Alois Kronschlaeger swung a frame from its resting position flush against the wall to a perpendicular orientation. It was one of many hung “salon style,” as he said, against the high wall of his studio. Each was stretched with mesh, and woven through the pores were rigid, geometric designs of colored wool, pulled taut. The frame that the artist manipulated was attached to the wall with hinges, allowing it to be moved. As he did, light from the window-lined wall adjacent to the frames streamed in, meeting the meshwork patterns, filtering through and casting various states of shadow onto the white ground behind them. Depending on the degree of separation between the frame and wall, some shadows were sharp and crisp, others more indistinct, blurry and a lighter shade of grey. It was like looking at a field of sun dials, each in conversation with a different sun.
I was, and still am, a recently graduated Master’s student with a degree in art history, and it was my first time meeting Alois in person. A few days earlier the artist had circulated an email to my program’s list-serve looking for a freelance writer to help maintain his blog. Having written for several online publications and wanting to keep my mind active while searching for more permanent employment, I began the requisite preliminary Google-sleuthing in order to determine if we would make a good pair. My search led me to a short clip posted online by Blouin Artinfo where Alois set one of his multi-colored cubes in motion. These forms, of which Alois has produced several, are composed either of colored metal or faceted wooden rods, with every side of every rod hand-colored with Chinese calligraphy ink. As the cube spins, the colors not only change, but flicker between a rigid coherence and a fizzling indistinctness – order and formlessness. Most striking, and perhaps most disturbing for reasons I will explain soon, are the brief glimpses that the viewer receives of a perfectly articulated rectangle – a frame (fig. 2). This is the module for the cube itself, and should be taken as the building block for the entire sculpture – it is the part that (we assume) echoes in the whole. I was, however, frustrated and unnerved by my inability read it in this way. The unit – the rectangular frame – when seen clearly through the depths of the lattice appears strangely two-dimensional, while the lines of virtually every other horizontally-oriented rod recede into space according to the laws of perspective. The module is a paradoxically two-dimensional element in a three-dimensional structure, the juxtaposition of which creates an effect similar to the “dolly zoom,” a popular tool for suspense in horror movies where the camera zooms in (flattening), while the dolly runs backwards. Here in the colored lattice, two different readings of space collide giving the impression that we are watching the collapse and expansion of space itself. Even more unsettling, however, is the fact that as soon as the rectangular module discloses itself, and just as we recognize it, we lose it again as the cube continues to spin. We are hopelessly out of synch, out of step, a reminder of the belatedness of perception.
Alois’s play with the parameters of spatial representation and time within a structure that recalled an architectural model resonated with my own research interests in school. One area that fascinated me was the humble architecture of the pavilion. From English landscape gardens through World’s Fairs and Biennials, these little structures have a persistent association with spatial-temporal compression and often provide sites for imagination and virtual travel. Time has a habit of speeding up in these structures, echoed in the protracted life-span of the architecture itself. Or alternatively, time can weigh heavily, as evidenced by a book Alois would later show me documenting derelict Russian bus stops in isolated locations. Convinced of an overlap in our areas of research I sent Alois an email with my resume and a handful of writing samples, and was pleased when he asked to meet the following week.
Now seated in his workspace at a long table running the length of the room, Alois and I commenced a meeting that would last approximately four hours. The coffee flowed abundantly, and a delicious lunch was prepared by Alois’s wife Florencia. We discussed the editorial position, my background, and he introduced me to his new work – the before-mentioned wall-mounted frames. Throughout our conversation he moved in front of the wall, pushing frames in, pulling others back, removing some and replacing them with others that were in progress, all the while the composition of shadows on the wall shifted. He was preparing these pieces for an upcoming show at Cristin Tierney Gallery, and we would eventually decide that it would be the project of this blog to chart their development as the exhibition approached. We would meet once every Monday for a studio visit to discuss the trajectory of Alois’s work. Over time I will observe that though the materials of wool, mesh, and frame would remain consistent, Alois’s constant experimentation with size, format, and weaving techniques created a conceptually diverse, though visually unified, body of work. As an art historian, it is my job to respond to the work-in-process and develop terms that will allow us to think through it, while productively situating it within art historical conversations. As a result, the trajectory of this blog, following as it does the movement of an artist’s creative process, will be open ended and fluid, subject to my responses to the changing conditions of the work. I will also allow the possibility of segues for reflection on topics not necessarily related to Alois’s practice, but perhaps engendered by my observation of the work and conversations with the artist nonetheless. My first project will be to further describe the framed work that I encountered on the wall in his studio and offer a critical language suited for them.
I departed Alois’s studio after the first meeting with a collection of images taken on my phone and an idea for a potential critical pathway for approaching the salon-style frames. To start, I had noticed a strange alchemy that occurred as the frames shifted their orientation, as they broke from the wall and turned to embrace the sunlight. The colored wool, opaque when viewed against the wall, assumed a luminous quality that made it appear as though the light generated from within the material itself – dense in the middle of the thread, growing brighter and more atmospheric as it radiated outward to the wool’s fuzzy fringe. Certainly this shift from a position parallel to the wall to one that was perpendicular engenders a shift in descriptive terms, as if latent within the work itself is a diverse mixture of different media. That is, when flat against the wall, the frames lend themselves to a particular reading. When removed from the wall and seen against a backdrop of a light, however, they appear as something else entirely. In order to examine how and when this shift occurs I will present something of a step-by-step reading of the frames according to their various positions.
