Concurrent with her latest exhibitions in Berlin and Antwerp, Belgium, the Berlin based artist Andrea Pichl spent the last few months in residency at ISCP, in Brooklyn, NYC. S2S spoke to Andrea Pichl about her recent work and her time in delirious New York.
S2S: The title of your exhibition in Berlin is ‘delirious Dinge’ – a reference to Rem Koolhaas’ Delirious New York?
Andrea Pichl: It’s just a question of semantics. Granted the title was inspired by Rem Koolhaas. But in the case of my exhibition it means something completely different and has no relation to Koolhaas’ excellent book. To be ’delirious’ – “auser sich sein“ in German isn’t really a good equivalent.
Also, with “delirious Dinge,“ I focus not so much on aesthetic excitement like Koolhaas but rather on the banal, such as abstract building components, odd flower boxes, and strangely positioned posts that can be found in many places. In other words, I am interested in forgotten city-furniture in the public realm that has lost its function a long time ago. In my work, the vocabulary of public space takes center stage: What happens to an object if it is being removed from its already absurd setting and arranged in the not lesser outlandish context of a gallery? I am interested in the ’Beziehungshaftigkeit’ – the binding relation of objects to one another, its reciprocal referent and connection.
S2S: Your artist residency at ISCP here in New York is coming to an end. Can you talk a little bit about where you see some commonalities between Berlin and New York, two cities that are ‘delirious’ in very different ways?
At this point in time, I really can’t answer the question. It is a little too early because it is still fresh on my mind. I am still processing the numerous experiences and encounters I have had in New York. It has been a very intense time.
I don’t consider Berlin “delirious” from an architectural point of view, like Koolhaas described New York. In that sense, a connection between the two can’t be established. From my first impression, I would have to say that Berlin and New York are very different from each other.
S2S: The many guises of socialist architecture are a primary focus in your research. You grew up in East Germany and have experienced the idealism and failures connected to utopian housing developments first hand. Can you talk a little bit about that experience and how it has inspired you to investigate it through your work?
This is a question I am often asked. Yes, I did grew up in the GDR, in East Berlin (and actually in Moscow as well). In each location, we lived in a Plattenbau [prefabricated building]. Maybe that experience did influence me, but who can really pinpoint how somebody’s background leads to certain actions. I believe it is too reductionist to come to any conclusion, things are much more complex. It’s true that my work is concerned with prefabricated building systems and social housing, however, not limited to a particular location but worldwide.
The term “socialist architecture,“ in this case is too much of a cliché since pre-fabricated housing originated with Corbusier’s Wohnmaschine (see Corbusier House Berlin), the Charta of Athens (Light, Air, Sun) and the Bauhaus, especially the ideas of Hannes Meyer. These models for Satellite Cities and economical/modular housing exist world-wide.
I am particularly interested in what directions these ideas have been developed internationally, what consequences they have, apart of political ideologies. I am concerned with contemporary living conditions and how a society today is able to create affordable housing.
In my new work “Club Zukunft” [Club Future] for the M HKA, Museum for Contemporary Art, in Antwerp, Belgium, I utilized the blue prints of prefab housing from Coop-City (Bronx), Ballymun (Dublin) and Berlin. All blue prints were of 2-room apartments and surprisingly they are very similar in their dimensions, even in the height of the ceilings. The smallest 2-room apartment is the prefab in Dublin.
Ultimately, I am interested in the sculptural quality. The work itself does not reveal the source material. That’s very important to me. The sculpture must inherently be consistent and correspond with the space.
Andrea Pichl: Co-op City totally reminded me of my childhood in the GDR and Moscow. I didn’t expect that in New York – these uniform looking buildings with gigantic empty, manicured green spaces with strange arrangements of public furnishings, very lonely, with not a soul in sight. And at the same time, the certainty that you are watched by hundred eyes from the surrounding apartments. That’s how I grew up!
When we went together to Co-op City, it was incredibly cold on that day. No human being would have voluntarily decided to spend time outside and because of the brutal temperatures we were forced to get inside quickly to grab a hot drink. While desperately looking for a cafe, we ended up in one of those typical central knots which also reminded me of the GDR. Even from an architectural point of view, it was very similar – a shopping center where you can find a diner, the post office, hair dresser, super market, cleaner, etc.
S2S: Rem Koolhaas dedicated an entire chapter to Coney Island. Did you have an opportunity to visit?
Andrea Pichl: Yes, I went there pretty much right at the beginning of my residency in New York when it was still pretty warm outside. I only viewed it from a distance, closer to the ocean. Rem Koolhaas has a very exciting account on the development of Coney Island but I only read that in the aftermath. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to go back.
S2S: The residencies at ISCP are typically for three to six months. Now that your residency is almost over, in retrospect, what were some of the highlights? What tips would you want to give the next artist visiting from Berlin?
Andrea Pichl: Some artists or curators stay for an entire year. It depends on the country that is sponsoring the residency and the particular program. I can’t really give any tips since everybody has their own interests which they can definitely explore in New York. I myself have only now gained an inkling how and where I will continue my work the next time I will be in New York, and that is what I absolutely strive for.