John Armleder


In John Armleder’s object-based works, the exhibition space always plays the role of a catalyst. Thus it was clear from the outset that a site-specific work at Y8 (Y stands for yoga, while 8 is the street address) would be a particular challenge and that he would produce a work quite unusual for him. The concept of Y8 is that, far from being the familiar “white cube” constructing art’s autonomy, it places art in the context of yoga, which in practice means that daily classes take place in the exhibition space.

In contrast with the formal clarity typical of Armleder, this time his found objects came heaped-up and overflowing: Eighty Christmas trees collected in January, four weeks after Christmas, were secured to the ceiling. They strained downward toward a gold-painted floor. The work’s long title, 12345678910111213141516171819202122232425262728 2930313233343536, 2006, refers to a grid containing thirty-six fields, calculated according to proportions prescribed by classical Indian architecture and drawn on the floor as an aid to the placement of yoga mats; the grid had been covered over with gold paint but could still be made out. The mere physical presence of the work was impressive, but it only became fully activated during the yoga classes. The transformative process that is the goal of the yoga teaching found a parallel in the changes undergone by the pine trees as they turned brown and lost their needles; the fragrance of the trees transformed the breathing exercises; needles fell on the yoga mats and the sublime gold ground on which all this took place. At the same time, there was something comical about Armleder’s use of such a culturally overdetermined object as the pine tree, with its Teutonic nature symbolism. Of course, it’s also a Christian symbol, though one that’s been degraded into a kitschy icon of consumerism. For Armleder, there is no culture other than mass culture. Even his belief, rooted in an ’80s discourse, that art always reproduces what already exists allows the specific history of the Christmas tree to shine forth as the material for his art. In place of the reproduction of a contemporary, elegant universe of design, as in his “Furniture Sculptures,” 1978–, we find the paradox of a temporally coded and materially perishable poetic accumulation of objects referring to nature that at the same time carries with it art-historical allusions to Duchamp’s coal bags and Warhol’s silver clouds.

lso shown here was a video, sans titre, 2003, projected in the entryway of Y8, which literally revolves around the Christmas tree. The video camera moves in circles around a decorated tree, apparently too quickly for the autofocus, which randomly selects various points to focus on. In this way the spatial context of the image is completely dissolved, yielding a desirable surface of shining veils and ambiguities. The work, which Armleder has also done in the same way with fireworks and the neon lights he often uses, is evocative of experimental films of the ’60s and early ’70s. The light appears both as a physical phenomenon, referring to the lens and the technology of the camera, and as a medium for a glamorous play with glitz and gloom.

Nina Möntmann

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.