We will start with a formal analysis of the frames set parallel to the wall. Standing at a distance in front of any one of these frames, we notice that the wool, strung throughout the mesh, is devoid of nearly all of its recognizable characteristics that would make it read as wool. Its distinctive softness, the gentle curves and coils that it makes as it unspools is belied by the rigidity with which it is held in the mesh. I was compelled to ask Alois, on account of this counter-intuitive presentation of the material, if the longer straight lines were secured with glue so to keep them in place and taut. He responded that no adhesive was used – the wool was held in tension. All sharp corners and acute angles, Alois’s woolen compositions are a nod to geometric abstraction, or the work of painters like Frank Stella. The threads appear as two-dimensional drawings on a conventional picture plane. It isn’t until we look closer, or perhaps at an angle, that we see the thickness of the wool laced on either side of the mesh ground, and a dim shadow behind. Here is the first shift in terms. What at first read as a drawing or a painting on a traditional support (paper or canvas, evoked by the white wall visible behind the colored threads) has now become something different, something like a window screen, an architectural appendage. Indeed, when we notice the hinges, we are compelled to physically treat the frames as windows by swinging them away from the wall, and in doing so, to “open” them. Just as an open window in a home lets in air, street-sounds, and a more direct exposure to light, so too do Alois’s frames open onto general atmospheric conditions when pulled away from the two-dimensional surface of the wall. They become immersed in the surrounding environment as they catch light from the studio windows, their colors becoming more vibrant as they register the passage of time in the form of shadows cast on the white wall. When the frame/windows open outward, they dip themselves into the flow characteristic of our lived experience of every-day duration. They become the sun-dials I evoked in Part One.
The “open” position of the frames, however, also engenders another shift in terms, allowing the possibility of a third reading. No longer two-dimensional drawing, no longer an open window, the frames articulate the bare conditions of projection-based art forms like cinema, or magic lanterns. The light streaming through the studio windows, or from the work lamp that Alois occasionally flicks on to amplify the effect, is filtered through the wool and mesh – as if they were a filmic negative – projecting a corresponding positive on the wall behind. In a curious reversal, however, this positive image looks a lot like a negative one, composed as it is of shadow on a white wall. We thus encounter two different screens. The first is the mesh which both absorbs the light within the woolen threads while simultaneously functioning as a permeable membrane for the passage of light. This membrane in turn casts projections on the wall and transforms its white surface into a second screen. The wall is on occasion a mount for a picture plane or a window, while other times it is the recipient of a projection. The framed screens, however, are at times drawings while at others filmic negatives or screens in their own right. When considering not just one frame, but the entire wall of frames all hung at various angles from the wall, we see all possibilities – drawing, architecture, and cinema – manifest simultaneously in different degrees.
My reading of Alois’s work is primarily informed by Giuliana Bruno’s recent book Surface (University of Chicago Press, 2014), which does much to lay a foundation for thinking about materiality in the digital age when the mediators of experience and communication often appear precisely “immaterial.” If the book asks the questions – How can we speak of materiality today? And where can we find it? Bruno responds by asking us to look at the surfaces of contemporary art and architecture, insofar as they may be understood sites of encounter and exchange between media that are traditionally thought of as separate.
Given that we live in a world of surfaces, it seemed to me that we needed to rethink how important this connective membrane, this very elusive material of surface is. This is a material that creates contact and that can also connect mediums and art forms together. Surface is the precise site that the body, fashion, architecture, painting, and cinema all share. So, by way of surface encounters, I want to link together all these fields and disciplines that have been traditionally considered separate. Surfaces for me are ways of imagining the visual and the spatial arts not as distinct but as together [my emphasis].[i]
Bruno’s understanding of surface as primarily connective reveals that her topic engages with a profound transformation in what Bernhard Seigert would describe as the “cultural technique” of the “door.” The door has long been associated with the sectioning of space, and they have frequently operated on both on a material and a symbolic level by functioning as a third term that sets interior and exterior, man and animal, law and the absence of law, sacred and profane into dialogue and therefore meaning.[ii] Seigert’s brief allusion to the implications of the “gate” is informative as its introduction not only engendered a shift in human-animal relations (from hunter-hunted, to shepherd-domesticated animal), but also maintained a distinction in the form of binary sets of terms that the author understands as foundational in the development of culture.[iii] Doors, gates, and thresholds are important, therefore, for helping articulate important distinctions between interior/exterior, law/anarchy, man/animal that lie at a culture’s beginnings. Such generative, basic distinctions made operative by the door were problematized in the late 19th century with the introduction of the glass revolving door – a door that was always closed, but I would maintain also became something like a window – and later by the feedback loops of cybernetics.[iv] The solid distinction between interior and exterior that the door-as-partition engendered was lost, its place as a mediator between cultural binaries problematized by a conflation between the door and wall into something like an architectural membrane.
