1. The title of Oliver Kruse’s installation at the Weissenhof’s Architectural Gallery sounds modest, deliberately modest, as if modesty were part of his programme, thereby perhaps even calling himself in question. If you don’t know the work you can’t know what this title implies and might be tempted to comprehend it in conjunction with a key term in architectural vocabulary: tectonics. After all why not ? This is an exhibition in a gallery where architects usually present work whose relevance is assessed and value mediated. The dictionary definition of tectonics speaks of assembling construction elements to form a structure, a building. In his “Der Stil in den technischen und tektonischen Künsten” (“Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts”), Gottfried Semper writes of “the art of fitting together strong bar-like components to form a stable system”. Right at the start of his “Studies in Tectonic Culture” Kenneth Frampton describes tectonics as a poetics of construction: “Needless to say, I am not alluding to mere revelation of constructional technique but rather to its expressive potential. Inasmuch as the tectonic amounts to a poetics of construction it is art, but in this respect the artistic dimension is neither figurative nor abstract.” So architecture as art (and art as such) can remind its makers of poetic possibilities – architects who are plagued by regulations and disputes with clients, have to take into account energy levels, adhere to planning requirements, and keep within their budgets. Such an expectation is justly directed towards the artist now presented at the Weissenhof’s Architectural Gallery. Oliver Kruse designed the wonderful children’s house at the Insel Hombroich Museum as if it were supposed to illustrate Frampton’s ideas about tectonics: a constructive system making visible such a fine balance between interacting orders of framework and module that they merge without having to renounce either sensuous quality or functional demands. There poetry is precisely what Jan Turnovsky advocates in “Die Poetik eines Mauervorsprungs” (“Poetics of a Projecting Wall”): “What is truly poetic is simultaneously both poetic and unpoetic, for instance practical”. Oliver Kruse, a pupil of Erwin Heerich (to whom we owe the Pavilion at the Insel Hombroich Museum), has time and again investigated how forms of order can be liberated from familiar contexts so as to establish new orders without the old ones becoming invisible. Prison doors thus became a sculpture constructed around the form of a dodecahedron, communicating geometrical order and high precision in relationship with defamiliarisation of the objects from which this was constructed.
2. Anyone who goes to the Weissenhof Architectural Gallery with such associations might initially be disappointed. At first sight what is on show in the large exhibition space seems to be little more than a more or less arbitrarily thrown together collection of rectangular blocks. Looking more closely one sees that these blocks are precisely interlocked. More accurately, the sculpture itself is structured in that way rather than the individual blocks, which do not penetrate one another. They were devised on a computer so as to complement one another with exactitude. If one knows this then it also becomes clear that when taken apart this sculpture does not consist of rectangular blocks but rather of complex forms which when put together only seem to be blocks. How these forms must in reality appear so that what is to be seen can truly come into existence is already beyond capacity for spatial imagining. One will possibly be amazed by how much time and effort are required for establishing with precision something that looks haphazard or even seems to be in opposition to comprehensible order, and also aspiring to utility in some way or other. However art’s possibility of evading use or ease of appropriation is no longer a sufficient reason in 2013 (if it ever was) for justifying such a work.
Nevertheless on further reflection one will realise that this “Correlation”, perhaps initially perceived as disrupted order, is certainly a form that can seem familiar in both everyday life and in the history of art.
Gordon Matta-Clark split a house in two precisely down its central vertical axis, cutting through its ceilings and walls as if a figure present there had been removed. Robert Smithson piled up pieces of stone so that they assumed the form of a gigantic spiral; Walter de Maria shaped stones or earth in precisely defined volumes; and Allen Kaprow had a gallery space filled with car tyres – Entrance was not forbidden but rather encouraged.
Going even further back it is less difficult to find similar examples than one might at first imagine. Just think of Michelangelo and his “Battle of the Centaurs” or the Sistine Chapel “Last Judgement”. The sculpture of “Laocoon and His Sons” could also serve as an illustration of this principle. That was also anything but a depiction of an ideal state; it represents destruction and downfall, simultaneously expressing dynamism and change.
In addition, on the borderline between architecture and sculpture, there is the still highly topical field of stelae comprising the “Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe”, jointly created by Richard Serra and Peter Eisenmann. At first sight this seems a relatively ordered structure, but on looking more closely its potential for generating disorder is clearly felt.
3. These cursory citations (without any claim to completeness) provide an initial indication that Oliver Kruse’s Spatial Correlation operates within a sphere of reference explicitly related to the place of its installation, the Weissenhofsiedlung, opening up an interesting field of possible interpretations. The works just mentioned simultaneously point towards the funda-mental instability of ordered systems, but also towards the essence of what makes these forms of order meaningful: the fact that they cannot be sure of stability. In the tension between what is solidly structured and the moment of movement out of the states that arise, there becomes apparent a potential that we time and again seek to forget. Formal order at a particular time includes its historical moment, establishing a balance maintained between dynamic forces but not laying claim to scientific validity since it is exposed to social, political, and economic forces. No matter how much architecture may strive to reflect a process of objective decision-making, it cannot really be objective.
