Ursula Maria Probst: The Studio As Spatial Sculpture and Conceptual Photography
“The basis of this work is the artist’s studio. All that is contained in the room, including, artwork, materials, and furniture, is compacted into a cube. When finally everything has been stacked into this sculptural form, the entire workroom is empty aside from the cube and an entirely changed spatial situation appears. As a result from this process, a photograph is created in each case.”
The method is easily understood; the strategy is complex in its design: in the studios of other artists, Elisabeth Grübl uses their materials, tools, everyday objects, and all of the existing things in the studio, as well as the stored artwork, work in production, all help to realize a cube in the middle of the room. The concept follows the different situation accordingly for each room. Every object found in the room, without exception, is used within the cube and, according to the physical traits, integrated sculpturally. The texture of the objects’ usage gives way to a reduced and precisely advanced design concept, which shapes, nuances and contours into a cube. Furthermore, the objects, removed of their function, correspond to each other on an abstract level, allowing for the launching and projecting of one’s imagination.
In Elisabeth Grübl’s artistic practice, visual and spatial parameters of perception are often closely related to each other. She is a spatial thinker: her construction of the sculptural cube is completed parallel with the destruction of the studio’s existing syntax as a working and living space. By means of overcoming, removing, and abstracting, she proclaims what is concrete in the room, through the placement of the cube and, translated into the medium of a conceptual photograph, demonstrates a structural decisiveness in the form of the frontal view. At the beginning of this studio series, she stacked the objects found in the room towards the wall; latterly, she built a cube to stand in the middle of the room or at the wall. The relation between space and objects is intensified through the juxtaposition of emptiness and compactness. The phenomenological aspects of a minimalist project are therefore expanded by this view of a material language that is derived from the ‘studio’ situation. With the cube, Elisabeth Grübl questions a basic convention of modernist reality. Yet her cube is not hermetically sealed: it allows for a concept of difference.
To describe the experience of what it is to enter a room that has become a spatial installation, I can think of no better comparison than that of the fleeting moments, a state lasting a fraction of a second, of suddenly pausing and fully concentrating on familiar processes of perception. One becomes a witness to the intensity of physical perception in a spatio-temporal continuum of sensory perception. The fascination is founded in a physical perception; rationality quickly regains control. In the sculptures of the studios the spatial coordinates are reversed and let us sense the room intensely, for a moment.
According to Brian O’Doherty’s legendary essay, first published in 1976, “Inside the White Cube,” the white cube is the only meaningful convention in the life of art – a view that has been overcome, as Elisabeth Grübl shows with her spatial structures. The cells of the gallery and the museum, are shifted again into the center of her artistic intention with this series, indeed, in a multitude of ways as interventions. This turns over the conventions of the ‘exhibition’ and the associated social functions that accompany such interventions. Every experience of an artwork is tied together with its ambience, and with the location of its realization. In her sculptures, Elisabeth Grübl attempts a crossing in a literal sense: she uses another artist’s studio – thus, an-other space which is mostly inaccessible to the public and for which the artistic interventions of other artists is taboo. Here she realizes a site-specific work that simultaneously refers in a double sense to the context of a spatial definition. In this regard, first a phenomenological concept applies, according to which the location does not precede its space, which lay at the base of the spatial concept in mathematics in physics. Conversely, space first opens up through the location, which then allows the things to take on a life form in practice. This space, cleared of the things’ living environment, is a space infused with meaning that belongs to a particular world. The ambiguity lies in the concept of clearing, which can be understood as a reference to the specific trait of art vis-à-vis that of familiar things. The sculptures correspond with the environment, with the surrounding space, insofar as they are the objects that are based on production in the space, and no difference is made between used objects and artworks, but instead an understanding between familiarity and trust materializes. The representational potential of the sculpture depends on the existing objects, and the resulting room-sculptures do not follow the logic that the artistic work semantically charges its surrounding; instead, through it another context is produced, which at the same time makes one aware of a structural element of art. The critical potential of site-specific art is not denied through this instance; it rather receives a more precise definition and purpose. At the same time, through the further inclusion of photography, an interwoven correspondence between the work and the observer is set into motion – in the sense of the French poststructuralist Jacques Derrida. A homogenization of the space as cube here confronts a “differential” space. As a “differential” room, the spatial structure preserves the traits that would not have worked through the filter of a homogenous room. At the same time Elisabeth Grübl designs such a differentiated network of relationships, that it creates a space inside that can be recognized in relation to the outside.
Commonly, art studios form manifestations of individual artistic production or, as soon as they are made accessible to the public, serve as instruments of self-staging. In contrast to the white cube exhibition space, the studio is never a neutral presentational space, but instead primarily a place of production and contemplation. The artist Gustave Courbet once used his studio photo in the function of a business card, and Bruce Naumann undertook “Mapping the Studio,” in which he shot video of his studio at various times of the day. In 1998, Naumann painstakingly listed the material collection of his studio, from coffee cups to paintbrushes, paper, video cassettes, and horse saddlery. Elisabeth Grübl’s project, however, does not have the characteristics of a disclosure. In contrast to the studio as the site of creative production, as a place of retreat or as the auratic space occupied by myths and genius ideas, she is able to bring in a discourse that has until now been neglected in the question of the studio. What happens when the atelier as spatial structure becomes a central topic? This view of the studio operates with certain spatial and temporal parameters and reveals its borders. The temporary installations can be entered and in the medium of photography, they continue on. A more exact view of the stringent frontal shot refers to further questions and references. How can sculpture and space be thought of differently? How is sculpture to be thought of when transferred into conceptual photography? The conceptual photography of Elisabeth Grübl is characterized by an interventionist treatment in the coding of specific artistic processes with aesthetic media, materials, and traditions of conceptual and minimalist structure. Her artistic process of stacking up all of the objects and artworks found in the studio of the respective artist, follows an abstraction in the design and integrates questions of originality and authorship. For, the original state of the studio can hardly be inferred at the end of the process. With this Elisabeth Grübl develops a site-specific form of artistic production, which attempts to shift our patterns of reception from the common representational forms through a transfer.
rom this, one could derive, in the sense of the spatial theorist Henri Lefebvre, that Elisabeth Grübl confronts the concept of social space, through the complexity of the cube, with a formal intensification. Different spatial concepts, which tend to be a system of verbal or conceptually formed characters, produces a sculptural body that redefines the relational networks in the room. And at the same time, through its derivation from that which is living, perceived, and conceived, she releases corresponding impulses and resonant effects. Similar to the usual artist portraits, Elisabeth Grübl creates the portrait of the studio situation. With her studio series, which she realized during stays in Frankfurt and Shanghai, but also in Vienna, she also created individual portraits of the artists, who are indeed absent in the frontal shots.