As long as doors fulfill their informative function, they sustain a dis-equilibrium of energy or knowledge that defers overall entropy. In this way doors are crucial actors in the distribution and circulation of knowledge. In modern concrete buildings, however, doors have surrendered that function to walls. Walls have turned into membranes [my emphasis], so that one can only wonder, with [Robert] Musil, “Why has no radio-poet yet taken advantage of the possibilities of the modern concrete structure? It is undoubtedly the predestined stage for the radio play!” If walls, as Musil surmised, have become membranes in modern living-machines, then doors lose the function [Georg] Simmel ascribed to them: to signify the closedness of the wall on the basis of their virtual opening.[v]
What are the implications of this newfound architectural and informational fluidity for the symbolic realm? That is, what does it mean for those above-mentioned cultural binaries? Seigert reads the change in the door in terms of a postmodern paranoia, where such oppositions between interior and exterior, real and imaginary can no longer be discerned with anything resembling certainty.[vi] I direct interested readers to Thomas Pynchon’s simultaneously tedious and terribly prescient 1973 book Gravity’s Rainbow for a literary accompaniment to Seigert’s description, as well as to Ewa Lajer-Burcharth’s essay on the early modern conflation of interiority (subjectivity) with interior space, and its passing under the watch of the contemporary surveillance state. “Are we witnessing the end of interiority as we know it or simply a change in how it is conceived – for instance, a shift from the notion of spatial depth to the idea of surface or interface?”[vii]
From the chapters so-far consulted in Surface, Bruno stays away from these grimmer proclamations in order to explore the potential of a new conception of surface and of materiality, one that serves as a locus for different relations. Important in her analysis is the emergent “screen membrane,” which adds new terms to the architectural membrane that Seigert describes as a coming together of door and wall. For Bruno, the screen membrane consolidates aspects of architecture, the canvas surface, and the film screen in the creation of a connective and fluid environment. One might say with confidence that the screen membrane is conceived as the antithesis to the door’s sectioning actions, as a way of coming to understand our connected contemporary environment.
In my view a screen-membrane is emerging, performing as a connective tissue, and turning architecture and art into pliant planes of moving images. Made of translucent fabric, this screen is conceptually closer to a canvas, a sheet, a shade, or a drape. Partition, shelter, and veil, it can be a permeable architectural envelope, and it is a habitable space. On this material level, the current intersection of canvas, wall, and screen treated here is a site in which distinctions between inside and outside temporally dissolve into the depth of surface [my emphasis]. The screen itself is a state of becoming, and the material realm appears to fold back into screen surface – that reflective, fibrous canvas texturally dressed by luminous projections.[viii]
This “intersection” between canvas, architecture, and screen is described as “surface tension,” and we may see exactly how it manifests in Bruno’s analysis of Robert Irwin’s Excursus: Homage to the Square3 (fig. 2).[ix] Composed of scrim (a thin fabric often used in theater, it is opaque when lit from one side, translucent when lit from the other) stretched over frames and arranged in such a way as to create separate rooms, the installation creates an environment where light is captured and materialized in fabric, where the cultural technique of the “door” or “wall” is reimagined as a porous membrane. The scrims are canvas, wall partitions, but also translucent screens that incorporate the moving images of other viewers as they navigate Irwin’s transformed space. The surface here is dense, layered, and connective. Equally so is Luisa Lambri’s photographic series documenting a window in the Mexican architect Luis Barragán’s home (fig. 3). Four thick white shutters hang at various angles in relation to the window, serving as filters for the natural light outside that at times either emphasizes the volume of the shutters, or dematerialize them completely. The shutter in the bottom left corner of the photograph reproduced is completely obliterated in the light. Bruno will write on the mutation of these shutters into screens that emphasize texture and time.[x]
To return to the image of Alois moving in front of his wall, opening and closing his frames, light filtering through the membrane of mesh and taut fiber to dress the neutral white background in one more layer of shadow, we may now begin to conceptualize his recent work as yet another example of the surface tension that Bruno understands as a sign of the times. They are mutable appendages in transformation, from window, to canvas, to screen. And they are precisely all of these functions simultaneously, window and canvas and filmic membrane, all possibilities latent within the work itself and manifest in various states in the salon-style installation scheme. In spite of the planar quality of Alois’s frames, the surface tension that they belie render them dense and layered – precisely Bruno’s point.
[iv] Ibid. (pg. 201-202). “In the past, Musil writes, entry doors had representational duties. The nomological door enacted a symbolic order to which one was subjected by crossing the threshold; the revolving door, on the other hand, is a biopolitical device for managing humans in motion. It imposes uniform speed on flows of people while separating those who enter from those on the outside. “In the old way,” Van Kannel boasted of his invention, “every person passing through first brings a chilling gust of wind with its snow, rain, or dust, including the noise of the street; then comes the unwelcome bang.” The revolving door represents a reinterpretation of architecture as a thermodynamic and hygienic machine with an attendant change from nomological to control functions. Basically it constitutes a paradox: One walks through a door that is permanently closed. “Always Closed” was in fact Van Kannel’s first advertising slogan. Finally, there is one very obvious feature that links the revolving door to the disappearance of the door from human life: the absence of the door handle. Neither revolving nor sliding doors have handles or knobs. Maybe it is possible to define the epoch of bourgeois architecture as the epoch of the door handle? By virtue of the latch the door is a tool that demands to be operated by the hand of a user.”
See also, (pg. 203). “Compared to their replacements, traditional doors truly are things of the past. Modern doors have irretrievably forfeited their nomological for a cybernetic function. The basic distinction of inside and outside has been replaced by the distinction between current/no current, on/off. The cybernetic logic of opening and closure estranges the old nomological logic: The electronic door, the switching element, is a door “where,” to put it in Lacan’s words, “something passes when it is closed, and doesn’t when it is open.” Lacan added that what is important with regard to cybernetic doors “is the relation as such, of access and closure. Once the door is open, it closes. When it is closed, it opens.” The technical name of the logical switching circuits that were made of these doors is gates (Gatter in German), a name that recalls the ancient cultural-technical meaning of doors. But these gates do not open into an outside or the animal domain. They open themselves by being closed only to other gates and/ or to themselves. Reality appears to have become more and more psychotic.”