Another good solution is always possible. In his essay “The Subjective and the Objective” Thomas Nagel says: “Objectivity does not only demand renouncing one’s own individual perspective; it also demands surmounting the specifically human way of perception – a perspective characteristic of other mammals too”. However not everything allowing us to experience the world can be integrated in such a perspective. This always remains incomplete since it does not recognize the viewpoint whereby we experience our personality’s identity. That is why Nagel advocates understanding objectivity as just a partial view of what we can perceive, and accepting that “things do not only exist in a single way”. This contingent existence of things in our world opens up possibilities of action and allows us to pursue new ways of interpreting the world through structuring it.
Showing that there always are new ways is itself such an interpretation. That is particularly valuable if structuring refers to contexts where nothing immediately suggests itself – here with reference to forms which are used to express the possibility of an ahistorically valid truth: that an unalterable system can at most be a relatively unalterable system. At this point it is worth returning to our initial reflections and the concept of tectonics, remembering that this entails a poetic capacity for expression as well as a demonstration of structure and technique. That poetic capacity is deployed when single-minded emphasis on structural and technical criteria is renounced. The fact that Oliver Kruse time and again explores the possibilities of such a capacity for expressiveness is revealed by looking at other works which he bases on what may at first seem a more approachable method. Here too he demonstrates that the achievement of activating this capacity for poetic expression is linked with removing familiar elements from their habitual locus of receptivity and transferring them to other structures of order.
4. However it would be mistaken to see Spatial Correlation as a less clear-cut reference to alternative structures of order than those found in other works by Kruse.
Maybe that will become clearer if a larger context in which the present installation is embedded is taken into account. Reference to such artists as Smithson, Serra, and Kaprow shows the connection with Land Art, which operates by confronting scale and location beyond the spatial dimensions of exhibition rooms. That invocation of another relevant context, entailing embedment in other spaces, other dimensions, and even other forces – and morphologically and topologically at work
there – now takes on fresh significance, founded on the fact that Spatial Correlation was constructed on the basis of a rectangle and its presentation within a geometrical gallery space, entailing more than unmediated pragmatism. As an ordering structure the gallery space circumscribing the sculpture becomes capable of relating to landscape-like dimensions. The impetus of establishing signs and developing structures within a landscape then becomes activated as a relational space which can make an action experienceable as a source of meaning. That requires further explanation. In “Landscape’s Return”, a recent publication on this theme which has once again become topical, Brigitte Wormbs writes that establishment of readability in the medium of landscape (as achieved by Land Art and related approaches) also contains an impulse towards “interpreting the real by way of the possible”. This is an invitation to comprehending landscape as a space where changes are possible and can be made visible. A landscape can make concrete what as an abstract state of affairs – such as the current menace to the very foundations of life as a whole – threatens to demand too much of us. Even when giving expression to danger, Land Art and good landscape architecture can offer something profoundly consoling, thereby reacting to fears of loss and failure when confronted by a threat of destruction of what underlies human existence.
Beyond all traditional fantasies of being able to put things right there is no need for didactic admonishment, expressing such connections, when confronting the threats now becoming apparent in our landscape. It is sufficient to recognise that landscape is a social construct of relevance in communication where yearnings can be made tangible, capacities for perception intensified, and changes opened to aesthetic mediation – and precisely that constitutes the topicality of discourse about landscape. Landscape is returning as a medium for reflection about the future of society; it is returning as a changed and changeable image, making possible discussion about what we must fear, what we may hope, and what we should do. That is emphasised in the Spatial Correlation installation by the fact that what is apparently thrown together is precisely calculated and assembled at considerable expense. Out of what initially seems to be juxtaposition of the installation and its spatial context is created a connection which establishes understanding and experience of space, making possible communication about “space”. That creates something in both art and architecture, something which cannot be mastered in merely linguistic terms.
5. The fragility of the composition, contained within this Spatial Correlation, thus becomes more than a response to architecture and by no means just an illustration of what architects should remember time and again: that what they create will not last for ever – which is true even though it may sound trivial. However Kruse’s sculpture can also be interpreted as a work of art establishing the contexts of meaningful action, owing its plausibility solely to the form in which it is expressed. It thereby demonstrates art’s capacity to formulate spheres of action and potentials that – in separating any proposal for action and social agreement on this as a political process – insufficiently delineates the field in which public undertakings are meaningful in the human community. If Spatial Correlationis a political work, then to the extent that it incorporates, encloses in form, what would be purely didactic if spoken – and to the extent that it makes absurd any division into what can be communicated and the vehicle of this communication. It would then be political by demonstrating that without this interlinking of form and meaning (which finds fulfilment in this form) we cannot discuss what we experience as being meaningful within what our society holds in common.
Art is thus always a public and indispensable part of the civic realm as architecture always has to be. That connection is trivialised and concealed in the concept of art on public buildings. The poetry of tectonics therefore entails the poetry of the material contingency involved – just as it is the essence of poetry to be poetic and something else besides. This otherness doesn’t always have to be practical but it must always be necessary.