PRINT December 1985


SINCE 1979 REINHARD MUCHA has been exhibiting “processions” of objects, ordered assemblages of furniture (movable furniture; in the sense of the French mobilier)—chairs, tables, cabinets, vitrines, ladders, stools, wall panels, electric fans, carts. Mucha usually finds these pieces in the locales where he goes to work and to exhibit. At first glance, it is difficult to define what one sees. One can only say that the totality of these standard industrial products, unused arid inanimate, forms an entity of “something else.” Regrouped, the “mobilized” components form a larger object, and participate in a transformation of meaning. It is almost as if some force had pushed them toward this new order and content. Newly connected one to another, they form a block, sealed off from their prior functions.

The objects have been removed from their assumed territory to another where—deposed, mixed together, and confused—they join and conform into a new entity. The singularity of each object has vanished in favor of group function. However, the only connection between these everyday fragments is their attachment to each other by means of tangential points or common surfaces. Almost always raised from the floor by wheels or daises, the works have the potential for movement. In addition, sometimes a photograph—the image of a truck, a railway car, a train, or a line of motor vehicles, under glass or framed—is placed along the side of one of the compositional elements. One slowly comes to understand that the whole complex is “on a journey.” These embryos of deferred and potential movement form processions, whose life depends on the deconstruction and the construction of the objects of the modern world.

It is the driving force behind these works that matters; it determines the movement and orders the regroupings and events that one sees. It propels a metamorphosis of appearances (in his writing, Mucha often quotes Franz Kafka), causing them to travel and change position toward unknown and fascinating ends. These juxtapositions of mass-produced objects, sometimes combined with specially fabricated elements, effect a transference of the objects, which come to represent conveyance and movement—the “gestures” of the objects are congealed in a state of transit, the direction of which is open to all potential forces and thrusts that might act upon them.

One can establish obvious analogies between the idea of the voyage, or of the vehicle, and art. For Mucha, art-making is equivalent to an exploration of the world of objects; it is a voyage made up of stops and departures, traversals through the perceivable panorama of functionalism and industrial production that makes up our habitat. Indeed, the sculptures and shows are often named after railway stations (Bottrop, 1984, for example) or highway construction signs (Alleingang [Single file], 1983). Wartesaal (Waiting room, 1982) consists of a procession of industrial-looking steel structures, stacks of traylike drawers on wheels; the drawers hold 242 signs with the names of train stations in Germany—Aachen, Kempen, Torgau, Goyatz, Werden, Siegen, and so on—painted railway-style in black on white. Inside the trays the signs are invisible, but they can be removed individually from their containers and set one by one on a brightly lit table incorporated into the mass of shelving “vehicles.” The whole entity indicates an artistic vision that considers both the “objective” and the “imaginary” as a nebula of places and points through which one moves, stops and looks, and then leaves. Here, to explore and travel means to create, in a continuous passage of hand and eye, which arrange and see without ever reaching an end. No station of ultimate destination exists; it remains suspended, in movement, never fixed.

Mucha’s is an art of transit in which it is the coming and going that matter, the entrance and exit, the route from one interval to another in an infinite journey. Making art can thus signify the traversal of a tunnel, the passage from one side to another of a metaphorical mountain. At the “von hier aus” (from here out) exhibition in Düsseldorf, in 1984, Mucha presented a huge tunnel made up of wooden semicircles as part of a work titled Der Bau (The building). In Toronto earlier this year, at the Art Gallery of Ontario’s “European Iceberg” exhibition, he showed a model of the same tunnel on a shelf held by three ladders. These structures are the signs of an interval between places and points, as well as of the traversal of hard but shapable materials. They are corridors of velocity, and function as bands that transmit signs from an entrance to an exit, or from one content to another. Moreover, the particular configurations of the tunnels signify the procession from light to dark to light, and produce processes of illumination. (Mucha’s concern with the language of light and energy can be illustrated quickly with Lampe [Lamp], a sculpture of his from 1981, which consists of a simple, square illuminated lamp. It has subsequently been produced in series and incorporated in other, larger works.) The tunnel is like a telescope that points out a sudden view. The eye is the engine, and the art is the locomotive that penetrates the mountain of material, carrying along the landscape like a physical memory.