My reference to Giuliana Bruno’s Surface in Part Two of this essay not only allows us to think through Alois’s salon-style frames – the text also provides us with a useful framework for drawing out aspects latent in the artist’s earlier work. By way of a conclusion, I would like to further explore this possibility in order to demonstrate the persistence with which Alois treats the surface as something mutable and in transformation.
I asserted at the end of Part Two that the artist’s wall-mounted frames may be understood as canvases, windows, and screens simultaneously, therefore enacting the surface tension that Bruno understands as reflective of our contemporary surroundings. I would here like to point out that the concept of surface tension – the dialogue between media that we witness through an examination of surfaces – adds a productive patina to the more conventional definition of tension demonstrated by Alois’s use of wool. It is tension – a pull in opposite directions – that keeps the wool in locking geometric shapes within the frames. I propose here that the tension manifest at the physical, material level (wool) might be understood as a reflection of the conceptual tension demonstrated by the interplay of screen, canvas, and architecture. If we visualize the surface as a material stretched to its breaking point by the forces of its various functions (screen, canvas, architecture), then the wool pulled taut by forces in opposite directions is an echo of this overarching tension.
We may apply such a reading to Alois’s earlier Repercussion series, which is composed of latex lines applied to paper that has been manipulated by the artist’s intervention (pinching, folding, etc.) (fig. 2). Though the work relates to cartography insofar as the paper resembles an aerial view of a three-dimensional landscape, the straight lines serving as references for changes in depth, a second reading is possible if we consider the contractive quality of latex. Within the context of the work, the gradual shrinkage of latex appears to be responsible for the physical distortion of the two-dimensional surface of the paper into a three-dimensional sculptural form, the paper crunching, bunching, and shrinking together as a result. The tension imparted by the latex lines (itself skirting a line between two- and three-dimensions) transforms the paper into a surface in flux – surface tension.
If we return to Alois’s spinning lattice from Part One, its gridded architecture manifesting and dissolving repeatedly, an application of Bruno’s text would allow us a shift in emphasis. Certainly the work itself recalls the optical experiments of Latin American pioneers like Jesús Rafael Soto and Carlos Cruz-Diez, both of whom the artist cites as important references. But through an application of the concept of surface tension, we can speak more of the materiality of the work by remarking on the structure’s fluctuation between solid architecture and its dissolution into color and light, forming something like a screen that captures light and renders it palpable and material. No longer seen as just a cube set in motion, the sculpture is simultaneously an architectural model and a screen upon which light and color play. Such a reading opens up the work to an expanded set of references. We can, for example, push the idea of the cinematic further by examining the rectangular module that caught my attention for its two-dimensionality. As the cube spins, this shape flickers in a linear movement across the cube as our eyes helplessly follow to catch up, perhaps like a film strip as it moves through a projector, allowing us to speak of the cube not only as animated in its mobility, but as an animation. My use of the word flicker here is not coincidental, as the sensation of viewing the cube in motion strongly evokes the “flicker” films of Paul Sharits. Rosalind Krauss has written that such films disclose how motion in cinema is manifest by exaggerating the tension between the component of the static film “still” [perhaps “module” is appropriate here too] and the illusion of uninterrupted movement created when the stills are set into a rapid sequence.[i] Krauss writes:
Consciousness is thus involved in a situation of paradox – a battle between experience and reason. Deep within the very grain of film is the same tension: between the sinuous flow of movement through time and the single frame whose potential for analysis is realized only by interrupting that flow. If one tries, in the flicker, to catch the ‘reality’ of each frame, one is left with the diagram of movement, the analysis of film’s components, the absence of kinesthesis. One is left, that is, with an abstraction and not with film. In Sharits’s work there is a dual experience of what it means to be film (in motion) and to analyze it (in stasis). The emotional impact of the flicker films, and their success as art, arises out of this evocation of the dual terms of consciousness.[ii]
The rectangular unit in Alois’s sculpture, insofar as it punctures in staccato the fluid movement of the spinning cube, functions precisely in this manner. If the flickering effect in a Sharits film points back to the module’s movement through the projector, so too is the flicker in Alois’s cube a disclosure of the basic module – also a rectangular frame – here utilized towards the end of engendering a spatial and temporal ambiguity. The motor that spins the cube is like a film projector, its activation causing a second movement in flickering rectilinear frames.
The concept of surface tension allows us to understand the cube as simultaneously architecture, a screen for light, and allusion to the flickering filmic membrane, presenting us with the foundation for a strong continuity with Alois’s recent salon-style frames. They are united in their exploration of the mutability and heterogeneity of surface.
[i] Krauss, Rosalind. “Paul Sharits.” In Paul Sharits: Dream Displacement and Other Projects. Buffalo: Albright-Knox Gallery, 1976. The version of the essay I consulted was reproduced in Film Culture, 1978. See (pg. 96). “A flicker effect, well below the threshold of perception, is intrinsically a part of the phenomenology of filmviewing. What the flicker film does is magnify this effect, raising it above the perceptual threshold, but maintaining nonetheless its rapid-fire impact. In this way, the optical information on the screen becomes the visual correlative of the mechanical gearing of lens and shutter.”
Alois Kronschlaeger, Hybrid Structures (2016). Ramp linking rectory to former church. Photography by Nathan Umstead.
