Text von Konrad Bitterli
Herausgeber Kunstraum Dornbirn
32 Seiten mit 19 Abb. in Farbe
Paperback. 21 x 29,7 cm
Euro 15,-/ sFr 27,-
erschienen im Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg, 2004
Light green, green, feuille morte
On an Installation by Tamara Grcic
“The surface is actually the only thing where you can also grasp or at least attempt to grasp something on the inside …” -Tamara Grcic
“The discussion that after a year has once again flared up again concerning the possibility of a compulsory deposit being introduced also for wine bottles has been taken note of in Rheingau with a general shaking of heads.”2) It is not a coincidence that this short note found its way into the list of hits when “wine bottle” was entered in an Internet search machine. In its usual detached and matter-of-fact way, the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported in its edition of February 17, 2004 on the strong opposition in Germany’s wine cultivating area to the idea suggested by the federal environmental minister. The planned introduction of a deposit for wine bottles alarmed individual interest groups and ended in a wild political wrangle in which ecological concerns threatened to fall into oblivion. But this was not the case in the processing industry. It had long recognized that the return and reprocessing of used bottles of all types can be a measure that not only protects resources and is thus ecologically sensible but also is economically profitable. Thus Europe’s market leading glass manufacturer proclaims its endorsement of recycling projects: “Vetropack is committed to the cycle of materials. In all site countries collecting organizations are run alone or together with specific administration unions, which direct recycled glass to special glassworks for reprocessing.”3)
However, there is a nagging question: What do everyday political, economical and ecological issues have to do with the visual arts? What in particular do they have to do with the installation that Tamara Grcic designed for the Kunstraum Dornbirn and mounted there? At first glance perhaps little – and yet on closer scrutiny strange cross-references emerge. They connect the artist’s work not just with traditions in art but also in a very subtle way also with the cycles of consumption and commodity world.
In a Sea of Bottles
On entering the exhibition space of the Kunstraum (…) you find yourself right in the middle of “light green, green, feuille morte”. In the impressive industrial space whose original atmosphere has remained in spite of its new function, the artist has laid out some 14’000 wine bottles horizontally, forming two separate fields. These extend from the longitudinal walls of the building to the middle of the space, where a narrow, irregular path winds to a distant rear wall. Meandering it leads the visitor through a number of waves of glass to the end of the building from where the intrepid can climb up a ladder to an elevated gallery to inspect the installation from a surprising, distant perspective. A sea created out of thousands of wine bottles in iridescent shades of green and white spreads (…) uninhibitedly over the concrete floor. Various colors of glass, in turn, seem to subdivide the fields into smaller zones, evoking not only a diversity of natural impressions, but also referring unmistakably to cultural traditions. What one sees is an organic-abstract pictorial composition with deep shadows on the floor and innumerable highlights, thousands of refractions of the light falling into the room through the high windows. From an elevated perspective one is tempted to describe the expansive installation by recourse to the categories of classical painting. However, this “painting” can only be perceived as such from the distance, since while walking through the space one finds oneself really at no physical distance in the middle of the installation, is completely enveloped by it, becoming part of the abstract pictorial composition made of glass.
The complex pictorial order is based on a precise intellectual conception. Tamara Grcic developed the installation without preparatory sketches, but by following intuitive impulses and changing impressions, over a period of several days in a process of concentrated creative work. Proceeding from the first placements and slowly emerging arrangements she linked initially small “islands of bottles” with themselves and the corners of the room, condensing them to form two actual fields of power and energy. The partly abrupt, partly subtle turning “movements” of the glass fields emerge through the horizontal placement of the bottles and are accentuated by the specific form of the receptacle. These are so-called “Schlegel”, whose slender shape animates the overall movement in the field. This type of bottle that is common in German wine cultivation stands out with its elegant tapering form without gradations between the body and neck of the bottle. It enables a certain dynamic and thus also movement to become visible. Moreover – and this is decisive for the differentiated effect of the installation – Tamara Grcic selected glass in four different colors or qualities: light green (a greenish shimmering white), green, feuille morte (brown green) and masson green (dark green). These are not expensive special products but rather the standard industrial range of glass mass production. The colors that give the work its title are linked, as (…) elaborated on above, in coherent color surfaces and organically shaped partial areas. In one spot light shades of green abruptly change direction, beginning to swirl toward the inside and seem to tear along everything surrounding it, with the color of the glass slowly switching from a light to a darker green, thereby suggesting visually different depths. Or a concentrated, seemingly white field – here the glass structure is generally intensified by a second layer of bottles – penetrates the undulating green like a wedge, vehemently disrupting its gentle wave movement, only to then break on the dark boundary. The visual impression is additionally reinforced and differentiated by the light falling in through the high arched windows: In sunlight it illumines the glass field like strong searchlights and seems to scan its largely jagged surfaces. Following the course of a day, i.e., the changing sun position, sharply delineated light squares move through the space and over the glass field of color along clearly visible trajectories. While in more diffuse weather conditions the light illumines the glass space more reservedly and less punctually, allowing it to appear softer as a whole. Be it strongly luminous or diffusely shimmering, the rays always break on the innumerable roundly shaped glass bodies and effect thousands and thousands of glistening and glittering light reflections that stand out clearly from the spots obscured by the dark glass bodies. In sum, the wine bottles, together with the light falling in and thanks to their precise arrangement with concentrations, transitions and abrupt changes colliding with each other, give the glass field a surprisingly rich chromaticity but also an inner dynamic and thus a visual vortex whose fascination it is difficult to escape when viewing or actually entering the Installation.
