Architecture as sculpture
The concept behind Mischa Kuball‘s Düsseldorf Mannesmann Project is based on fundamental, simple realities – a skyscraper, the functional purpose of which is immediotely cear from the severe and austere outward cippearance, is temporarily transformed info a carrier of arfistic symbols. The symbols have been carefully planned by the artist in his studio and then realised with the aid of modern technology. The artist allows the building to retain its daily function as a place of work; it is not until after working hours, when the building is nothing more than an empty shell, a congealment of work and life processes that can never manifest itself purely in fhe shape of the building, that art takes command of the exterior.
Kuball separates working time from artistic time using the social rhythms of city life for his intervention in the night-time darkness of undefined cities. The transition between working time and artistic time is defined by Kuball as fluid: the employees enter and leave the building af various times during the day, take up their occupation and lay it aside. A person sitting and working inside the building is unable to perceive its outward form; a person regarding the outward appearance of the building has no insight into the intemal working procedures.
The artist is fhe first to tackle this very dilemma of a modernistic and seemingly non-hierarchical form of architecture. The manner in which he uses the building reduces it to its sculptural, physical form. Architecture becomes sculpture the moment it is stripped of its functional purpose.
Kuball‘s project examines the outward manifestafions of the duality of public places. Day and night, working time and artistic time — the dual rhythms make it clear just how closely the artist orientates himself to the course of nature, and just how accurately he reflects the natural precepts of social order. The end of the day and of working time point through the new perception of the building as a sculpture towards leisure time, a part of the day which our society considers to be particularfy rich and important for the realisation of personal objectives. Kuball reaffirms this antinomy which serves as the principle link and provides the timing framework for his project. The people using the building – “the working time people“ – carry the building over into artistic time the moment they leave their place of work. In the concept of the artist, they become the actual producers of artistic time, determining both when it begins and ends.
The weekly change in form of the architectural symbols provides for a second aspect of temporal rhythmisation. The week as a superordinate unit of time in city life incorporates the end and a new beginning. Similarly, it is closely connected to the natural chronology of our lives, comprising repetition (such as day and night, light and dark, working time and leisure) and change (the progressing seasons of the year).
Artificial light is omnipresent in ourtowns and cities. Its discovery has enabled mankind to remove the hitherto boundaries between day and night, has placed interior and exterior, above and below on equal footing. Light is an integral part of modern architecture of the sixties and seventies. In planning interior and exterior architecture lighting is a vital element; light appears to be an inevitable component of the built-in spaces of our times.
The subjective use of Iight plays a particular role in places with public access. Illuminated windows radiate into the outside world, communicating a sense of presence, of life and utilisation. In the city, this kind of light can only take on form inasmuch as the architectural units provide preset forms in their seriality or their detachment. The subjective manipulation of light is limited to minute units, whereas the consumer is an anonymous quantity in a superordinate context. The individual only makes creative use of light in his private environment. Although light is the prime element which renders our towns and cities permanently public, its use is limited to the refuges outside of the public eye. As far as the private use of this medium is concerned, windows are not a prerequisite of our domestic rooms – there is deliberately nothing to communicate to the outside world via the medium of light.
Kuball organises the lighting of a skyscraper into a purposeful form, thus going beyond the uncoordinated, random appearance of light during working hours. Kuball defines light as an artistic medium, uses light as a working material. By the use of light the building is redefined against the darkness of the night, at the same time attaining a revelatory aspect. Conveyed in this fashion from the sphere of the functional to that of pure form, the building commences a new existence as a massive, cubistic object, lt becomes comprehensible in its reduced, clearly arranged basic shape. lt is through Kuball’s symbols that the building becomes recognisable as an oblong, confined volume of space, as the bands of light define the extremities of the building penetrating space and simultaneously defining ist own expanse.
Light as attributed to an object, or rather through which an object is first created, has been for many years a key theme in Kuball‘s artistic works. His light installations often purposely mutate the line of thought of evocative lightforms between radiation and illumination, between bodies of light and surfaces or volumes engendered by the projection of light. In the Mannesmann Project, light as issuing from the building itself redefines the construction completely, inasmuch as it subordinates the development and perception of its form to the plasticity of the huge signs and symbols on the outerskin of its bulk. The building becomes a symbol; as a result appearance and shape seem to be effectively transposed, indissoluable and monolithic.