North-south axis view of former church building. Photography by Nathan Umstead
Hybrid Structures is a new, immersive installation conceived by Alois Kronschlaeger in collaboration with SiTE:LAB curator Paul Amenta and architect Ted Lott. The site of the project is the Roman Catholic church, founded in 1887 and now deconsecrated, and adjoining rectory at Rumsey Street, a three-acre stretch of land interspersed with vacant buildings in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood of Grand Rapids.
View of the Rumsey Street church campus. Photography by Nathan Umstead.
Hybrid Structures appropriates these historic church and rectory buildings, taking as a point of departure a dated photograph of the site in which a walkway had been built to bridge the structures. In the context of a space wholly abandoned in the present, the photo conjured inhabitancy, activity, and function, and inspired Kronschlaeger’s progressive design. Beginning with a months-long deconstruction and stripping down of the buildings and proceeding with the installation of a leveled ramp that pierced and dissected the structures, Kronschlaeger and Amenta undertook a massive architectural intervention that exposed previously cloistered spaces in the church campus and created entirely new vantage points. Ultimately, Hybrid Structures succeeded in taking down walls in both a literal and figurative sense, addressing critical and often neglected questions of physical access.
Center axis of former church during final stages of deconstruction. Photography by Nathan Umstead.
Bringing a structure to bare bones Kronschlaeger and his collaborators set out to dismantle the buildings of the Rumsey Street church complex with the goal of stripping them down to their skeletons and maximizing open space. With the technical guidance of architect Ted Lott, they selectively deconstructed several sections, beginning with the removal of a metal siding that enveloped the main building. The siding was emblematic of the building’s state prior to Kronschlaeger’s interference—it symbolized the physical and conceptual shrouding of anonymity that swathed the campus’s present and past. Unsure of the building’s exact structural constitution and unaware as to what they would find underneath the siding, the group stripped the building and bared its brick veneer foundation for the first time.
Removal of the siding. Photography by Alois Kronschlaeger.
Kronschlaeger and Amenta removing the floorboards of the former church building. Photography by Nathan Umstead.
In the decomposing flooring and crackling walls revealed by the siding’s removal, Kronschlaeger saw barriers, and in the months that followed the artist and his collaborators worked gruelingly to tear them down. Floorboards were lifted, exposing the joists and creating visual vantage points into the basement. The team made incisions in the structure in order to take down walls and enlarge the pre-existing loft-style windows to allow for an unobstructed, panoramic view of the interior. One aim of the deconstruction project was to fill the abandoned and unkempt buildings with light, and the elimination of multiple architectural barriers achieved this end. To capitalize on the newly flowing light, Kronschlaeger, Amenta, and Lott installed translucent polycarbonate sheets. Their strategic placement in several sections of the building was meant to permit a lantern-like stream of light while retaining enough opacity to act as screens, reflecting the linear patterns of the building’s skeleton—and effectively transforming Hybrid Structures into a projection box. Reducing the foundation to bare bones, dismantling walls and floors, and clearing the derelict rooms of accumulated debris opened up 20,000 feet of space, allowed light to brighten shadowed and hidden parts of the structure, and highlighted the historic framework of the church campus.
West side (post-clearing) and east side (pre-clearing) of the building, separated by the load-bearing wall, (north-south axis.) Photography by Alois Kronschlaeger.
Basement of the former church after deconstruction. Photography by Nathan Umstead.
Volunteers from SITE:LAB helping to clear the debris. Photography by Alois Kronschlaeger.
A ramp pierces through Following this dismantlement, Kronschlaeger and Amenta cut away the load-bearing beams to expose the areas where the conceived ramp would cut through. The artist’s realization that the ramp would have to slice through rather than surround the building exemplifies his commitment to the concept of a disruptive architectural intervention rather than a superficial or supplemental installation. At the same time, the ramp could not overpower the extant foundation, and had to be in harmony with the newly edited, now bare structures. The railing would have to be strong but subtle and unobtrusive, providing sufficient support and security while remaining transparent enough that wheelchair users, for whom the railing was at eye-level, would be able to see through it.
View from the widow’s peak of the rectory showing cleared space for the ramp installation. Photography by Alois Kronschlaeger.
Reconciling these apparent contradictions, Kronschlaeger, Amenta, and Lott installed roughly 300 linear feet of leveled, ADA-compliant ramps, outsourced from a framing contractor, through and across the structures. The ramp connected the buildings as never before and establishing new modes of access to the structures. At the ramp’s highest point, visitors to the project stood 24 feet above the ground. Certainly, this elevated perspective made possible an unlimited and expansive view of the Rumsey Street site. Most significantly, however, it provided a radical experience of the buildings themselves, exposing visitors to rarely seen structural elements like the skeletal support of a roof.
Process of ramp construction and installation. Photography by Alois Kronschlaeger.
A particularly interesting feature of Kronschlaeger’s design was that the ramps became the only mode of access to the buildings, not simply an alternative to, for example, a staircase. In terms of accessibility, this is the highest form of inclusion. It is this aspect of Hybrid Structures that most profoundly investigates the question of access, a term that is almost impossible to dissociate from the connotation of special needs groups. The ramp devised by Kronschlaeger accommodates those who are differently-abled (such as, for example, wheelchair users), allowing them to experience the Rumsey Street buildings with previously unimaginable freedom. But it also creates new portals to architectural exploration for people who do not regularly encounter physical limitations. In this way, Hybrid Structures defines access as a universal concept, one whose purpose is to tear down the barriers that not only exclude a specific group, but also obstruct the total and all-encompassing experience of a space, leaving us with a narrow and fixed awareness of the places we inhabit.
