Ten years in the making, the fifth edition of Skulptur Projekte Münster 2017 was inaugurated the 10th of June in the Northern German city of Münster. The decennial exhibition dedicated to the medium of sculpture as public art will be running for 100 days through the 1st of October and displays works by 36 artists.
This edition has several characteristics out of the ordinary, one of them is that for the first time will also happen in the neighbouring city of Marl, a locality that was built in the Modernist, post-war-era style of Internationalism in direct opposition to Münster, reconstructed and continued under Historicist style after WWII. Another important distinction if this fifth edition is the expanded definition of sculpture in public space to include both video and performance art. The Skulptur Projekte Münster —from now SPM— will feature more than 36 new productions of public art.
How it started
The exhibition was initiated by Kasper König and Klaus Bussmann in reply to a public outcry that broke out in 1970 around a contemporary public artwork that had been installed in the historically reconstructed city. The first-ever edition was held in 1977 and had the goal of educating and sensitizing the public to contemporary art. It featured a male-only group that reflected the trends of the time: Carl Andre, Michael Asher, Joseph Beuys, Donald Judd, Richard Long, Bruce Nauman, Claes Oldenburg, Ulrich Rückriem, and Richard Serra.
This originating provocation has meanwhile made Münster one of the best-known venues for contemporary sculpture in the world, and throughout the years, the city has acquired 39 of the artworks that had been featured in the show and remain on permanent display.
How it works
Since its second iteration in 1987, it also coincides with every other edition of Documenta, like this year (click here to check our series of Athens Documenta articles featured in Chrom).
Another important constant in the decennial is that its artistic director since the very first edition has always been Kasper König, who works on each iteration with rotating curatorial teams. This edition, the co-curators are Britta Peters and Marianne Wagner. According to König, “A slowed-down, 10-year interval is the best way to examine changes that took place in sculptural approaches, also related to society”.
SPM since its beginning has sent out invitations to a number of artists initially without any commitment. The artists’ continual visits give form and work as a point of departure for the exhibition’s development. The project proposals are discussed, and the profile of the respective edition of the Skulptur Projekte only crystallizes as the works come to realization.
Past editions iconic works around the city
Walking around the city one can easily stumble with works such as Daniel Buren’s square striped bow from 1987, Susan Philipsz sound installation from 2007, Huang Yong Ping sculpture inspired in Duchamp’s bottle holder from 1997, Thomas Schütte Cherry Column from 1987, Hans-Peter Feldmann colorful lamp and flowers photographs installed at a public WC facilities on the Cathedral Square from 2007 or Rosemarie Trockel Yew Hedges rectangular sculpture from 2007.
Part of Münster identity are already the pieces: Square Depression by Bruce Nauman. The piece, which consists of an inverted concrete pyramid dug into the University ground, was initially rejected in the first-ever 1977 edition but it was reintroduced for the 2007 iteration and produced at the cost that Nauman gave 30 years before; or the architectonical ground-based relief of 10×7 metres dated from 1987 edition consisting of sandblasted black granite panels by American artist Matt Mullican and located at Centre of Natural Sciences. Dan Graham’s glass mirrored pavilion Octagon for Münster (1997), that require careful maintenance, has been re-erected for this year’s visitors.
SPM 2017. Disruption and Continuity
The Skulptur Projekte 2017 respond to the impacts of digitalization and globalization on society and the new economies associated with them that are changing the art world and especially our conceptions of body, time, and space/place. As said above, this year’s show differs from previous ones and includes more performance and video installation pieces, but also keeps inherent aspects of the SPM since 1997 as the ephemeral actions, complex installations, process-based and team-oriented working methods are very present against the traditional wish for visible representation.
Accessibility and education are some of the pillars of SPM, meaning that apart from the works that can be found at public open space, LWL Museum and the rest of venues, the series of workshops and lectures are open to everyone free of charge. Guided tours are available in several languages, including —besides German, English, French, and Dutch— “German plain language” for learners, and languages representative of the region’s social fabric such as Arabic, Dari/Farsi, Kurdish, and Russian, a refreshing approach to the topics of migration, displacement, and refugees in Europe.
From the 36 new commissions of this fifth edition, seventeen works in alphabetical order deserve, in our modest opinion, to be highlighted.
Harsh Citation, Harsh Pastoral, Harsh Münster by Ei Arakawa
Ei Arakawa (Fukushima, 1977; lives in New York) has staged a light and sound show where seven pixelated LED panels have been assembled by himself on the grassy space. Paintings by Jutta Koether, Amy Sillman, Nikolas Gambaroff, Gustave Courbet, Joan Mitchell, Atsuko Tanaka, and Reena Spaulings serve as source material for these panels presented as illuminated pictures accompanied by sound and arranged like an audiovisual choir in the landscape.
