„Unterkunft Freiheit“ / „Accomodation Freedom“ Andrea Pichl at Moritzburg Art Museum, Halle/Saale, Germany
“Perpetua se oblivio” – the desire to forget, to let the past fade completely – formed part of the introductory wording of the 1648 treaty that was intended to end three decades of war, a war that devastated Europe and left traces that are still visible to this day in many places, including in Halle. Today, in the posthistoric era and many wars later, remembrance is a cultural act that has the aim of avoiding repeating the mistakes of the past. It is undeniable that collective memory has a profound influence on our general perception of the present and the future. It is difficult, however, to determine scientifically in what way this happens. For around three decades, historians have been intensively examining the value unwritten traditions have as possible primary sources. Alongside myths and narratives, these include artefacts – not least those of an architectural nature. The question arises as to the extent to which architecture preserves, and thus also triggers, certain memories. Whether these memories are historically accurate may prove to be less important than how we recompose them for ourselves. The mistake should never be made of regarding memory as a ‘thing’ that can be pulled from the archives. Memory is fundamentally different from knowledge. It always appears more important how you remember your city than how it actually works in reality. When investigating this phenomenon, artists increasingly find themselves in the roles of researcher and facilitator, who traditionally were occupied with science and politics.
Architects not only design buildings, but also “relationships, the contacts of their residents, a social order” . For a number of years, the work of Berlin-based artist Andrea Pichl has centred on the oft-derided architecture of mass-produced building systems and their position in wider architectural and historical contexts. Generally speaking, Pichl is interested in postmodern architectural spatial configurations and urban development. As a child of the 1970s who grew up in East Berlin among the new buildings of the post-war period, she understands their psychological and social impact and is familiar with the underlying ideological and architectural concepts from more than just a theoretical perspective.
Forming the core of her artistic work is a steadily increasing collection of architectural photographs taken in satellite towns all over the world. A curious mix of digital image inventory and archive, this collection is a treasure trove of rich content. In selecting motifs, the artist always makes reference to modernity – the art and architecture of the early 20th century – and explores how the design language of this period evolved. She is also interested in the utopian potential of modernity conveyed in and with these forms.
The artist’s attention focuses in particular on the question of what became of these utopias. She does not argue about aesthetic differences – nor necessarily about qualitative – and so avoids fruitless discussions on whether Mies is better than Paulig, Schlesier or Henselmann, or whether Le Corbusier is better than Reichow, Ruf or Schürmann, to name examples from all corners of Germany. It is more about the question of the degeneration of the formal, and about reading this as a sign of a déformatione industrielle. As a tendency across systems to take architectural forms that were created in the spirit of production efficiency, characterised by financial viability, and which were once meaningful in either a practical or an iconographic sense, and simplify them to the point of unreadability. To do so, the artist collects, catalogues and systematically organises specific forms. With regard to decoration in particular, she continually discovers unusual details, strange structural elements, peculiar architectural constellations and superfluous ornamentation that only begin to reveal their charm through serial repetition.
Over the years, Pichl has amassed an extensive collection of images and materials which she uses to analyse the places and forms in which a society focused on the consumption of things establishes itself. In presenting these images as part of an exhibition, the principle of confrontation with unexpected combinations is given parity with systematic ordering according to the criteria of form or motif. To do this does not mean simply taking the images out of storage. Every new context calls for intensive engagement, each presentation is work on the artwork. Strands of argument are developed further, not least because the narrative also progresses. New and complex image-object conglomerations are created, in which the order of things disintegrates before our eyes, is rearranged and reveals analogies where one would never search for them.
This view of the city and its elements is essentially archaeological. Thus there appears to be no categorical difference between the original forms deposited in a museum and those recreated by the artist. She is also not interested in differentiating between authentic urban architectural developments of socialist origin and their capitalist equivalent. In Pichl’s work, the vocabulary of public spaces and construction projects turns out to be free floating formations of characters brought together in almost any collective arrangement and laid upon the world. The ordering systems are understood; they are the same everywhere, because they deny the sources they originate from.
It is obvious that the artist is not concerned with the apotheosis or condemnation of any particular architectural style or economic system. Instead, her work lets viewers observe what happens to things in transfer. What does it mean for an object if it is removed from its already absurd setting and shifted to the no less outlandish context of an exhibition? The artist takes a very cautious route, by the back door as it were, to an entirely independent way of reconstruction arising from artistic interest in the binding relation between things, in their relationship to one another and in mutual references and connections, while also manipulating the memory of the surroundings.
In the exhibition Unterkunft Freiheit, it is not least the scenic possibilities of architecture that the artist tackles. The installation – like many of Pichl’s exhibition concepts – looks like an austere stage set for people and poses, meaning that the audience can never be sure whether they are looking at the work or appearing in it. In this respect it resembles a city, and also a game whose rules are determined by the artist.
The three tower sculptures – whose components interlock like the famous House of Cards created by Charles and Ray Eames – are in fact based on different apartment floor plans. In these ambivalent structures, the artist has created both a display and a work of art. In addition to one-room and three-room apartments of type P2 from the high-rise blocks of Halle-Neustadt, she incorporates floor plans from the high-rise towers of Co-op City in the Bronx, New York , and from Ballymun , a satellite town near Dublin airport. In Halle, the visitor stands in the centre of an architectural kaleidoscope, the full architectural context of which is not immediately apparent. Presented without a commentary, the quotations and details that Pichl places like stage props in and around the floor plan of her constructions reveal themselves primarily on a subconscious level. Inevitably, that which appears familiar is then quickly absorbed into our own memories, while many indigenous phenomena are not perceived at all. This methodology corresponds to the concept of the artwork as an entity that is not complete; it has only provisional validity, as changing compositions can give rise to new relationships, contradictions and additions. The viewer is then given the role of establishing (for him or herself) the coherence of the installation.