Finished ramp running from west to east. Photography by Nathan Umstead.
Kronschlaeger and Amenta leading Kate Wolters and Christopher Smit from DisArt into Hybrid Structures, mid-construction. Photography by Nathan Umstead.
Issues of access and collaboration with DisArt With the generous support of Kate Wolters and Christopher Smit, DisArt, a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to changing views about disability, organized and executed a fashion show that utilized the newly-installed ramps in Hybrid Structures as runways. The performance, which engaged disabled models, made an inspiring statement about the urgency of creating more spaces adapted to special needs users, and the limitless potential for these users once access is prioritized.
Elevate, the fashion show that took place at Hybrid Structures, organized by DisArt. Photography by Nathan Umstead.
A pivotal 1988 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York showcased 45 objects designed for use by the elderly and the physically disabled. Cleverly titled “Designs for Independent Living,” the exhibition chose not to accentuate a segment of the population’s dependency on these aids, but rather their potential autonomy as a result of them—perhaps one of the principal tenets of universal design. The curatorial premise centered on including objects developed with design in mind instead of simply function, as adaptive equipment at the time was usually lacking in the former and served to highlight rather than lessen the user’s feelings of inadequacy. Cara McCarty, then assistant curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at MoMA, stated in a text accompanying the exhibition:
The importance of adaptive aids can be appreciated when we understand that a handicap is not a characteristic of a person with a disability, but rather describes a relationship between an individual and the environment. Thus someone may be handicapped in some situations and not in others.
Installation view of “Designs for Independent Living,” The Museum of Modern Art, 1988.
The observation rings true to Hybrid Structures. Kronschlaeger and his collaborators identified lapses in access to the buildings on Rumsey Street and set out to rectify them, but they also examined to the larger relationship between individuals (of varying abilities) and their surroundings. Prior to Kronschlaeger’s intervention, the layout of the buildings offered very limited modes of access, even to those who consider themselves able-bodied. Hybrid Structures proved that the larger issue of access is not bound to a subset of society. It is categorically relevant. By drawing attention to the different ways in which we are all hindered in our experience of space, the project succeeded in de-stigmatizing disability.
Hybrid Structures. Photography by Nathan Umstead.
Hybrid Structures was recently shortlisted among 1,453 entries for the eighth iteration of ArtPrize, the annual international art competition taking place in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Kronschlaeger will produce another version of Hybrid Structures in collaboration with Paul Amenta and Ted Lott for the Special Projects sector at Untitled Art Fair in Miami in December 2016. More details on HYBRID STRUCTURE (Miami Folly) can be accessed at https://art-untitled.com/miami-beach/program/special.
Alois Kronschlaeger, Grid Structure #1, 2014. Bruce Museum, Greenwich, Connecticut. Basswood, calligraphy ink, black and silver metallic spray paint, aluminum mesh, black plexiglass, fluorescent lighting, black sand and gravel. Photo by Marc Lins.
In 2014 Alois Kronschlaeger developed a site-specific installation for Tales of Two Cities: New York & Beijing, an exhibition at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut in which each of five Beijing- based artists were paired with five New York-based artists, bringing together their respective artistic practices and producing a rich cross-cultural exchange. The multimedia, multi-scale works that resulted from these collaborations addressed the complicated implications of creating art in an increasingly globalized, socialized, and politicized context. For the project, Kronschlaeger was paired with the Chinese paper sculptor Lin Yan, who designed a rice paper installation in the museum’s entrance rotunda; Kronschlaeger’s work for the exhibition, Grid Structure #1, was installed in a three-stories-high circular atrium.
Twenty-two cubes made up of 6,500 basswood sticks were stacked—and each of 24,000 sides of the wooden sticks individually stained—to create Grid Structure #1, a larger-than-life sculpture that towered eighteen feet high, echoing the vertical axis of the atrium. If the ambitious verticality of the work was the viewer’s most urgent observation, no less daunting was the sculpture’s domain of horizontal space. Several cubes had not been stacked comfortably on top of the structure but rather placed notably outside its limits, and appear to be teetering on an edge; still others were intercepted by wire mesh intrusions that warp and disrupt the calculated coordinates of the grid.
With its harmonic proportions and rigorous logic, the grid has nourished and shaped artistic production from da Vinci to de Stijl, but it is without a doubt especially emblematic of modern times: “No form within the whole of modern aesthetic production has sustained itself so relentlessly while at the same time being so impervious to change,” affirmed Rosalind Krauss in 1979. Given the grid’s universality and timeless relevance, it is not entirely surprising that Kronschlaeger has chosen to revisit Grid Structure #1 on the occasion of the 19th annual Islamic Arts Festival organized by the Sharjah Museum in the United Arab Emirates.
Digital renderings of Alois Kronschlaeger’s installation for the Sharjah Museum
For this sweeping exhibition that last year featured three hundred works by thirty-six artists from seventeen countries, Kronschlaeger was invited to create a variation of Grid Structure. This time, the installation won’t be responding to the cylindrical confines of an atrium but to the all-encompassing environment of an allocated space in the museum gallery. Where the Bruce Museum intervention had only begun to examine Grid Structure‘s horizontal potential, this design offers an opportunity to fully exploit it.