Location: Meadow in front of Haus Kump. Mecklenbecker Straße 252.
12, 5, 3V by Aram Bartholl
The three artworks presented by Aram Bartholl (Bremen-Germany, 1972; lives in Berlin) are based on thermoelectric devices that directly transform fire into electrical energy. In his pieces, visitors are able to charge their mobile devices in a kind of campfire; three chandeliers, each consisting of LED reading lamps powered by tea candles illuminate the underpass to the palace square; and a small barbecue provides electricity to a router where visitors can log into via Wi-Fi to download instructions for living without the Internet.
Location: 3V: Underpass at Schlossplatz, 5V: Theater im Pumpenhausand and 12V: telecommunications tower.
Benz Bonin Burr by Cosima von Bonin & Tom Burr
In front of the entrance to the local Kunstverein, where Tom Burr (New Haven, 1963; lives in New York) show is currently on view, the artist, in collaboration with Cosima von Bonin (Mombasa-Kenia, 1962; lives in Köln) have placed a huge Mercedes-Benz truck that obstructs the view of the Henry Moore bronze prominently placed there; it also carries a large wooden container that seems to be designed to house the massive sculpture.
Location: Forecourt LWL-Museum.
Laboratory Life by Andreas Bunte
Andreas Bunte (Mettmann-Germany, 1970; lives in Berlin) piece is based on films where everyday tasks are removed from their original context and placed into a laboratory-like setting under video surveillance. The films will not be screened in interior spaces but activated by scanning the QR codes that have been printed on the films’ posters that hung up around Münster. The posters resemble advertising for blockbuster movies or concerts.
Several locations around Münster.
In Our Time by Gerard Byrne
Gerard Byrne (Dublin, 1969; lives in Dublin) has selected an underground room at the municipal library for his austere installation. A large back-projected film shows a radio control booth from another era accompanied by a soundtrack playing popular music or news. This sound is interspersed with the voice of the presenter we see, synchronised with the images. He periodically addresses the absent audience via microphone and we also hear activities of a hidden space. The piece contains sculpture and theatre, presence and absence and talks about this and other times.
Location: Public Library. Alter Steinweg 11.
Matrix by CAMP
The interdisciplinary studio CAMP based in Mumbai (India) has stretched a system of cables in the yard of the Theater of Münster, between the ruins and the glass facade of the 1950s building. CAMP’s system of cables symbolizes a global network and the still unfulfilled promise of horizontal participation in democracy. By operating switches hanging from electrical wires, visitors can trigger various environmental changes.
Location: Theater Münster. Neubrückenstraße 63.
Speak to the Earth and It Will Tell You by Jeremy Deller
Jeremy Deller (London, 1966; lives in London) takes as its subject the Schrebergärten, communities where German families are allotted 20×20 meter garden plots for leisure time. He provided these families with a diary to fill however they like, with the understanding that the contents would eventually be made public. The artist initiated the project for the SPM 2007, ten years in the making, the now resulting 33 books can be viewed in the Mühlenfeld garden colony. It’s a moving record of German life told through personal entries and pictures.
Location: Mühlenfeld allotment garden colony, Lublinring.
On Water by Ayşe Erkmen
Ayse Erkmen’s (Istanbul, 1949; lives in Berlin and Istanbul) has straddled two shores of Münster’s inner harbour with a metal platform that is located just under the water. Ordinary people can accomplish the divine: you can pop off your shoes and cross. It creates the impression you are walking on water. The harbour which is rarely used by ships now becomes accessible on foot linking two separate urban spaces.
Location: Stadthafen 1.
After ALife Ahead by Pierre Huyghe
Exactly five years after his unforgettable landscape for documenta 13, pink-legged dog and all, Pierre Huyghe (Paris, 1962; lives in New York) created another expansive installation that is a complex living organism located in a disused ice rink. Huyghe cut up the concrete floor creating a muddy landscape that follows the design of a 3D puzzle. Everything about the space is alive: a pillar of dirt is actually a beehive; two stunning peacocks cling to the glass windows at opposite ends of the rink. An aquarium made of black glass turns translucent when catching light coming from an artefact in the ceiling that opens and closes according to space temperature and humidity levels. In fact, everything about this hall is controlled to create specific climate conditions reflecting the rate at which human cancer cells, placed inside an incubator, divide and multiply.
Location: Former ice rink, Steinfurterstraße 113 – 115.