In the Bielefeld Kunsthalle, in 1981, Mucha showed a single “container” consisting of tables, sofas, televisions, electric fans, ladders, a barometer, chairs, video recorders, cords, and Plexiglas cases. Linked together, these seemed to portray a spaceship or a rocket, ready to take off from earth. The title of the work was Astron Taurus; the name comes from a brand of fans, but it also has science fiction connotations. The connected parts had the feeling of an airport, with monitors, runways, elevators—conveyors of fuel and energy—but these details are equally applicable to an extraterrestrial vehicle. The air-and-space analogy recalls an earlier work, Flugzeug (Airplane, 1981), in which a switched-on electric fan, a pair of tables, a cart, a ladder, and a stool were placed in a line and arranged to form the propeller, wings, wheels, and tail of an airplane whose fuselage was turned toward an open window, as though in anticipation of another takeoff after a brief landing. In the Bielefeld installation the thrust of the spaceship was toward the upper windows of the museum, implying that they might open up, like a large hangar at Cape Canaveral.

Both Astron Taurus and Flugzeug were like propellers, made from elements useless when still, but forming the gears of a machine with great potential when placed together. Their energy was derived from their participation in an industrial constellation, as well as from certain details like the switched on fan, which emphasized the process of animation and ignition. The parts could thus acquire power, yet they remained in a state of relativity, between stasis and possible acceleration.

Then there is the question of landscape. Mucha chooses the objects that will make up his visual processions from the same sites in which they will be displayed—museums and large exhibition rooms, studios and academies. He ferrets them out from offices or storerooms in the building, brings them to the site of the show, rearranges them, and then, when the show is over, generally returns them to their places of origin. In “The European Iceberg” and at the Paris Biennial, for example, he worked with movable walls, typical materials in the flexible, temporary installations of these two institutions. He mobilized the walls on wheeled dollies usually used for moving artworks, and finished them off with the photographic addition of a procession of train cars. In Mucha’s process the work becomes a display, but not one with a casual or dreamlike rationale. It avoids Dada or Surrealist connotations and exists alone, within a vehicular system of artistic interactions—between the places of research and exhibition, the studio and the museum, the materials of exhibition and of viewing (walls, video recorders), and other usually invisible parts of the exhibition process.

If one were to look for historical or linguistic antecedents for this work, one could find them in the iconography of Giorgio de Chirico. For that metaphysical artist art was an argonauts’ ship, mirroring the myth of voyage and of dangerous circumnavigation, and the instability of city and space. In de Chirico’s paintings one finds figures and personalities linked to departure and return, like the prodigal son; there are also locomotives headed toward unknown destinations, full of surprises and revelations. Mucha’s sculpture, a voyage without end, also allows him to extract the darkest secrets from supposedly insignificant objects. Each of his works is a station, a moment of pause and transit which approaches the enigma of the world without, however, resolving it.

The project of a voyage in both the real and the imaginary pushes Mucha to study itineraries and maps with the flavor of an infinite adventure. He identifies this adventure not with the fantastic worlds of literature, but with the desert of everyday objects. Mucha’s extension of banality might lead viewers to drown in an ocean of boredom and anonymity; instead, they become enchanted voyagers. The banal is animated; it moves, flies, and accelerates; it limns new routes and passages, lost in the dizzy mix of appearances. Each work, spreading out horizontally, becomes a carrier capable of crossing all frontiers, linguistic and geographic.

Germano Celant is a contributing editor of Artforum. His most recent book published in Italy, is Artmakers: arte, architettura, danza, fotografia, musica in USA.

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.