Jürgen Albrecht

Laure Genillard

The voyeuristic act so pervades contemporary artistic culture that it is virtually invisible. Mobilizing voyeurism as a heuristic device for the understanding of observation—using this perversion as a platform from which to build a sustained meditation on the nature of what has been termed subjective vision—would seem to demand a condition whereby the very act of observation is conceived of self-reflexively. The observer would have to be placed in a position such that the system of conventions that circumscribe and limit his viewing experience are revealed. The act of looking, in other words, would have to be so perverted as to spontaneously generate itself as metalanguage. The paradigmatic case of the voyeuristic act is, of course, proscribed by the erotic subject, and the pleasure sustained through observing the erotic act, as opposed to participating in it, is undeniably heightened, as access to the observed is made more difficult. We kneel before the keyhole, willingly sustaining the displacement and constriction of our body in order to give flight to our vision, fantasy, and sexuality. The aperture into which we peer turns out to be no simple hole; it is an esthetic prosthesis. The experience of pleasure through perversion is impossible without the intervention of a machine, a techné, whether it be primitive or ethereal.

For several years Jürgen Albrecht has been constructing esthetic prostheses for vision. Consisting of cardboard boxes about the girth of a shoebox, but several feet long, hung on the walls at eye level, these tunnels are white in color, so as to be as inconspicuous as possible in the gallery. The boxes have several areas of transparent plastic inset on their topmost surface, which function as miniscule skylights illuminating the interior architecture. The image that one sees, through the open ends of the boxes, is reminiscent of a long, dramatically lit corridor, intersected with columns that form a series of ethereal ventricles. The effect is not unlike that of peering into a scale model for a James Turrell installation.

Albrecht’s devices efficiently isolate and idealize the perception of the observer, thereby satisfying at least one condition for the constitution of a dialectic of subjective vision. One work, positioned against the glass front of the gallery, is only available to the viewer from outside the space, and the observer’s nose must be pressed against the glass to see the interior. The voyeuristic pull of the gallery front is multiplied and laid bare. Albrecht’s decision to install one work in this manner reinforces our suspicion that the “sculpture-boxes” are not necessarily about the microarchitecture within, but about the context of the act of observing.

It is questionable whether or not the observer of Albrecht’s work need know of the artist’s interest in Buddhism and Taoism. The work is not at all as portentous as these spiritual concerns would suggest; indeed the work’s weakness resides in the fact that Albrecht has not yet sufficiently grasped its other, lurking, comical inflection. A work that conflates high art, Buddhism, and Taoism can potentially mimic the experience of enlightenment. The disembodied gaze that results from the experience of peering into these tunnels—variously described in previous accounts of the work as “traps,” “perceptions of nothingness,” “labyrinths,” and “Alice in Wonderland imaginings”—is a parody of those vehicles of enlightenment known as koans. And koans have been known to report on the deficiencies of the master as well as the novice.

Michael Corris