Doublebind makes reference to Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory, and A tut was B will, wenn B tut was A will (A Does What B Wants, if B Does What A Wants) contains another Luhmann reference, this time to the idea of “double contingence.” The concept refers to an encounter between two actors who can perceive each other but whose next steps are entirely undetermined, resulting in a potentially infinite communication.
Pichl developed the title “widerstreben” in response to the Galerie Weisser Elefant with its ingrain wallpaper and treated wooden floors. She wanted to find something appropriate to the site’s specific characteristics, and the title reflects her own attitude.
Other titles contain further references. Delirious Dinge cites Rem Kohlhaas; Pichl read Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan and sought an analogy to his reflections. For Ever and Ever is the name of a song by the East German music group RENFT, banned in 1975, while the title Keine Atempause, Geschichte wird gemacht (No Stopping for Breath, History Is Being Made) is taken from the music group Fehlfarben, and refers to the eventful histories of Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz in Berlin and the Palace of the Soviets in Moscow. These titles add layers of meaning to the works, referring to and commenting on her own biography, the reception of her work, and her attitude toward the objects she observes.
Pichl looks at her surroundings again and again. She embarks on walking expeditions, captures situations in her photographic archive, and discovers puzzling or unusual things within everyday life. Her sculpture work is created by aesthetically addressing these situations, transferring them to exhibitions, collaging or doubling them, and exaggerating them with artistic means. Her titles make reference to architecture, theory, biography, or methodology. It is precisely these contradictory reference structures that underlie the success of her spatial inventions, always new and always fascinating.