Klara Hobza, Von Köln nach Bonn (From Cologne to Bonn), 2011, air tanks, rubber mat, wooden plinth, 63 x 35 3/8 x 23 5/8".

Klara Hobza, Von Köln nach Bonn (From Cologne to Bonn), 2011, air tanks, rubber mat, wooden plinth, 63 x 35 3/8 x 23 5/8".

Klara Hobza

Klara Hobza, Von Köln nach Bonn (From Cologne to Bonn), 2011, air tanks, rubber mat, wooden plinth, 63 x 35 3/8 x 23 5/8".

In daylight, Klara Hobza’s installation Prequel, 2011, didn’t look like much: just a rectangle of slats, four of which were placed horizontally and provided a base for forty-eight lightbulbs, which were connected to three heavy switches—a strange bricolage of elements visible through the window of this storefront gallery. Yet at night the work lit up the neighborhood and put a glow on the street: It is a machine for sending out Morse code. Hobza repeatedly visited the gallery at night, put on industrial-grade sunglasses so as not to be blinded by the light, and sent out messages into the darkness. What messages? That’s hard to say, since few of us these days have the skill of interpreting Morse code. We were informed, however, that she sent out, for instance, the name of a friend living down the street from whose window the gallery is visible.

While Hobza had already set up a similar but much stronger Morse machine at New York’s SculptureCenter in 2005, this time she added what might be a system for response: Called You Just Might Get It, 2011, the piece consists of a dozen bells hooked up to the door buzzer to give a very loud ring. In this and other works, Hobza seems like a character straight out of a Thomas Pynchon or Don DeLillo novel: obsessively and compulsively following her task, involving a love of a once cutting-edge, now antiquated technology such as Morse code. This echoes well in Berlin, a city once known as “Elektropolis,” where giant industrial companies such as Siemens electrified the half of the world that General Electric didn’t cover.

Yet it is not nostalgia that drives Hobza; what seems more apparent is the pleasure she takes in the quixotism of her self-appointed missions. Learning and operating Morse code is not the only one. Some of her other projects seem almost herculean: For example, Hobza has also set herself the task of swimming her way through Europe. She has been training as a scuba diver, with a plan of working her way up the Rhine and then hitting the Main close to Frankfurt, from there heading over through the Main-Danube Canal and then down the Danube to the Black Sea. (The project is referenced in the air tanks on a pedestal in Von Köln nach Bonn [From Cologne to Bonn], 2011.) She is no stranger to long-distance travel under difficult conditions: When she moved from grad school in New York back to Germany in 2009, she literally moved herself. She loaded the contents of her studio onto a raft she’d built, which was towed to the Port of New York, where she loaded everything onto a container ship. Once in Hamburg, she put everything back on the raft and then maneuvered her vessel to the Galerie für Landschaftskunst, which is located in an old warehouse that is accessible by boat. Bit by bit, she hoisted everything up to the fifth floor using a crane.

If it’s not a bit too obvious, one would have to point to Albert Camus’s essay “The Myth of Sisyphus” and above all its conclusion: “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” Yet the intellectual intensity of Camus’s existentialist meditation does not get to the heart of Hobza’s method, in which the artist’s efforts become a treasure trove of tall tales we can delight in for their own sake—whether heroic, like the saga of swimming the rivers of Europe, or poignant, like that of the lonely artist flashing Morse code through the dark streets of Berlin.

Daniel Boese