The Metalevel Space by Verena Konrad Translated by Brian Currid
Claudia Larcher’s work treats space as an explicit artistic topic in two ways: on the one hand as a reflection on the perception of space by the artist and the beholder, and also by reflecting the artistic and architectural reflections of others. This pro- cess of understanding is initially an intellectual act of self-location: in the artistic strategies of others, an act of contemplation. This is followed by her own work that decidedly engages with the artistic legacy of modernism and various post-modernisms and finally arrives at a digital transformation and thus in the present. Claudia Larcher consistently uses methods and techniques from early modern- ism and transfers them to the present.
The artist thus becomes a contemporary and links her work to the repertoire of modernist art history. Space becomes image, image becomes space. Experience becomes visual, the visual becomes a foundation for cognition and reflection and thus for new experience. In the works of Claudia Larcher, this is physical and sensual as well as intellectual and thus has the potential of linking outside and inside, history and present, memory and action, thought and feeling.
"FAUX TERRAIN", by Yvonne Rüscher June 2016
For her solo exhibition in the Bregenz artist space, the Vienna-based artist from Vorarlberg, Claudia Larcher, presents a panorama of her latest work. Under the title FAUX TERRAIN, she combines different, intertwined and yet autonomous, individual artistic work. She combines videos, collages, photographs, objects, location-specific installations and interventions, and constructs an obscure landscape perspective in which different image surfaces flow into each other in a dialogue with the space.
The artist's works are generated by different themes. The choice of medium varies, her approach remains mostly the same regardless: she produces, gathers, disassembles, separates, reflects, assigns, expands, compresses, distorts, transforms, focuses, details, links, reconstructs, mounts, and reproduces.
Following an abstract cartography, Claudia Larcher creates a fragmented landscape for the exhibition that exceeds the limits of its scientific, geographical, or geological aspects. For the video installation In Between the Ocean (2014), she combines photographs of interiors in Tokyo with landscape photographs from thedisaster areas around Fukushima and Tohoku and thus reflects the impact of energy policies on the natural and urban environment. In the NIDA series of works (2015/2016), the artist explores the Lithuanian peninsula Neringa and the border between Europe and Russia. With an analytical look, she studies different shapes and characteristics of natural landscapes (Hakone, 2016) and organisms (RGB, 2013). People appear rarely in her work, and when they do they are only present on the basis of the traces they leave behind. In the video Self (2015), Larcher explores human skin in close-up. The seemingly familiar surface with all its details and features are mutated gradually into a surreal landscape. In a slow tracking shot, the interior and the exterior of the human body dissolve and form a fictional space, a faux terrain into which the viewer suddenly finds themselves projected.
Her collage works Panorama and Outsourced Domesticity (2013) form the starting point for another part of the exhibition route, which continues in the premises of the Lisi Hämmerle Gallery. Claudia Larcher's paper objects and architectural collages, which similar to the videos are based on the assembly principle, are layers of page fragments from selected architectural magazines. Different architectural elements are released, assembled, and layered on top of each other. She deals with the aesthetics of the materials and the shape and movement of different constructions and combines exquisite relics of interior and exterior views, details, aerial photographs, and plans of various buildings to generate new structures to create urban utopias. In the "Showcase" constructed specially for the exhibition at the Lisi Hämmerle Gallery, excerpts from the collage series Builder and MIES - Moins est Plus can be seen. Inside the gallery, a 25 metre curtain forms a walkable architectural landscape of fragments from Mies van der Rohe buildings.
Using abstraction, exaggeration, and alienation, Claudia Larcher stages habitats, architectural landscapes, and natural formations as utopian and dystopian scenarios. Her works, which due to their irritating attention to detail appear as lifelike copies of real world events, are in fact multifaceted and complex artistic constructs that blur the line between reality and fiction and create room for other possible realities. FAUX TERRAIN - Claudia Larcher leads visitors to the exhibition to a simultaneity of reality and imagination, somewhere between nature and artifice. Exactly at the threshold of the Here and Elsewhere, the interior and the exterior are sealed together. In a non-place, on this side, the other side, both strange and familiar, where the viewer is constantly called upon to question their relationship with the world, their representations, and their own perception.
