Andreas Slominski

Invited to participate in the 1994 exhibition “Passieren” at the Hamburger Kunsthalle, “sculptor” Andreas Slominski had a crew of workers remove an enormous window from a storefront at a local mall. In the empty display, the artist placed a wooden Popsicle stick he’d picked up outside. Once the tiny artifact was positioned and lit to satisfaction, the pane of glass was reinstalled. The following year, Slominski orchestrated an even more labor-intensive operation at the Museum Haus Esters, located in a former Mies van der Rohe house in a tidy quarter of Krefeld. To realize Golfball-Aktion, 1995, he craned a full-size dump truck over Mies’s elegant, red-brick residence, backed the vehicle up to an open window, and released the empty dumping bed to create a ramp into the space. After numerous attempts, a professional golfer stationed on the other side of the budding managed to drive a ball over the house and onto the truck bed. The ball rolled down the flatbed, through the window, and across the floor of the museum until it came to rest, a tiny “sculpture” replete with the aura its new position conferred. Visitors to the museum, however, had to take most of this on faith; all they actually saw was a tiny white plastacine orb recognizable as a common golf ball.

In Self-portrait with Sombrero, 1998, a work conceived for the Zurich show, the “sculptor” again opted for the path of greatest resistance. Slominski punched a pair of holes through a wall. Mounting a ladder in an adjacent gallery, the sombrero-clad artist reached through one hole and, pointing a camera back at his face through the other opening, clicked the shutter. Kunsthalle visitors were greeted only by a pair of photographs (one of the artist’s face framed by the circular opening; the other, shot from the adjoining room, of his arm, camera in hand, poised to take the first picture) and the sombrero itself, the top and brim of which had been trimmed to allow the artist to position his face for the “portrait.” The only additional due to the elaborate procedure involved was the still visible holes at the top of the wall.

Since the middle ’80s, the thirty-eight-year-old, Hamburg-based Slominski has been making increasingly elaborate formal provisions for the transport of ordinary objects into the realm of art. While his investigations have always involved sophisticated manipulations of common objects and motifs (for the 1997 Venice Biennale, he had a five-meter-high model of a wind-mill constructed), what has come to set his work apart from the traditional readymade—where a simple change in context is what counts—is the degree of complication (and related physical and psychic expenditure) involved in the transfer of the everyday object to the privileged precincts of art. It’s not so much the suspension of function as its absurd exaggeration that renders Slominski’s run-of-the-mill items “aesthetic.” Like those sublimely ludicrous watches that marshal the most extravagant human ingenuity, delivering up all manner of useless cosmic data iphases of the moon, planetary orbits) only to remind us of the futility of our mortal labors, Slominski’s baroque procedures have their own absurd beauty (and relentless truth).

A similarly monstrous “functionality” (and beauty) animates the thirty-two “traps” also on view in Zurich. A former student of philosophy, Slominski first fixed on the motif during his art school days when he began to collect and then copy or reconstruct various traps. He claims that the discovery of this “sculpturally engaging” motif offered him a vehicle that “united” his philosophical and artistic concerns. Realized over the past three years, the traps appear to be entirely functional (apart from a few charmingly improbable details) and, indeed, are literally cocked and ready to spring. They are designed, we are told, to catch or kill specific species—birds, butterflies, skunks, snails, rats—though it is readily apparent that these fantastic contraptions bear little resemblance to the traps actually manufactured to catch such critters Slominski’s “real” prey is the gaze of the viewer—which they inevitably snare, along with attendant aesthetic habits of mind.

Once the viewer grasps the Slorninskian version of the form-follows-function principle, that old Bauhaus conceit (not to mention the purely aesthetic gaze) grows a bit weary. Engaged by the formal, sculptural aspect of a Slominski trap, the viewer’s gaze is lured into the device’s dangerous core, the “aesthetic” heart of the work, a ready victim that can be counted on to go for the bait.

Rat Trap, 1998, one of the most memorable works on view, takes the form of a church nearly three feet tall; a small, barred chamber positioned m the aisle is integrated into the sacred space even as it remains a separate cell. This singular model triggers an inquisitorial reverie typical of one’s response to Slominski’s mad machines: the rat—carrier of pestilence, intelligent, faithless, cowardly, closer to Satan than to God—is lured into sacred precincts from which it should shrink in dread. Until the moment of truth, the rodent remains imprisoned in a place inimical to its ratly nature, with little hope that God’s grace can save it. Is the church a functional element of the trap? Or does it serve some other, “higher” purpose—to exert redemptive influence on the evil rodent? We, as much as the imagined vermin, are entangled in this wretched drama. This is all probably utter nonsense: rats, after all, love churches without concerning themselves in the least with their sacral purpose. So perhaps the church is less a rat trap then an art trap set and baited—sure to attract the real rat, the metaphysically infected eye.

Patrick Frey

Translated from the German by Diana Reese