Stefan Banz: Two Panes of Glass, Pedestal, Bath, Grass
Four Descriptions of four Installations
Two Panes of Glass
My first installation for Ars Futura Galerie Zurich consisted of two large panes og glass (300 x 150 x 0,5 cm each) demarcating the exhibition stand of the gallery at Art Basel 1994 from the hallway. An opening 100cm wide between them. Although visitors able to oversee all the works exhibited in the booth from outside, they felt compelled to go inside through the opening. Curiously, visitors were drawn to his installation, even though the large, thin, fragile, transparent and almost free-standing panes evoked a rather uncomfortable feeling especially as one went through the opening. On the one hand, they were hardly perceptible, and on the other hand they seemed almost uncannily present. The simple architectural intervention, in this sense, proved to be an ambiguous, tactile object that challenged us to ask questions about inside and outside, and the actual place of the work of art, and at the same time it made it possible for us to experience the answer, which cannot be reduced to formal and aesthetic criteria.
The installation «Pedestal» at Art Cologne 1995 was a similar architectural intervention. A white pedestal, 18 cm high, covered the floor of the exhibition stand, which was again open to the front. It was also 18 cm away from the walls. The minimalist, almost wall-to-wall floor objects seemed to raise the gallery director with his working material (furniture, typewriter, documentations) to the status of art, but also the visitor who mounted it to look at the works on the walls. At the same time, the discreet distance to the walls and the intense and regular reflection of the dim light from the ceiling (the booth seemed twice as bright as its surroundings) made it something floating, autonomous. Everything seemed more real, and at the same time more distant. In other words, this positioning made possible the fusion of interaction, mediation and reception into one complex event Every actor making his appearance in the art system became an integral component of the work, and different positions provoked different levels of reality, emphasizing the simple and unmistakable presence of the object. Reality, in this sense, became art, while art became reality.
In the installation «Bath» first realized at Art Cologne 1994 ( a booth is separated from the hall by a pane of glass, 300 x 400 x 1 cm. Inside, the exhibition space is nkle-deep under water. On the wall, there is a large blown-up photograph (150 x 225 cm) of a smiling girl lying naked on her back in an almost empty bathtub. On one side of the booth, there is a door through which we can go inside.)
As soon as we step into the water, many memories are brought up that sometimes lead us into a world of sentimentality. We wade around and are delighted by the waves reflecting on the walls like small flashes. A touch of magic comes up. Suddenly, we notice that we are being watched through the glass from outside: we have become a part of the installation. The water we are standing in now seems to be that which has run out of the childs bathtub. Is the girl really feeling so well in her nakedness as we thought at first, or is she rather looking at us in a state of paralysis? But why? Is not the photo the reproduction of an everyday situation we knoe from our own childhood, when we wait for the flash, feeling cold and a bit tense and embarrassed? A sign of insecurity, we start to make up stories, but no explanation is really plausible as long as we ignore the fact that the child photographed in the tub belongs to another reality than the space and the water we are standing in. Which means that all combinations of these different levels of reality into a single story are illusions, or, in other words, short cuts and inventions of our own imagination and yet immediately comparable to reality.
In the installation «Grass» first realized at Art Basel in 1995 the large photograph (225 x 150 cm) of a young woman lying on the grass like a shinxs is hanging in a half-open room. The floor is covered with dried cannabis plants. There is something spectacular as well as sensual and contemplative about this installation, because we cannot decide whether it is concerned with doing smething prohibeted or making a statement in favour of legalizing the hash plant by emphasizing the sensual and aesthetic component. This circumstance is confusing, since many of us are delighted by the intense smell of the dried «grass» and by the temptation to take some of it along. As soon as we walk on the plants and pck up some leaves, we become a constituent part of the work. We observe and act, and at the same time we have to be careful not to be watched ourselves, for not only is «grass» illegal, but you do not steal art (or parts of it) either, and especially not when a sphinx-like figure looks on: the picture presents the monumental blow-up of a woman in front view with dark sunglasses, a black, sleeveless shirt with a low neckline and a vividly glittering cross on a red ribbon around her neck. The woman has a colossal appearance and with her immediate and carnal presence eroticizes the scenery. In addition, she inreases the intertwining of different levels of reality, and each of them becomes irritating again. This is to say, there is no explantation, for we are ourselves the explanation. To the extent that we act or behave, the installation deploys its inner ans outer force. It is a concentrated, multi-dimensional, tactile work, which challenges both our sensuality and pleasure of interpretation, our prejudices and the lure of the prohibeted, and at the same time places us in the centre of what is going on.
December 30, 1995
Translated from the German by Simon Lenz