Before a visitor actually enters the glass room, he or she hits upon a sound piece by the artist in the lobby which is marked off by partitions on the entrance side. This piece does not, as is generally the case in installations, fill the entire space with sound, but can only be heard separately by means of two headphones. What can be heard is a sound structure that as a strange rolling sound, a hard clattering or splintering sound subverts traditional hearing conventions. It is a more or less intense glass sound with dense clusters and occasional pauses which as an audio track couldn’t be more typical for contemporary experimental music or as a sound background for environments in contemporary art. Yet in Tamara Grcic’s “audio-piece” it is not a classical composition and thus something that has been artificially added to the piece. Instead, it is various sounds created by countless bottles while the installation is being set up: a sharp scratching or rattling on hard concrete, then a clattering again, as if it were bursting into thousands of fragments, or a gentle echoing into the room from a great distance. The artist taped the production process of “light green, green, feuille morte” and created an eight-minute sequence that makes the movements of the bottles become perceivable in the space by means of an endless loop, but at the same time the sounds created by the work are transferred into a seemingly endless, autonomous sound structure. In the process the artist seemed to have been aware of the danger that introducing sound in the room would “illustrate” the installation in the adjacent exhibition area. She thus opted for an individual and correspondingly intense perception of the audio-piece by means of headphones – depending on whether one first takes in this piece when visiting the installation or listens to it after touring the actual exhibition, its characteristics change. Whereas it strikes one as strange as an autonomous piece in the previous hearing and surprises one with its auditory dimension against the backdrop of Tamara Grcic’s previous work, heard after walking through the exhibition it becomes a temporally (…) shifted sound structure. What was first visually perceived is moved to a closed “sound space” where in a precisely set temporal shift it links the past visual experience with the present hearing experience in a way that is both sensual and meaningful.
Image, Space and Field
“Sculpture as place” is the succinct formula Carl Andre used to describe the minimalist pieces he made in the 1960s.4) They expanded the possibilities of classical sculpture and opened up a dimension that had hardly been taken note of until then, namely the floor. The titles “Hidden Field” or “Field” already allude to the significance of the surface. In the works by Carl Andre, but also by contemporaries such as Lynda Benglis, Richard Long or Franz Erhard Walther a radically new way of dealing with (…) surface and (…) volume and subsequently with other basic artistic categories became manifest. The placement intrinsic to these works, for instance, moved them in the vicinity of painting which also stands out for the two-dimensionality inherent in the easel painting. Its specific expanse thus in a sense provokes an interpretation as image – or rather as an image in real space. Moreover, a floor piece whose own extension always refers to the surrounding space and thus integrates architecture into the artistic strategy is visually no longer to be seen as an isolated totality. Further references emerge which always (…) reflect not just the space but also the architecture, its history and function as a potential layer of meaning.
Such connections become even more apparent with a view to the concepts used if one speaks of floor pieces as “fields” as Carl Andre has exemplified. In everyday parlance “field” means as much as a delineated piece of agricultural land, but it can also (…) designate a non-defined place such as a battle field. In the context of art it is a definition taken from modern painting – “color field painting”, whereas in physics one speaks of magnetic fields or fields of force and in optics of (…) fields of vision. Yet here, as opposed to the vocabulary used in the visual arts, reference is being made not to static systems but to dynamic ones that are in a constant state of flux. Precisely in the realm of optics these have to do with the act of seeing and thus in a certain sense with the perception of art. They ultimately define it as a temporal process that is constantly changing and expanding.
