Hallway and porch, bedroom, kitchen, storeroom, loo, the last hole, the smallest wank, pouf, the big wank, the end, studio, coffee room, in the core, love arbour.
Gregor Schneider’s artistic contribution to the German Pavilion at the 49th Venice Art Biennale presented what seemed to be an irritating juxtaposition of everyday and strangely intimate spatial situations. Curator Udo Kittelmann chose an artist who works “on the image of extreme living spaces”, “on the conflict of the eternal opposites of being.” Schneider, who was 31 at the time, had already been working for over a decade and a half on ‘Haus u r’, the modification of his parents’ house on the outskirts of Rheydt in the Rhineland. It is in this house that the artist (lives and) works, and here he produces the furnishings for his works, which await a fragmentary or complete transplantation or duplication of ‘Haus u r’ into ‘Totes Haus u r’ (‘Dead House u r’) at another location, so that in Schneider’s sense the house has been “killed off”. But it is by no means just a matter of cloned architecture; rather, the work explores the effects of the condition of its spaces, thus putting the beholders and the space into an introspective and emotional relationship.
In Venice, visitors entered the Pavilion’s monumental building through a staid-looking front door. Only 15 people could explore the work at one time, so long queues formed in front of it. Behind the entrance, it was not the great halls that awaited, but narrow corridors, steep staircases, interlocking rooms, standardised passageways. The West German post-war period in its purest form. You could leave the ‘Haus’ and not have noticed anything out of the ordinary. And it was precisely this so ordinary experience that constituted the living space of (self-)reflection created by Schneider, for those spatial stratifications were to be perceived “emotionally rather than rationally”. According to Kittelmann, this was a “complex spatial system of different atmospheres”. Schneider himself spoke of “invisible energetic sculptures” that functioned like a “second skin”, always changing, because the condition of the spaces was continually in the process of being updated.
The house as a built soul, as the work ‘Totes Haus u r’ was often interpreted, came very close to Schneider’s dream of transplanting the entire ‘Haus u r’. The work also convinced the Biennale jury and won the Golden Lion for the best national contribution.