The Spectres of Memory by Claudia Slanar
The presence of time is underlined by the absence of human protagonists, at least in Claudia Larcher’s video animations. People may be present acoustically, in the objects we are shown, in the form of a voice slowly emerging from the background din only to quickly fade again or, in a more abstract way, as sound fragments indicative of human activity. Visually though, all human beings seem to have simply vanished, as if after an apocalyptic catastrophe, while their belongings have been perfectly preserved. “In its countless alveoli space contains compressed time. That is what space is for”, Gaston Bachelard writes in his “Poetics of Space”. Larcher’s works thus pose the question of their chronotype: How are setting and story connected, what do we learn from these places and the objects they contain, props that claim to have a function – living, homemaking, working – we never get to see?
On the one hand, Larcher’s films are studies of architecture (BAUMEISTER, HEIM) and its intrinsic character. On the other hand, these are shown to be especially in the context of the compression of time, as reconstructed rather than deconstructed spaces of memory. In HEIM it is a typical family dwelling – perhaps the artist’s parents’ house as the title suggests – whose interior is meticulously recorded; in YAMA it is a montage of places Larcher visited when she was living in Japan.
Claudia Larcher’s technique of recording individual images then animated into virtual sequences and tracking shots, pans, tilts and parallaxes provides new perspectives on the extant architecture, thus broadening the narrative options. The films suggest movements where there is none, spaces start to move, they protrude and recede, jump forth and back, they expand or turn two-dimensional, they seem to be almost at bursting point and in the end they go back to where they started. This return to the point of departure is another distinctive feature of Larcher’s work, suggesting a narrative and visual cohesion that turns every video into a cosmos of its own following its own chronotopical logic.
These leaps in space and time may seem practically seamless. Much rather, though, the seams between the real and the virtual are folded into one another, giving the rooms a stage-like semblance that highlights the sinister within the homely. “The unconscious abides” (Bachelard) in these rooms and with them the past, experiences (traumatic or not), memories, dreams, déjà vu. Sometimes this unconscious literally rises to the surface, often buoyed by Constantin Popp’s dramatic scores hovering between operating noise ‘real’ sounds and abstract composition. These outbursts are sometimes delirious (BAUMEISTER) or repetitive (YAMA), often unsettling (HEIM) but always controlled (EMPTY ROOMS). Larcher’s “topoanalyses” make use of a laconic gesture of observation that is often at odds with the new perspectives and the rooms’ artificiality. Not least, this can be seen in the complex relationship between inside and outside, which is clear-cut only at first glance but fluid and keeps shifting. The boundaries of space are porous and dissolve, even glass doors are opaque most of the time and windows open up onto things threatening and surreal. Interiors eventually turn into the internal (that, is the triggered psychological state), which in some of Larcher’s works can actually be quite funny: carps at the window, a “dripping” sound score and echoes of Stanley Kubrick in Dornbirn’s broadcasting centre.
(from" the raw and the boiled", Viennale catalogue, 2013, p.276)
The Replicated Gaze, by Ines Gebetsroither
The camera moves in a spiral along the ceiling: it takes up its circular form by tracing out the seams between two elements of the ceiling; rectangular lamps emerge one after another like a schematic depiction of sunbeams or the spokes a wheel; parallel to this, the soundtrack evokes atmospheric, resonant “drops”— at least one of a countless number of associations.
The video Baumeister looks at the deserted interior of ORF’s Studio Dornbirn. Planned and built by Gustav Peichl from 1969 to 1972, its formal basis is the spiral, the figure consisting of a line running from the inside out that can also be found on the human body, in the navel or our ears. The form of the spiral in Peichl’s radio buildings indeed takes on a symbolic reference to the body and its functions. While often referred to as “technoid” structures, indeed as “technological devices,” they are highly organic structures in a literal sense; they are expanded and expandable bodily organs. Their function is speaking and listening, transmitting and receiving. The spiral form of the radio building is not just a symbol with a long history (the spiral in antiquity symbolized the world’s navel), but a prerequisite for its functioning, just as the form of the ear insures the operation of our sense of hearing.
Just as the architecture translates the function of listening, Claudia Larcher’s video makes a reference to vision. The camera is the eye that tries to capture the structure of space by tracing out its movements, repeating them. But seeing (just as listening or feeling) is not an objectivizing act. It is narrowly linked to the memories of the person perceiving. To this extent, it never generates a continuous space of experience. It rather produces images from superimpositions, transformations, and condensations.
