Robert Kusmirowski

Known for his meticulous re-creations of places and spaces of the past, such as D.O.M., 2004, a reconstruction of a late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth-century Polish graveyard that he showed at Galerie Johnen in Berlin, Robert Kusmirowski here pushed his artful play with simulation and nostalgia to another level with a three-part scenario of fictionalized history, whose dense atmosphere is reminiscent of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979). In the first zone, still clearly recognizable as the museum entry with front desk, stood an old power mast and several displays of diagrams and technical drawings of strange apparatuses that seemed to allude to postwar or cold war visions of the future (such as a Soviet plan to prepare for possible extraterrestrial encounters).

The second zone was entered through two separate portals, neatly labeled “Frauen” and “Männer,” beyond which lay a sterile, all-white plaster labyrinth of what appeared to be quarantine chambers, equipped with changing rooms, shower facilities, and prisonlike cells. Peeking through one of the cracked doors in the men’s section, one glimpsed a still projection of a man (the artist himself) in work clothes, holding a water hose.

While the second section clearly resembled a stage setting with props made out of plaster, papier-mâché, Styrofoam, industrial trash, and paint, in the third zone the boundaries between fiction and reality were less obviously defined. By mixing readymade elements and minutely reconstructed details, Kusmirowski sowed confusion—was this some hidden part of the building into which one had accidentally wandered? An empty swimming pool was painted all gray, with patina peeling off the walls. The scene was abandoned but inaccessible, as a barbed-wire fence prevented further exploration. But what is a concrete post covered with electrical fuses doing next to a swimming pool, one began to wonder, and what about all the other technical equipment lying around, both in and out of the pool? The mysterious apparatus resting in the middle of the pool looked like a remnant of some spooky test station, and its strangely displaced appearance brought to mind the common practice, especially in former Eastern Bloc countries, of simply reusing existing architecture for other purposes, thus adding one layer of historical makeup over another.

Kusmirowski conflates and superimposes different places, times, and histories, reflecting the personal and collective memories of viewers; and, in turn, viewers read their own experiences into his works. Here Nazi concentration camps came to mind, as did dubious Soviet atomic reactors. Kusmirowski’s highly elaborate simulations recall the hyperreal scenarios of Christoph Büchel or the stagings of Pawel Althamer (think, for instance, of his trashed Neugerriemschneider Gallery in 2003, which was a simultaneous shift into the past and the possible future of the place). But unlike these artists, Kusmirowski never places the viewer inside the picture but always in front of it, highlighting the very illusion of its creation. Like a Baroque still life, his work is both a demonstration of artistic virtuosity and a memento mori. At the Migros Museum he assembled a short chapter of twentieth-century history, beginning with a utopian dream of power and technology and ending with a dystopian excavation.

Eva Scharrer