The Image of the Space and the Space of the Image
On the Relationship of Architecture, Sculpture, and City
Florian Matzner

"The quality of architecture can best be measured by the amount of blue sky left open between buildings."
Massimiliano Fuksas. (1)

An odd scene: the former employees cafeteria in a small factory, with whitewashed walls and grey floors, in the so-called Berliner Kunstfabrik Flutgraben - all in all, an austere, white cube. Using a few architectural set pieces, Martin Pfahler changed it into another world. Two freestanding walls divided the long exhibition hall into three sections. In the centre, an architectural element placed at an angle to the axis of the space added yet another dividing wall. This supplemental architectural element corresponds to the proportions of the existing walls, but is transformed in a special way. Inside each section, the visitor can move around in the space, or in front of or behind its barriers. Positive volume and its negative delimitation interact to create a juncture where the space can be experienced. The artist has compared his approach to form with "working on a folding box, by cutting it up and then unfolding the sides" and "something like turning a glove inside-out." (2)

Or perhaps not? By turning a glove "inside-out" and thus showing either one or the other side, the architectural pieces in Pfahler's works display both sides. In a surprisingly matter-of-fact way, the work allows the visitor to simultaneously perceive the architecture (that is, what has been reconstructed) and thus the enclosed space from both the outside and the inside. What used to be functional architecture unexpectedly becomes functionless, but therefore a sculpture that can be perceived both optically and haptically. Or, to use classic art history terminology: here, we see the distinction between the different media of sculpture, between the subtraction and addition of volume or space, as Wolfgang Winter and Berthold Hörbelt once described it. "It's about working out an understanding of sculpture that will take us further. The word sculpture, after all, comes from the Latin word 'sculpere,' which, in translation, can also have to do with chiselling, carving... or also shaping, forming. Chiselling and carving are tasks that have to be understood as something more abstract than just simply subtracting until something else remains - unlike sculptors who add clay or other masses until something is created... An interesting aspect of subtraction is also that it is possible to create a sculpture by taking something away... the [procedure] is not a recognizable material aspect, but subtraction makes us see the 'essential nature' and 'order' of things already in existence, and this process can add enormous sculptural qualities." (3)

Pfahler takes this a step further when he says, "I ask myself, what distinguishes a room or a site so that it can be read as a sculpture? Or to put it another way, what makes a site a sculpture, for the visitor? I try to start at the point where a room communicates and is interpreted - for instance, through its natural functional value or its institutional symbolism. The meaning of function interests me, since it pretends to be useful. And also because some pieces of architecture - in the 1970s, for example - pretend to be purely functional - something that is in itself a paradox, since a site can never be 'purely functional.'" (4)

Scene Change
As early as 1998, Martin Pfahler pursued a similar conceptual approach for an installation in the Ausstellungsforum FOE 156 in Munich. Pit Stop was a fragment of architecture resembling a model, placed so that it seemed to be a natural part of the room which had always been there. There was also the suggestion that it had a function or purpose, which did actually exist, but was not actually "fulfilled" in the context of the exhibition. (5)

Just as in Pit Stop, RIFF # Flutgraben features ordinary pieces of architecture and their aesthetically trivial parts, such as the openings and projections in walls, window recesses, corners, etc. These suddenly become oddly significant icons of the structural environment of the viewer's usual surroundings. "But there is a twist," as Slovenian artist Marjetica Potrc once said in an inverse conclusion, "because we like to sublimate reality, don't we? What's there is not reality - it's what we think is real!" (6) This alternation between the real and the virtual, the material and the intangible, between observation and experience also describes the consciously obdurate monotony of Pfahler's works, where suddenly the important seems unimportant, the commonplace unbelievably subtle.

Looking Back Ahead
Gordon Matta-Clark's pioneering architectural and urban investigative works were not the first among the so-called fine arts to explore the formal and iconographic conditions and standards of structures. (7) Even more than painting or sculpture, the medium of architecture offers the opportunity to decline a place and its history - meaning to date the period of a space, to define the first, second, third, and fourth dimensions as an intertwining network where the viewer - or better, the person accessing it - is the additional fifth dimension, because he connects and re-connects the first four to continuously create new dimensions. From this point of view, each new generation continuously renews and "re-reads" architecture and the city - an image that has developed over history.