In one of Larcher’s earlier works, Empty Rooms, the gaze of the camera departs slowly departs from the unparticipating observation of an interior which, as in the photographs in architectural magazines, is “freed” of people and everyday objects and culminates in a kaleidoscopic spatial image. If at the beginning the porous structure of a real wall is scanned millimeter by millimeter in a horizontal movement, the linear relationship between the camera and the space that the video seems to develop at the start gradually dissolves. Camera and what is filmed penetrate the recorded architecture and generate a layer of reality all its own. Edges become lines, the space becomes an image. In addition, there is a sound track that fills these images with evocations of (real? remembered?) events; we think we hear the screeching of a train or the crackling sound of fluorescent lights. Sonic experiences that have more to do with our own memory than with what the soundtrack actually contains.
In the video Baumeister, changing spatial relations also begin to shift at a certain point. The transition is marked by a brief sequence in which the concrete elements and metal pipes form a mobile diagonal pattern. The camera glides in a horizontal movement along the walls. If until now everything was kept in neutral tones or non-colors (gray, white, or black), now striking elements of color appear: deep-orange red wall elements or door sashes, a powerful yellow for a chair, etc. A view of an interior space opens, showing a recording studio with a blue swivel chair, an orange microphone, yellow blinds that have been pulled down. This all seems more like a stage set than a real interior. The architecture becomes a (moving) image, in a certain sense it is recast. This is once again repeated and confirmed by the sound track of Constantin Popps, which has departed from apparently abstract, at any event no longer clearly classifiable sounds and now consists of architectural descriptions. These are read by a woman’s voice (increasingly distorted) sampled from radio shows on architecture that had been produced at Funkhaus Dornbirn. So sound and image articulate with one another like gears, for example in the moment in which the space, which relies strongly on its technological functions (the camera repeatedly shows uncovered sockets or the warning “Caution, High Voltage!”) with a sound that recalls a jet engine.
Claudia Larcher’s work generates a continuum of space and time that does not actually exist in reality. This is not immediately visible, but is only revealed in moments when for example the metal track that the camera runs along suddenly ends in a void. The video thus documents the architecture not in the actual sense, but translates it into a language of its own, whereby it is very committed to the model. Essential here is the process of emergence: Larcher did not directly film the space itself, but photographs of the space taken beforehand. The gaze of the camera is not that of a moving camera, but an animation, in a certain sense a fake, replicated gaze.
This method refers to an important theme in postmodernism, where it becomes impossible to distinguish between original and copy, model and replica, reality and imagination. As the theorist Craig Owens wrote in his 1980 essay “The Allegorical Impulse: On a Theory of Postmodernism,” “Allegorical imagery is appropriated imagery; the allegorist does not invent images but confiscates them.”1 In the work Baumeister, the filmic “replicas” superimpose figures of architecture. In each of these layers, the motif of the spiral is of central importance. In the video, the camera repeats the spiral form of the architecture: the architecture in turn enters into a genealogy of spiral forms. Bruce Goff’s design of a snail house (1950), Marcel Duchamp’s Anémic-Cinéma (1926), the Phaistos Disk, or the shell of the nautilus, an artwork of nature.2
A brief digression: it is certainly no accident that Spiral Jetty, the most well known work of the American artist Robert Smithson, is also based on this motif. It was created in 1970, around the time that Gustav Peichl was planning his radio studios. The famous work of land art was poured in a huge spiral on the edges of the Great Salk Lake in Utah and refers to the local myth of a watery vortex in the lake. Its site specificity is a key component of the work. In the film of the same name, Smithson tells of the emergence of the work and its meaning, from a helicopter tracing out the spiral form with a film camera. Part of the film was shot by Nancy Holt. It shows Smithson climbing up a hill and throwing several hands full of books and magazines from the top: this is a reference to a thought that seemed important to the artist. “The earth's history seems at times like a story recorded in a book each page of which is torn into small pieces. Many of the pages and some of the pieces of each page are missing.”3
A comprehensive, complete narrative has long been questioned, working with fragments of texts or images is imperative. In the aforementioned essay, Benjamin attributes an allegorical moment to photographic montage, for it is typical of allegory to “pile up fragments ceaselessly.”4 Accordingly, Claudia Larcher’s work can implicitly or explicitly to be understood as an indication of the technique of allegory. This becomes clear in a series of collages that, just like the videos, when they are digitally generated, are also based on the principle of montage. If in the former Larcher combines pieces of photographs and animates them in the video program so that the layerings are only visible as shifts in perspective in certain spots, in the analog collages layerings of page fragments from architecture magazines are legible. What are used are historical or current architectural magazines, for example Baumeister, or Architektur Aktuell. The title of the magazine and the date of the issue provide the title of the collage work in question and are thus a clear indication of the “original.” Each individual page forms a collage layer of its own, whereby the most various architectural components are assembled together: interior and exterior views, details, aerial shots, plans as well as inserts. The redundancy and yet fragmentary nature of all documentation and depictions of reality is revealed: but Larcher does not stop at critique, but documents this herself.