In his film Playtime, Jacques Tati raised the skyscraper as early as 1967 to the status of a civic monument. He used the huge houses of the new Paris to construct the spacial diagonals of his set, which itself is caught up in its own two-dimensionality, thus guiding the observer‘s gaze into the heights of the modern city. For Tati the skyscraper is the embodiment of an estranging universality into which the particular yet has tobe reintroduced. The high-rised building appears as the ultimate, precluding all further detail. Tati‘s game with the impotence of the individual in such an abstractly organised environment does not, however, evolve into the demonic, sprawling image of the new city as depicted in Metropolis by Fritz Lang. At night, which also finally draws in in Playtime, Iight recreates the city, renders visible the securiiy provided by barriers and the surrounding, protective buildings. On the faintly visible facade of a building, where an illuminated elevator glides into the heavens, the process of withdrawal is directly tangible. As the storeys of the skyscraper suddenly start to light up in increasingly rapid sequence against the darkness of the screen, it is not merely a case of blocking the imaginary view out into the great beyond. By holding back the darkness with the steps of light, there is a relieving sense of security and segregation with respect to the outside world, the distant and the unknown.
The decorative qualities lie in conflict with the artistic symbol. In the weeks coming up to Christmas the skyscraper radiates the image of a Christmas tree stepped in from storey to storey up the full height of the building, but it serves merely as a transmitter of a precoded message, in the same way as a red light at the traffic-lights triggers off a certain series of reactions. lt is not until the sign or symbol is inseparably connected to its medium that the distinction between content and form is tendentially removed.
Mischa Kuball attempts to overcome the divergence between the form and content of the skyscraper and its Iight. Through the process of the temporally limited counter-existence another reality of the enclosed volume is brought to life, night after night. This is not playing with a coded image, but with pictorial codes which encompass the volume of the edifice, define it and, in the process, penetrate the outside world. Light is here not only a tangible form of energy but also the simplest creative means. By the use of light, lightness is contrasted against darkness, positive against negative, full ness against emptiness, presence against absence. Purposeful creation stands opposed to natural chaos.
The simple means of modern architecture act as structural elements for the artist‘s work; concrete and glass are almost antithetically opposed to each other in their properties and creative value – impenetrability and transparency, dull, massive and reflecting, smooth surfaces, dark negative and light positive forms at night. Vertical and horizontal divisions such as storeys and facade elements constitute for the artist a right-angled, cubistic system of modules comprising the sum of the individual window-elements. The true dimensions of the building disappear, it becomes more readily comprehensible because, reduced to a model of its true self, it no longer stoops down over our visual or perceptual horizons.
Kuball places a new accent in the discussions surrounding public art. To him, public is no longer only the allotted open spaces such as the square in which the sculpture is traditionally permitted to stand, or in front of the building. Kuball is not a party to sculpture parks and licensised playing fields reserved for artistic expression, he does not allow his work to be integrated into the principle of artistic entertainment. His demand for public attention, inherent in all his projects, forces him to plan and realise new means with the ready defined public space. He solves the artist‘s dilemma between the demand to act outside the museums and the subsequent refusal by bringing new experiences to public space, by simply redefining it and making himself, as an active artist, public through the work of art, for a period of time which he himself has set.
Art as a means of public activism, as an action in the social context of our urban reality. lt would appear that Kuball settles one of the old accounts of Modern Art in the 2Oth century. His artistic expression derives from the tradition of our cities and the innovations of electronic technology. From behind the anonymity of public life he, the operating artist, symbolically defines for a set moment of time social living (in its melted down form of architecture), whereby the symbols invade the city and its inhabitants. Artistic time, as introduced by the artist in the normal course of the day, creates a temporal island which provokes new perceptions. lt becomes possible to experience an environment which has always been there but which we never noticed in quite this way. That is art in the public eye that no longer provides an appliqué to the meaning of public as long defined by others; for the first time, this kind of art appears to create ci public entity which calls on us to take a new look at ourselves and the world in which we live.
In: Megazeichen, Heinen Verlag Düsseldorf 1990