Pfahler's concept begins with this world of experience, which nevertheless is revealed as a dilemma. To quote Marjetica Potrc once more: "Modern states are organized according to certain understandings of space and they use the space well. Even when we are familiar with the ways they are presented, it does not necessarily mean that they fit the modern experience. I expect that in the future we will see more personal initiative. I believe that individuals will define the topics to be represented." (8)

Yet what does the modern experience look like - the contemporary, up-to-date reception of anonymous space, the orientation of movement and individual experience? Pfahler's architectural sculptures suggest at first glance that they are simply the artist's attempt to analyze the pure shape of space. (9) Yet upon closer inspection - or upon entering this volume of space - one realizes that the artist has created new space, a living space for perception. Pfahler works on the paradoxical intersection between form and function; the ordinary requirements of normal architecture are confronted with the freedom of the functionless, empty spaces in Pfahler's works, for "it's good to have something that is of no use to the city. I think that cities need empty buildings (places to rest), the way a person needs a place to sleep. Besides, empty urban surfaces are good for daydreaming." (10)

It is this emptiness that Pfahler postulates in his ascetic installations; this turns his pieces of architecture into symbols of a utopia, a vision. It is the "docta spes," the "understood hope" as Ernst Bloch called it, which has been continually challenging artists and writers to imagine a horizon of hope beyond the objective, all-too-banal forces of reality ever since Thomas More's early 16th-century work Utopia, at the latest. (11) There are countless examples of these utopias in contemporary art, which, tellingly enough, always refer to people in large cities, in metropolises, and thus to their architecture. At the end of the 1970s, Louise Bourgeois came up with an accessible architectural sculpture, an upside-down dome of gigantic size, entitled The world is a theatre and we each have a role, for, as the artist wrote, "The metaphor is, each of us is the center of our universe." (12)

1 Massimiliano Fuksas, quoted in Bert Theis, "A Few Samples," Public Art, F. Matzner, ed. (Ostfildern-Ruit: 2001) 115.
2 Martin Pfahler, "Riff # Flutgraben - 2yk Galerie, Kunstfabrik am Flutgraben, Berlin 2002," unpublished documentation of the project.
3 Quoted in Wolfgang Winter und Berthold Hörbelt, Florian Matzner, ed. (Ostfildern-Ruit: 1999) 39-41.
4 Martin Pfahler, e-mail to the author, 25.3.2003.
5 For more on Pit Stop, see Heinz Schütz, "Architektur in der Schwebelage," FOE 156: neunzehnhundertachtundneunzig, catalog, Christopher Kramatschek, ed. (Augsburg: 1998) 8-10.
6 Marjetica Potrc, quoted in Florian Matzner, "Künstlerumfrage," Basisarbeit, Olaf Metzel, ed. (Munich: 1999) 187. Like Pfahler, Potrc works with the architectural fragment. For more on this, see Architektur-Skulptur, Joze Barsi / Marjetica Potrc, catalog (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, Stuttgart: 1995).
7 For the most recent reconstruction of the architectural fragment Bingo (1974), see Gordon Matta-Clark, Food, Klaus Bußmann / Markus Müller, eds. (Münster 2000).
8 Marjetica Potrc, "Public Space in Contemporary City," Public Art, F. Matzner, ed. (Ostfildern-Ruit: 2001) 37.
9 For more on the history and terminology of the architectural sculpture, see Klaus Jan Philipp, ArchitekturSkulptur. Die Geschichte einer fruchtbaren Beziehung (Stuttgart / Munich: 2002) 48, 56-59.
10 Marjetica Potrc, "Magadan (Projektbeschreibung)" Skulptur. Projekte in Münster 1997, Klaus Bußmann/ Kasper König / Florian Matzner, eds. (Ostfildern-Ruit: 1997) 324.
11 For more on this see Hanno-Walter Kruft, Städte in Utopia. Die Idealstadt vom 15. bis zum 18. Jahrhundert (Munich: 1989) 9.
12 Louise Bourgeois, project description, quoted in Unbuilt Roads - 107 Unrealized Projects, Hans-Ulrich Obrist / Guy Tortos, eds. (Ostfildern-Ruit: 1997) "Projekt No. 12". According to the artist, the work was not realized because it was "complicated and too expensive but never discarded."