OFF OFD by Christian Odzuck
Christian Odzuck (Halle-Germany, 1978, Lives in Düsseldorf) contribution is a full-scale replica of a steep staircase in the local revenue office that was torn down on the same site less than a year ago. He recycled the demolished building’s materials and added modular prefab concrete bricks made of leftover cement from previous building projects. In addition to this, the artist translocated and reactivated the 23-metre-long street light. The stairway now serves as an open-air viewing platform.
Location: Andreas-Hofer-Straße 50.
Sculpture by Peles Empire
The Berlin-based group Peles Empire —Katharina Stöver (Gießen-Germany, 1982) & Barbara Wolff (Fogarasch-Rumania, 1980)— whose practice involves translating the furnishings of the Romanian Peles Castle into installations, react to this with a gable nearly 8 meter high inspired by Münster’s postwar reconstruction of building façades. The gable’s tiled façade shows an image of the castle’s crumbling terrace as well as the supports that keep it from collapsing.
Location: Car park of Oberverwaltungsgericht.
Cosmic Generator by Mika Rottenberg
Tucked in a back room of a former Asian market, Mika Rottenberg (Buenos Aires, 1976; lives in New York) video piece ventures down a series of trippy tunnels that seem to connect businesses on opposite sides of the U.S.-Mexico border as well as the stalls at the sprawling markets in Yiwu, China. The work reveals a hidden network of women workers, surreptitiously communicating and shows Rottenberg’s concerns about the commodification of the human body.
Location: Gartenstraße 29.
Not Quite Under_Ground by Michael Smith
Michael Smith (Chicago, 1951; lives in New York) piece is an installation and a fully operational tattoo shop offering deep discounts to seniors aged 65 and older in accordance with the age of most of Münster visitors. The title of the works refers to the fact that tattoos are not quite underground, on the contrary, they have become increasingly socially acceptable since the 1990s. The tattoos on offer have been designed by past and present participants of Skulptur Projekte Münster, as well as Smith’s personal friends and local tattooists.
Location: Tattoo studio at Hansaring 38.
HellYeahWeFuckDie by Hito Steyerl
The world’s current anxieties are the usual narratives used by Hito Steyerl (Munich, 1966; lives in Berlin). In the video installation for SPM 2017, on several monitors robots created to save people in disaster zones are presented. On another monitor, children in a disaster zone in the Middle East ask Siri if robots save people in disaster zones, and when will be they coming to save them. A woman tells a story about a 12th-century scholar who invented a robot that could make music. Letters inside light boxes —that also serve as benches— spell out, HELL YEAH WE FUCK DIE —the most used five words in the English music language of the past decade according to magazine Billboard. The piece is even more effective as it is located in the sterile corporate lobby of the bank LBS West building.
Location: LBS West lobby.
Burn the Formwork by Oscar Tuazon
Oscar Tuazon (Seattle, 1975; lives in Los Angeles) located a sturdy concrete oven in an undefined abandoned-looking industrial lot which is used by various groups of people. The object serves as a public fireplace that everyone can use. For the 100 days of duration of the show, the artist has provided big stacks of logs and kindling. The piece is thought to be seen as a meeting point around the fire but also as cooking and heating instrument for homeless people.
Location: Between Hafengrenzweg and Albersloher Weg.
Bye Bye Deutschland! A Life Melody by Wagner & de Burca
Installed inside a discotheque called “Elephant Lounge”, the video work by the artist duo based in Recife (Brazil) Barbara Wagner (Brasilia, 1980) and Benjamin de Burca (Munich, 1975) explores the German softcore pop musical style known as Schlager. The artists filmed video clips for Schlager hits in the city of Münster in spots where there are remained sculptures from previous iterations of the SPM. The clips are performed by a local couple of professional singers who cover songs of two German superstars. All in all, including the passageway leading to the tacky club and the signs as the one in which you read “non-self consumption” (sic.), constitute the sculptural elements of the space.
Location: Elephant Lounge. Roggenmarkt 15.
Celestial Masks by Hervé Youmbi
Hervé Youmbi (Bangui-Central African Republic, 1973; lives in Douala) installation consist of masks commissioned from workshops in Cameroon. Four massive masks are suspended among the trees whilst another four smaller are mounted directly on them. The work incorporates iconography from popular Western capitalist culture —horror film Scream mask inspired by Edvard Munch’s 1893 namesake painting— juxtaposed with animistic tokens from traditional African cultures. His intervention at a Christian burial site, where the dead are commemorated, raises questions about religion, spirituality, and superstition.
Location: Überwasser cemetery.