Susanne Neuburger: The red carpet, the green meadow
What is the discourse these sparse forms and bodies, handled in a reductive manner, engage in? They appear to take recourse to a (different) reality like models, re­minding us of its function and conditions in a terse and deliberately simplified fashion. Are they indeed examples, generally conditioned by existence in the same way in which we all – as Gordon Matta-Clark noted – are living in a city whose fabric is architectural ... where property is so all-pervasive? 1) Is it all about distances to be bridged, dispersal across geographical distances which – as Guy Debord said – respond by spectacular interior divisions? 2) And these are equipped with a penchant for immateriality, for negative form? Is it a (hidden) female discourse? And what about one’s own body?
Elisabeth Grübl’s works appear to depart from what are quasi-reconstructions: an exemplary and architecture-related position, sculpture using negative and unnamed stereometric bodies which would be complemented by mass and weight. They define themselves via their boundaries, without employing the overused so-called “expanded field” of sculpture of the past decades or its flexible categories. Any expansion into the performative, narrative, incidental (though present just the same) fails to be as determining as the boundaries that construct space as they set limits or abolish them, often forming spectacular divisions in what has fewer object-like qualities. Whenever the artist “builds something up”, she has always already “dismantled something”, it seems laconic at times, but is always devoid of memory and bourgeois belief in progress. Interior spaces that emerge are often empty and dispersed, the boundaries are sometimes massive barriers, sometimes they take the shape of invisible or highly transparent partitions, as is true of the virtual sculpture in a landscape (created in collaboration with the artist’s brother, Manfred Grübl). In it, a figure turned by 90° three times marks the corners of a quad­rangle and along imaginary lines suggests a volume that is not there and still happens in real terms.
In the beginning, the boundaries still had to do with the human figure: on the occasion of “Junge Szene 1991” at the Secession – Grübl’s first participation in a show, she had been a student of Bruno Gironcoli at the Academy of Fine Arts for a year at the time – the artist displayed four works made of sheet metal, two pairs about the size of human beings. In spite of their mathematical exactness and the clear-cut edges and lines they ap­peared to be the anthropomorphous models of a pair. The oblique cuts opened them up into space while the hidden volume (which was empty/invisible) was locked up inside, but turned inside out so as to be able to participate in the exterior space. Here the boundaries, which have power over what is included and what is not, were probed in a classic sculptural work, accompanied by a drawing of the same accuracy in the catalogue.
More anthropomorphous memories: Grübl produced the case, the thin-walled case which a human being fits into, in co-operation with her brother Manfred, who also posed for the photograph, in 1994. By that time, the boundaries had become even thinner, more translucent, but also more massive – after all, who would dare to over­step invisible boundaries? Who would ven­ture into the house that only has room for one person and examine conditions, or rather meanings, and formal
possibilities alike in an almost correcting fashion? Interior and exterior spaces dovetail, reflecting each other but the be­holder’s position still is not unambiguous. However, the position of the beholder or user is perhaps less central than the potential expectations the artist has for him/her. What is the role the beholder ought to play in view of the pre­requisite that generally valid models are at stake while they reflect his/her reality at the same time? The objects are light and empty, allegedly leaving the viewer a lot of leeway. However, we can guess that they are actually full …
Even more minimal: two years previously (in 1992), space was exclusively marked by strings; in one case it was empty, in the other it contained a number of "departure objects" modelled on what had once been suitcases and bags which were almost throwing their weight around. Sharp edges kept the mass at bay. Here, in both the real or suggested transformability of spaces and their mise-en-scène, and in the discourse of (an invariably female) presence and absence revealed in both instances we find a good parallel with the video works. The discourse is as concealed as the real body fails to appear (yet the empty bodies seem to burst with feminine presence at times). The line across the screen reminds us of movement through space, i.e. change and motion. This is an element taken up again in a different form in the more recent works as sound creates an atmospheric presence of its own: empty space and a kitchen clock ticking away, the presence of the ticking kitchen clock although sounds are constant in Elisabeth Grübl’s works …
Reduced objects: the stools and benches have a stable basic structure, but the seat is made of transparent material and by no means suited for sitting. The purpose gives itself up, the form stays the same, there is a rupture somewhere when exterior and interior contradict each other in function. The interior does not correspond to the exterior, it is not assigned to it on a par. Moreover, these works also tell us: everything here is artificial and model-like, the shelf is also hung too high for actual use. Real givens such as furniture and objects for daily use are examined and reflected upon but they cannot be utilised. The empty gaps release thoughts which in turn deal with the place of deployment, the real can better be con­sidered and analysed in the artificial …
Galerie Zeitkunst, Kitzbühel, 1996: sharp corners, sharp edges, weighty lines, a video work. The gallery space was structured in a strict way, old and new features were there, the diagonal crossed the space which had been fathomed for coordinates, fixed points, and which had to hold up to an examinability that looked like its own reconstruction. What can the new structure of reversed neg­ative fullness, quasi-reforming the gallery, actually do? Can the gallery live with it or can it only exhibit itself and take recourse to itself again and again? Do re­construc­tions have a future?