In his decision to arrange the multichromatic cubes in a horizontal rather than a vertical layout, Kronschlaeger is responding to an ongoing concern for site-specificity that persists in his artistic practice. The tunneled space of the Bruce Museum atrium was particularly unique, and called for an installation that would make visitors hyper-aware of their architectural surroundings. The Sharjah Museum work, in contrast, was not conceived with such specifications in mind. However, there is more to this plan than an adaptation to a new and distinct installation space. In Kronschlaeger’s vision for this version of Grid Structure, four separate constellations of stacked gridded cubes generate a dynamic urban sprawl contained within the exhibition space. Unlike the Bruce Museum work, where each cube was stacked solely in service of the grander vertical structure, each cluster of towers in the Sharjah Museum seems to retain a certain autonomy. Much like the diverse edifices that form the foundation of a bustling metropolis, Kronschlaeger’s structures will be interrelated but independent.
Beyond the urban evocations of the new design, there is also a shift in the way the public will interact with the work. At the Bruce Museum, the viewer’s confrontation was vertical: one could walk around the structure, or look up as the stacked cubes receded into the interminable depth of the atrium. The Sharjah Museum version will allow the viewer to not only walk around the perimeter of the space but also within it, a development particularly significant given the variations in color amongst the cubes. Enabling the viewer’s physical intervention into the installation activates the possibility for an infinite number of individual optical responses.
The interactive preoccupation recurs in the artist’s practice, most notably explored in his Polychromatic Structures exhibited at Cristin Tierney Gallery in 2015. And it is perhaps this aspect of Kronschlaeger’s forthcoming installation that most tangibly embodies the universal character of the grid. Although defined by a systematically fixed configuration and deeply entrenched in the history of modern art, the grid in Kronschlaeger’s Structure allows for a personalized and highly intimate visual experience.
Rendering of Kronschlaeger’s forthcoming installation at the Universidad de Monterrey.
(Produced by studio assistant Sandra Lee.)
Tadao Ando’s Gate of Creation at UDEM. Photo by Alois Kronschlaeger.
Last month, Alois traveled to Mexico to meet with Ana Perez Escoto, Founder and Director of PEANA Projects, and curators at the Universidad de Monterrey (UDEM) to discuss his proposal for a site-responsive installation at the campus. Designed tocohabitate with Japanese architect Tadao Ando’s Gate of Creation, a sublime poured concrete edifice that houses UDEM’s Centro Roberto Garza Sada de Arte, Arquitectura y Diseño, Kronschlaeger’s proposed installation was initially imagined as a series of latticed brick walls that would harmonize with the striated surface of Ando’s extant structure. Kronschlaeger’s physical experience of the site, however, played an integral role in the development of the most current proposal, a vision very different from the originally proffered plan: the nascent idea of the stacked brick wall metamorphosed into a design dominated by organic clusters of seventy-five carbon steel rods that create a cohesive path toward, underneath, and beyond the Gate.
Approximately twenty-four feet tall and one inch wide, alternating in color and in distance to one another, the rods will be set in the hilly ground that supports the structure laterally and flanks the pathway that meanders beneath the building. Kronschlaeger’s conception proposes the creation of a wholly new axis to Ando’s building and to the corresponding pathway, defined by shifting vertical color lines that weave in and out of the structure. Perceptible tonal variations in the concrete of the Center, which was poured in different locations, are conjured by the polychromatic palette of the artist’s installation.
The façade of Ando’s building is slashed into two canted planes that sweep into and consume one another. Anchored in the earth at a tilt, Kronschlaeger’s carbon steel poles are also slightly inclined with respect to the horizontal axis, flirting with Ando’s oblique angles. But if Gate of Creation and Kronschlaeger’s sculptural response mimic each other’s swooping diagonalities, the architect emphasizes the inertia of the angle, whereas the artist invokes its kineticism: the metal rods, lithe but sturdy, sway with the wind like the foxtail grass that envelops the campus in a billowy to-and-fro.
Foxtail grass at UDEM. Photo by Alois Kronschlaeger.
This rhythmic pendulum motion—when tested for flexibility, each rod had a sway of about twelve feet—stands in direct opposition to the sort of monolithic construction that characterizes Tadao Ando’s projects. With movement in mind, UDEM becomes the substrate for a historically charged progression from a site-specific artistic intervention that is static to one that is mobile. The optical phenomenon whereby each rigid vertical pole appears to yield in the wind and become elastic serves as a reminder that nothing is truly stable or still. It evokes an architectural problematic, reminding us of William LeMessurier’s infamous design for Citicorp Center, a skyscraper suspended on nine-story stilts that had to be urgently reinforced with steel plates once calculations revealed a flaw that made the building fatally susceptible to diagonal winds.
Robert Smithson, whose legacy is theoretically inseparable from the concept of site, collapsed traditional principles of space and time by creating earthworks that forced the spectator beyond the limits of the gallery and into a vulnerable, exposed atmosphere subject to destruction (although he recognized the confines presented by both sites: “I don’t think you’re freer in the desert than you are inside a room.”) Earthworks were enigmatic explorations into immediacy and infinity, and Kronschlaeger’s interception at UDEM retraces many of these temporal concerns. But where Smithson was preoccupied with entropy, often creating works that were irreversible disintegrations of themselves, Kronschlaeger’s project deals with the production—and not the exhaustion—of energy. To illustrate this point, the artist will have to literally reign in the electric potential of his carbon steel rods, grounding them three feet into the earth, to avoid creating a veritable lightning field.
