Albrecht Schäfer

Museum Morsbroich

This show, “Ein Tag” (A Day), began just to the left of the entrance door, at a height of five foot three inches, the standard eye level for hanging exhibitions. From this point, Albrecht Schäfer hung clippings from the German newspaper Die Welt from February 12, 2010, in a single line—more than three hundred yards of them, containing sixteen pages of news. This line ran through all the exhibition rooms in this Baroque castle, providing a framework for the rest of the show. Anyone with patience would theoretically have been able to read the entire newspaper just by walking along the walls.

Like a spiderweb, information—words, sentences, images, and tables—crisscrosses our environment, filling every last nook and cranny. No wonder Albrecht transposed this principle, filling one room with a spider made of roofing battens (Spinne [Spider], 2010). The enormous arachnid blocked off parts of the room and prevented visitors from moving around freely. Just like the deluge of information that confronts us daily, this structure frequently blocked our view. But Albrecht also works to unblock our vision. For years he has been taking the title pages of German newspapers such as Berliner Zeitung, Süddeutsche Zeitung, or Tagesspiegel and removing all the letters and pictures. All that is left behind is the structure and the empty patches that produce a near-constructivist image, a geometric abstraction. So what really remains? What information can be gleaned from these bowdlerized pages?

And what is the status of information that has been shaped into a little ball, as Schäfer has done with the issue of Le Monde from January 24, 2009? In Leverkusen, this ball was shown on a pedestal in front of a wall with forty-nine gray canvases abutted in three horizontal rows. Each was made from a page of the British newspaper The Sun from May 29, 2007, pulped and spread on canvas. Only the slight variations in shades of gray distinguished the individual pages from one another, and this is all the information that remains.

The goal of information is to enlighten. Perhaps this is why Schäfer is so interested in light. But even in his light-based works, the intended information is canceled out by the form in which it appears. We see this, for instance, in Schwarzes Licht (Black Light), 2007, a spherical lamp hanging from the ceiling and painted black so that it emits heat but no light. Or does it? And what about the feeling of weightiness suggested by the balloons hovering just below the ceiling—balloons actually made of white plaster (Untitled [Balloons], 2007)?

One of the loveliest pieces in the show is Freier Fall (Free Fall), 2006, a projection of an image of a white sheet of paper falling to the ground. Below, there is already a white sheet of paper. The projected one looks tiny at first, but increases in size as it drifts downward through the air, until it finally becomes large enough to merge with the sheet of paper on the floor. Two pieces of information in one, or does one cancel out the other? It’s hard to say. But it is certain that this show sharpens one’s eye for the spiderweb of information—and that’s no small feat these days.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.