Hans Schabus

Bonner Kunstverein

As a child, I was fascinated by the idea of experiencing the interior of my own body, my imagination fired by children’s books about tiny people who wander through the human anatomy and view the individual organs from within. When I saw Hans Schabus’s video Der Passagier (The Passenger), 2000, three years ago, I suddenly remembered these childhood imaginings. Through a camera attached to a toy train moving along a track that mercilessly travels not only through empty spaces but also through the walls, I saw the interior of the wall that had been broken open. Like a worm inside a body, this train ate through the perimeter of the artist’s studio.

Schabus’s new film installation Transport, 2003, possesses its own tale of the penetration and research into untrodden, unseen spaces. First, Schabus dug a hole more than sixteen feet deep in his studio in order to connect to Vienna’s sewage system and by this means to get into the Secession, where he had an exhibition in early 2003. This was a fiction, of course; the hole was filled in without ever having reached a sewer. But the film documents the Secession show with a journey through the “subterranean world” of the building itself, including an unexpected ascent into the cosmic spheres.

First, the camera encounters the exterior of the building and the entrance hall, but goes no farther: The entrance to the exhibition spaces has been walled up. The camera stares at this wall, turns around, descends the stairs to the basement, and moves through the heating, sanitation, and parking spaces—the labyrinthine entrails common to every building—then stairs again, and narrow, barely lit halls; suddenly there open before the camera empty, completely white spaces shown in slow motion, so that the visitors move as if in a state of suspension. Noises that could be taken for cosmic explosions come into one’s awareness. A space beyond temporal and spatial categories, a white cube whose emptiness expresses the capacity for plenitude. Another bang: We are expelled from the interior spaces. A completely different view emerges: the Secession’s main exhibition space, where, it turns out, those other spaces through which the camera led us—models standing on simple beer crates—have been exhibited and which the camera now shows us from the outside. It is the studio of the artist, built to scale. Moving down a side staircase and across the basement, the camera leaves the building, thus completing the trail of a visitor to the exhibition “Astronaut” by Hans Schabus.

Schabus is fascinated by those spaces which, like the human body or the bowels of a building, are always observed only from without. What is hiding behind the fence, the floor, the sidewalk, the wall, the skin? How does the exterior relate to the interior? How can this space be penetrated? When standing across from an empty space, one can capture it in a glance; the perception is static. A filled space, in contrast, can only be experienced in motion, in process—hence the ramble through the viscera of the Succession building. Schabus turns this process into the content of his work and offers insights and experiences reminiscent of those I could only dream of as a child.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Diana Reese.