New York

Felix Stephan Huber

John Good Gallery

Felix Stephan Huber’s installation documented a Germany that either missed the economic miracle or turned away from it—a land of inexpensive hotels and bare unadorned rooms. Using the contemporary tools of the tourist-chronicler—film and a cheap Instamatic with a time/date stamp—Huber re-presented the 11 rooms in which he spent the night over a six-month period. Blown up to oversized proportions, these photos took on the graininess of film; the insistent digital readout on the bottom was evocative of a documentary or surveillance video. The frozen moments in these photo-bedrooms represent way stations, brief stops in one of Wim Wenders’ road movies. And as in Wenders’ films, the odyssey in Huber’s work is largely psychological.

All of the rooms are uninhabited, the sole human presence a conspicuous absence. The rooms are bare, but the evident disorder of rumpled bedclothes and haphazard belongings suggests turmoil. Most of the beds are singles, and even in the photographs with double beds it is clear that only one side was used, signifying the difficulty of anything other than masturbatory contact. Together, the abstract and distorted edges of each photo and the incessant, blinding, naked light are elements in a disturbing portrait. In the most arresting of the works, 92-7-28, 22:30, 1992, the two duvets and pillows on a made bed could be straitjacketed figures in a room in which light has obliterated all other detail.

Attached to the upper section of a wall with packing tape, the bedroom photographs formed a single line. The temporality of these spaces was reinforced by the title of the installation, Provisional. They were asylums in both senses—a momentary haven and a place of confinement. Extending downward, three of the photographs formed a second line around the gallery, intersecting with rectangles of tape that also encircled the space. On the floor of the gallery, the installation was completed by a grid of blue-tape rectangles marking where beds would be placed. Huber had metaphorically turned the public space into a temporary shelter: these rectangular markers served as a connection between the psycho-sexual thematics of the photographs and the politics of asylum, an issue that is convulsing Germany and laying bare hatreds long submerged. Perhaps the most interesting point Huber made in uniting the psychological and political is that a shared sense of rootlessness and dislocation binds the asylum seekers and their nomadic left-wing allies.

Huber pared his work down to make a direct social comment, abandoning his earlier montage technique for clearer, more precise images. The one montage piece in the installation, Raum 4 (Room 4, 1992), is an indication of a more minimal trend in Huber’s work, and of its increasing pessimism. In this work, the fourth of a series documenting the artist’s bedroom over the last four years, the space has become darker, the composition at once sparser and more claustrophobic. The lack of hope reflected here was exacerbated by the four small photographs in a room adjoining the installation: bearing future dates and created by smearing toner on the image, these silvery-black abstractions pointed toward apocalypse.

Andrew Perchuk