In 1996 Elisabeth Grübl graduates from the Academy. Her work for the final exam involved her first red carpet. A carpet, a red carpet, was laid in an existing room, the door aperture was closed off by a glass pane. A sinus generator produced a low continuous sound of 10,000 Hz. For the beholders, the room was sealed off and could not be entered, they were faced with a barrier at the glass door, the room was a world apart. Thus, the work takes on the meaning of an autonomous sculpture on the one hand while creating the association of an exemplary space that seems socially marginalised on the other. How is the room or space defined by its function and potential social meaning? Are we on the outside as a matter of principle, can we participate through the sound, through its presence and volume? Its frequency seems to insist and it can thus link separate rooms. Two years later, the sound also goes to work at the Secession, all over the building, from top to bottom. Its actual location is the Graphic Cabinet, outside of which characters state tersely and to the point: “9,000 Hz”.
In contrast to the work produced for the final exam two years earlier, the red carpet spreads across three rooms here and can be seen from two sides but never in its en­tirety. It is markedly higher than the actual floor level (raised by about 1 metre) and cannot be stepped on at all because the threshold is too high and the structure underneath is not suited. Under the carpet, everything is dark while bright neon light floods the space above. Thus, real access to the work is possible via four channels (including the sound and the characters), three in­terior and one exterior "gateways". They form a notional unity. The distance is counteracted by various spectacular divisions or boundaries: the dark space, the whole which is out of sight, and the red carpet revealing a bit of its history here. After all, isn't the carpet a locus of representation, with a history that always encompasses and displays the classic situation of the beholder? The divi­sion between events taking place on the carpet and the onlooker is usually emphasised by strong barriers. Covering the floor and associated with protocol, it is a male locus which comes with regulations, to be applied strictly and without delay. A locus that leaves little leeway, closed off or exclusive like this one. A position between talking and silence. To my mind, the parallel lies in the fact that it is ready for an event which could take place but is left out by the artist. Amidst the exhibition, with all the people around, the room remains empty. The artist prevents visitors from entering her room while enabling them to participate as they hear the sound. She assigns density, full­ness and presence to it, filling it to the brim with volume. No boundaries exist for it when it is poured into the room from the centre. The fact that it is separated from the other spaces does not matter, its role is to serve as a bracket between interior and exterior. This is where I would like to ask myself once again what happened to the body, one’s own real and true body, which may be involved as a model but is absent in real terms. Can we assign it to the sound, the dominating volume that maybe weightless, too, but is equipped with a language that is as high-pitched as a woman’s voice could be?

1 Quoted according to Dan Graham, Gordon Matta Clark, in Sabine Breitwieser  
  (ed.), White Cube/Black Box, Vienna 1996, p. 219.

2 Cf. Guy Debord, Die Gesellschaft des Spektakels, Berlin 1996, S. 146.