1 Craig Owens, “The Allegorical Impulse: Toward a Theory of Postmodernism,” October 12 (Spring, 1980), 69.
2 This spiral series can be found in: Architektur & Technik: Die Bauten des Österreichischen Rundfunks 1970 – 1980 (Vienna, 1979), 17.
4 Quoted in Owens, “The Allegorical Impulse,” 72.
"On the Spirit of Funkhaus: Claudia Larcher’s Video Baumeister" by Cornelia and Holger Lund
No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s.
—H.G. Wells, “The War of the Worlds,” 1898 (The radio play version broadcast in 1938 caused a panic in the radio audience.)
Maybe soon the multitude of technological devices will be as unavoidably part of us as the snail house is to the snail or the web is for the spider. But then the devices would be rather parts of our human organism than parts of the nature surrounding us.
Art can emerge autonomously and more or less freely, or not autonomously, as a commissioned work, but that is far from meaning that it is not free. In the best of cases, a thematic incentive is provided that can lead to an engagement with something already existing and yet generates an independent work. ORF Funkhaus Dornbirn succeeded in providing just such an incentive, and Claudia Larcher’s video Baumeister (2012) goes far beyond merely paying homage to Gustav Peichl’s architecture. In what could be classified as something between architectural film, documentary film, and experimental film, Larcher, working with the composer Constantin Popp, combines the building, film, and sound in a reflected way that emphasizes form. The result was an artistic exploration of architecture that explores central aspects of Peichl’s architecture.
Claudia Larcher chose the audiovisual medium of film, with all the risks it involves. For the question of how the static medium of architecture and the dynamic medium of film can come together in an adequate way is a problem that has already been the subject of numerous filmic visualizations of architecture, both successful and unsuccessful. Because film offers possibilities of grasping architecture and representing it that can suspend its static nature, this makes it attractive for representing a living spatial experience. Claudia Larcher chooses this approach, but on the basis of photographs. What at first might sound contradictory reveals an aesthetic method. Mistrusting the standard of 24 or more images per second, because it prevents the exact aesthetic control over individual images, the artist shot around 250 individual photographs of the architecture of the Funkhaus and then in post-production a selection was collaged, edited, and animated as photo-film. The turns, camera pans, and tracking shots are thus exclusively virtual. This approach allows her to go beyond architectural reality and to establish a new view of the existing architecture that oscillates between approaches from concrete art and filmic traditions of the surrealists, crime and horror film, and Stanley Kubrick.
But to begin: what kind of architecture is this? Peichl’s radio buildings in Austria, also known as “Peichl-Torten” (Peichl Cakes), were intended as standardized buildings in the early 1970s. Based on a round shape, they have two floors, and can be expanded by adding various modules (Fig. 0). Fittingly for their function as radio centers, they can be classified to a realm of “technoid functionalism”1 that does not hide its technical aspect, but on the contrary emphasizes it.2 Materials such as concrete, steel, and glass and the shapes of pipes, railings, ceilings, and floors indicate the radio building’s technical character, quite in the spirit of Space Age design, an aspect that Claudia Larcher traces out, captures, and continues in her video.
The video begins with a floor shot as a rotating motif of rays or a sun, picking up the circular form of the building as well as its function, the emission of broadcast waves (Fig. 1). This function can also be found immediately in the soundtrack, which at the start mixes radio static with the electronic sounds that originally emerged in radio buildings: think here of Karl-Heinz Stockhausen and the first electronic studio at Cologne’s WDR. Afterward, these representational images are abstracted by close-ups, so that we lose sight of their illustrative aspect, and the sequence takes on the feel of concrete art (Fig. 2). Such sequences, which make material, shapes, and/or colors absolute, can be found again and again in the video. They take up Peichl’s focus on material, shapes, and colors as symbols of the power of the technical and explore these forces as transformational of space. For at the same time, a turn takes place in the sequence mentioned from the horizontal slowly towards the vertical (Fig. 2). Such weightless turnings of spatial elements or entire spatial situations in slow motion (Fig. 3) recall Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and, as it were, situate Peichl’s architecture in “outer space” (Fig. 4–5). In so doing, Larcher pursues film techniques like those used by the surrealists Buñuel and Dalí in Un chien andalou (1929), where unanchored leaps through time and space, which exceed actual architecture, are often used.