Left: Constantin Brancusi, Column Without End, version I, 1918. The Museum of Modern Art. Right: Underbelly of Tadao Ando’s Gate of Creation. Photo by Roberto Ortiz.
The grooved underbelly of Ando’s building echoes the long history of the serrated motif, exemplified perhaps by the various iterations of Brancusi’s Column Without End, the first of which dates from 1918 and features rhomboidal modules with slightly curved faces carved into an oak beam. In 1920, Brancusi created a 24-foot high version of the Column for the garden of photographer Edward Steichen. The late sculptor and authority on Brancusi, Sidney Geist, wrote that the Column in Steichen’s garden
…rises without effort and unobtrusively…a repetition without monotony, diminishing perspectively, but ever present in the mind. Stiff where all is swaying, regular where all is varied, it is the shape of intelligence amid floral exuberance, a human gesture in a natural world.
Ando’s Gate of Creation has a similar effect on its surroundings: it stands block-like and rigid in a vastly green and open space, while its corrugated surface imitates the campus’s natural topography. Alois Kronschlaeger’s installation reverses the logic of Brancusi’s column in Steichen’s garden, effectively swaying where all is stiff,and takes the human gesture one step further—not only integrating the site’s landscape but leveraging the region’s elements, such as its strong winds, to amplify movement. Simultaneously strong and supple, the artist’s design for UDEM opens up a new and much-longed for field of conversation with its architectural predecessor.
At this stage, the artist is consulting with an engineer, Esteban Astudillo, to produce a feasibility study. Installation will begin at the end of January 2017; the project opening date is scheduled for March 2017.
Left: Alois Kronschlaeger, Carbon Steel Structure, 2016, 44 by 24 by 24 inches; right: detail.
To create his Carbon Steel Structure, Alois Kronschlaeger first arranged and welded together groups of three by four-inch tubular carbon steel units, building separate layers or planes. These layers were then stacked on top of one another on alternating axes to create pockets of negative space that echo the distinctive hollowness of each individual unit―a practice that undoes the calculated logic of the hermetic brick wall, traditionally free of interspaces. The layers are not welded to each other, and so they can be stacked and re-stacked indefinitely in the original order in which they were placed or according to another whim altogether.
When thinking of a title for the work, which was shown as part of Cristin Tierney Gallery’s booth at ZONA MACO in February 2016, Kronschlaeger eschewed words like “tower” or “totem”―the former is restricted to ascensional growth, while the latter serves primarily as an object of idolatry. Neither truly encapsulated the idea of a construction that contracts and expands in space, nor evoked the importance of the unique, singular unit. The artist decided on “structure,” a term that does not favor growth in any one direction but rather opens up the possibility of horizontal and vertical evolution. The word stems from the Latin struere―to heap together; arrange.
Various views of the carbon steel modular units used in Kronschlaeger’s Carbon Steel Structure.
Carbon Steel Structure preceded, and yet is strikingly reminiscent of, the 2016 Serpentine Pavilion designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). The architects stacked pultruded fibreglass frames to build a wall that, in their own words, “unzips.” Rather than using multiple walls to create a structure with a finite number of exterior sides, BIG employs a single, forking wall to demarcate the space. Both the Pavilion architects and Kronschlaeger, however, thought to leverage the process of stacking―the basic building methodology―to accomplish a surface that varies in translucency as the viewer shifts positions. In their Architect’s Statement, BIG describes the Pavilion: “…free-form yet rigorous; modular yet sculptural; both transparent and opaque; both solid box and blob.” The Pavilion and Carbon Steel Structure function much like screens, allowing various amounts of light to filter through as the hollow units reveal glimpses of the world on the other side.
2016 Serpentine Pavilion, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). (Serpentine Galleries).
Detail of BIG’s Serpentine Pavilion (photo by the architect).
The action of “unzipping” is unique to the Pavilion, but Kronschlaeger’s Structure also expands in horizontal space, though with a different impulse. The modular units are not arranged according the regular, visually apprehensible logic of the Pavilion, where each fiberglass frame is stacked on its widest, horizontal side a minutely calculated distance from the other. Instead, some of the interlaced units that make up Kronschlaeger’s piece stand on a vertical axis, jutting out more or less than the units that surround it so that the Structure expands in select places, to varying degrees, and contracts in others. In a further gesture of complexity, the artist has alternated the outward-facing sides of each unit so that one sees the hollow and the solid faces in the same line of vision. This practice takes full advantage of the singular unit (and evinces Kronschlaeger’s fascination with this element.) As they scan the structure, the viewer’s perspective is either tunneled—when they look through a tubular unit—or blocked, interrupted by the sudden opacity of a smooth carbon steel surface. The net effect of this interplay is that the structure presents itself as simultaneously penetrable and impenetrable by the gaze of the spectator.
BIG’s Serpentine Pavilion. (Serpentine Galleries)
The tradition of stacking has been integral to Kronschlaeger’s production for a very long time. In The Architectural Impulse, curator Warren James described the artist’s process: “the repetitive and rigid structural module—every cell exactly like every other cell—is made supple and yields to endless variations.” Prior to creating Carbon Steel Structure, the artist experimented with concrete pavement blocks in a similar format. These exercises yielded the Celosía configurations, such as the one pictured below; a similar desire to create separate units that are stackable, and thus infinitely re-configurable, is patent in the artist’s heaped grids for his site-specific installation at the Bruce Museum, Grid structure #1.