“Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”

Zurich’s Migros Museum made an ideal setting for an exhibition examining the emotions engendered by different kinds of spaces, as each of its galleries has its own, very particular atmosphere. In the first, airy, daylit room, for example, we were able to see in one glance environments as varied as Anish Kapoor’s hypnotic oversize white ear trumpet; Urs Fischer’s series of glass-andwood boxes, suspended in a state of semi-completion; and James Casebere’s photograph of hospital beds stacked chaotically in a cell-like space, the mundanity of the subject intensified by the diffuse gray light that permeates the work.

One of the strengths of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered: Spatial Emotion in Contemporary Art and Architecture,” curated by Heike Munder and Adam Budak, was its avoidance of the tangible. Just as it is impossible to fix the emotional significance of different environments, so each work bewitched with its creation of a powerful spatial aura only to then leave us bothered by the aftertaste of the uncanny. The juxtaposition of Close Encounters, 2002–2003—Christoph Büchel’s walk-in container, lowering in a corner of the main space and saturated with smells that evoke the presence of a former occupant, with Matthias Müller’s Vacancy, 1998, a DVD of an Expressionist-inspired dream-thriller, and with Fischer’s fragmented structures that are about nothing except their own anxiety, reminded us that in life we are constantly moving from one spatial experience to the next. Among the real finds of the exhibition were the huge, black-and-white sci-fi paintings from the ’70s by H.R. Giger, the Swiss artist best known for his designs for Alien (1979). Their presentation on low-lit gray walls emphasized both their delicacy and their dense construction, the imaginary interiors populated by half-humans creating a kind of perverted space, both repellent and faintly erotic and every bit as powerful as such “real” environments as Büchel’s odorous cabin or Monica Bonvicini’s re-creation of a vandalized security fence.

Giger’s fantasies were shown alongside Knut Åsdam’s curtained-off slide sequence of tower blocks, photographed to emphasize their awesome but inhuman character. In the same room the architectural seemed to merge with the pathological in Passage, 2002, Aziz + Cucher’s DVD of a bare corridor, installed in a real doorway at the top of a flight of steps. It is unclear whether the image is drawn or photographed, or if the hint of movement is merely implied by the sound of footsteps and closing doors. The fictional and the actual were interwoven so subtly throughout the exhibition that they started to become interchangeable or mutually reinforcing. Stephen Willats’s collages combined photographs of tower blocks in London and Berlin in the ’70s with photographs of their occupants and the visual results of the artist’s collaboration with them in the form of plans, diagrams, and quotes from interviews. His investigations of the residents’ resistance to the uniformity of their surroundings may appear to touch on the political nature of architecture explored in Jane and Louise Wilson’s DVD installation Star City, 2000, about the secret city in which Soviet astronauts were trained for the first manned space flight. Emotionally, however, Willats’s work is closer to Katarzyna Jozefowicz’s dense miniature Cities, 1989–92, obsessively constructed from paper, or to Paul Thek’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin with Tower of Babel, 1976. Ascended by rats aiming for the cabin at the top, the bronze sculpture can be read as a Kabakov-like fairy tale—space as a promise of freedom yet always just out of reach.

Felicity Lunn