Here, Larcher’s aesthetic recourse to Peichl’s Funkhaus can be made more precise: using filmic and acoustic means, she moves the Funkhaus as a transmission beyond its architectural staticness, setting in motion an architecture that itself is used to set waves in motion. But not in having the building spin through the Vorarlberg landscape, but precisely the way in which work in Funkhaus is done, from the inside out, with elements of the interior space that are animated. The only hint of a “outer spacey” exterior takes place near the end of the video, when pipes and railings are treated like free-floating constructional elements and like satellite wings hover in diffuse space (Fig. 6). But immediately afterward, the film comes to an end, returning, like a circle back to its initial motif, the ground shot of rays. The excursion to satellite space alluded to is brought back to earth, where it began, and is oriented towards it (Fig. 1). And in this way, the inverse parallelism can work: just as the Funkhaus emits broadcast waves, Larcher makes the Funkhaus move from its place as a transmission of architectural waves.
Architecture is the composition of a location, for gods, spirits, or people. Initially, people seem to be absent from the video. As in Larcher’s earlier videos Heim (2008) and Empty Rooms (2011), there are no people present as actors. All the same, something human is present, in a subtle, more indirect way. The location, the Funkhaus, includes indications of human use: seating, toilets, a studio space with headphones and a microphone, all of this points to functions, towards the building’s being made and furnished for people. Yet despite the absence of visually present individuals, the strongest human presence develops in the soundtrack. Very early on, at first scarcely audible, a female radio voice mixes with the noise and electronic sounds. It becomes clearer over the course of the video, gaining clarity when the camera passes by the studio, before then again fragmented. This radio voice deals with architecture. In a self-referential turn, at issue in a video about the architecture of a Funkhaus is a radio voice speaking about architecture, albeit of a very different kind, for wood is mentioned as a material. This material opposite—Peichl’s building is entirely free of wood—focuses our attention on the artificiality and technical aspect of the Funkhaus. The visual absence of a speaker or any other individual in Funkhaus might initially seem uncanny. The soundtrack adds to this effect, offering reminiscences of soundtracks from films by Hitchcock or Argento, spreading a sonic spookiness easily evoked by abandoned technological architecture. Towards the middle of the video, the moment of the spectral is triggered when we realize what the radio voice is talking about: architecture. By this point at the latest, the absence of a visual human presence and its acoustic presence can be interpreted more clearly. Just as the Funkhaus is not visually but only acoustically present in its broadcasts, especially in radio broadcasts, no individual appears in the video, but a voice that is only audible.
This approach makes it possible to understand the video itself as a search for the voice of the Funkhaus, which achieves its greatest degree of clarity close to the studio, but visually cannot be grasped. Visually, it only can grasp the architecture, and here it is clear to see that the architecture is perhaps not only in an artificial-technical sense part of the voice of the Funkhaus, but in a media-based sense, thought in McLuhan’s terms, the voice of the Funkhaus itself. And Claudia Larcher’s video not only shows this, but for its part is a component, a form, a realization of the voice of the Funkhaus. Its character can now be defined with greater precision: transgressing space and time, immaterial (human/visual and technical/architectural for the receivers of broadcasts), and at the same time all too material (human-acoustic and technical architectural on the side of production). In so doing, Larcher’s video not only shows the site where broadcasts emerge, but also its characteristics, its doubleness in a material and immaterial aspect. To show that latter, which lies beyond the brute reality of elements of construction, it has to introduce a de-realization: spatially-temporally through turns in space, leaps between spatial levels, spatial hovering, but also acoustically with electronic sounds that do not correspond to any natural object. In this way, not only can it reveal the voice of the Funkhaus, but also show the spirit of the building itself: and this in the double sense of the word: the air of the technological-space age that dominates at Funkhaus, as well as the magically unreal spectral quality that inheres in this very attitude.