The installation “light green, green, feuille morte” refers to meanwhile largely explored categories of contemporary art, i.e., to the possibilities of floor pieces that spread out on the ground. These traditions are extended by Tamara Grcic not just in the way she includes a (…) sound track that can be heard separately. Rather, she goes beyond the autonomous work, beyond the delineated art space and makes forays into the everyday cycles of industrial production, distribution, consumption, opening up the self-referential context of art to include the commodity world, its conditions and structures. In short: in spite of all the obvious transparency of the industrially manufactured material and all contingency of the work it ultimately allows a crucial view behind the surface of things.
Work – World
To be sure, “light green, green, feuille morte” is not the first work that Tamara Grcic has designed as a field in the sense mentioned. Already her impressive installation that lasted only one day, “Melons on Tables” (Melonen auf Tischen im Raum, 1994) at the Portikus in Frankfurt pointed in this direction, just like the “Car Parts and Blankets” (Autoteile und Decken), created in 2000 for the Kunsthalle Fridericianum in Kassel. Such cross-references seem typical, as her artistic oeuvre has developed over the years in a careful, quite continuous succession from one work to the next, with once formulated approaches and projects often being taken up again and reinterpreted years later. The genesis of her oeuvre takes place in a never-ending monologue. The same is also true for her selection of materials. Thus in 1996 glass was used for the first time in an intervention that took place only from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the corner of Allerheiligenstrasse/Breite Strasse in Frankfurt – however as opposed to the present piece not as thousands of wine bottles laid out in a differentiated way, but given the vicinity of well-frequented inns as broken bottle necks that seemed to be shooting up out of the ground like tender flowers, although here it was the hard asphalt on a deserted traffic island. Tamara Grcic’s preoccupation with this material began in a sense at the endpoint of the commodity cycle, namely with broken glass.
“With glass receptacles for the drink and food industry as well as a comprehensive service range, Vetropack is supplying ‘customized glass’. Under this motto Vetropak is developing (…) glass receptacles that formally and visually back the product idea and marketing strategy so that it is geared to a specific target group and at the same time does maximum justice to the demands of business and of the consumers.”5) For an artist like Tamara Grcic glass is, of course, more than just an interchangeable material. It has certain formal qualities and material properties that the artist was able to use for her installation “light green, green, feuille morte”. Form, color, transparency, light refraction… At the same time glass is an everyday material that can be found in very different contexts as, for instance, in architecture where it is used as a building material or as trivial drinking glasses, bottles and other receptacles that are usually used without anyone really taking note of them. Tamara Grcic is not primarily interested in transporting the everyday commodity world in the sense of Marcel Duchamp’s revolutionary gesture (…) into the autonomous realm of art and allowing the visual qualities of ordinary wine bottles – their pictorial opulence as it were – to become visible. While artistic strategy might include this, she goes one decisive step further and radically opens her work to the world by always relating artistic issues to the global economy and ecology. “When working it is always important to me to buy materials directly on site, to remove them from their given cycle and to bring them back there again after the exhibition. This way they stay in motion.”6)
Just as the artist on one day presented the fruits in the exhibition space (…) in “Melons on Tables” – these were about 700 Spanish cantalopes – only to then reintroduce them in the cycle of commerce and traffic, the 14,000 bottles in “light green, green, feuille morte” are also not disposed of following the exhibition but rather returned to their original use. In the process art sneaks into the material cycle, “undercover” as it were, bringing this cycle to a halt for the duration of the exhibition only to then reintegrate the materials in the cycles of production, distribution, consumption and recycling – all of this without seeming to leave behind any visible traces. Such traces only exist for each of the visitors to the exhibition in the afterimages that are deeply and lastingly inscribed in their memory, that – like the sound piece for “light green, green, feuille morte” – echo in ever new mental refractions and in rich facets.
1) “Interview”, in: Tamara Grcic, Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel, 2000, p. 6.
2) obo., “Kopfschütteln über Pfand für Weinflaschen”, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 17.2.2004, cited from: www.faz.net.
3) “Wir produzieren Glas nach Mass”, advertisement slogan on the website of the Vetropack group, www.vetropack.com/de 2004.
4) David Bourdon, “The razed sites of Carl Andre”, in: Artforum, October 1966, cited after: Julia Otto, „Skulptur als Feld”, in: Skulptur als Feld, Kunstverein Göttingen, 2001, p. 10. On the notion of floor piece cf. Also cat. Bodenskulptur, Kunsthalle Mannheim, 1986.
5) Like note 3.
6) Like note 1, p. 8.