The work of Christoph Büchel (1966) addresses the political and social conditions of today. The meanings and markings attached to certain places, their users, and the property relations they are subject to, constitute a central theme in Büchel’s work. His huge, complex room installations nest in the art institutions, expand, and if necessary, also oppose traditional exhibition conventions. Büchel arranges his rooms precisely and equips them with detailed pieces of evidence, so that the viewer becomes a voyeur and investigator of a fictional, narrative space.
Büchel demands a lot of the viewer – be that physical involvement in overcoming the spatial obstacles, or active mental participation. Given that they reveal more reality than is evident at first sight, these staged states of emergency and chaotic structures constitute highly threatening images, which represent buried traumas of our civilisation.
In spatial scenarios such as *Close Quarters or Private Territories Büchel conjures up extreme situations and catastrophes that slumber beneath the surface: In 2004 at Kunstverein Freiburg, Büchel turned the main exhibition space into a gym and then built several tiny cell-like rooms on the floor, completely furnished and decorated to look as if the asylum seekers from different countries had been living there and then left suddenly.
At the Swiss Institute in New York in 2004, Büchel presented the intractable conflicts that arise from territorial aspirations and that can penetrate into even the most intimate space. A whole apartment was cut into two by an impenetrable wall made of slag concrete blocks, dividing the space into different compartments and cells for two inhabitants who were at loggerheads. The mutual dependence of the two parties was rendered visible by different approaches adapted by the inhabitants in order to trade one with the other at ever-decreasing resources. This oppressive situation enabled the viewer to tangibly experience the tension that exists between freedom and security on one hand, and total isolation and the inability to survive because of the division on the other hand.
Aside at installations. Büchel repeatedly carries out more conceptual projects and actions which deal with current political conflicts. His project with Gianni Motti entitled “Guantánamo Initiative” highlighted the USA’s claim on Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. The USA maintains an internment camp there for terror suspects who are mainly Moslems. Given the fact that the USA is not obliged to apply its own laws in this extraterritorial space, various infringements of the prisoners’ human rights are the result. On the other hand, the USA are also contravening the rental contract which they themselves forced on Cuba, because the rented land should not be used for military purposes. With their initiative, Büchel and Motti attempted to legally rent Guantánamo Bay from the state of Cuba. The resulting correspondence, plus documentary material, including a copy of the rental contract between America and Cuba dated 1901, were presented by the artists in a transport container at this year’s Venice biennial.
In the Oberlichtsaal of the Kunsthalle Basel, Christoph Büchel has created a room-filling installation entitled HOLE, which transformed the beautifully proportioned and recently meticulously restored historical part of the building into an industrial-looking sorting station and workshop. To enter the installation, visitors have to take the lift up from the foyer. The representative stairway will remain walled up for the duration of the exhibition. What the visitor finds in the place of the Oberlichtsaal is amongst others a waiting room, a psychotherapist’s practice (“Shrink Room”) and a large tent.These spaces serve to represent various states of mind. The “Shrink Room” is a site of spiritual reprocessing. Here, the past is to be relived, and repressed psychological contents are to be uncovered in the course of the analysis. In the adjoining tent, the remnants of an exploded excursion bus are sorted on tables and shelves, in what seems to be a multipurpose hall for reconstruction of a police evidence. Using 2D and 3D models, the partly unrecognisable parts of the bus have been arranged on the ground or mounted on a steel frame built in the shape of the bus. Similar reconstructions are undertaken after every aeroplane crash. Experts spend months investigating the wreckage; the closest attention is paid to each and every part of the destroyed object until the cause of the accident has been found. Rationally comprehending the course of a catastrophe counters the fear. Finding a logical and scientifically explanation is one of the possible strategies in the collective mastery of fate. At the same time the obsessive care for detail is an attempt of total control over incomprehensible and violent events, which break social order such as natural disasters and terrorist acts – and reflects a state of social paranoia.
Christoph Büchels installation HOLE can bee seen as sequence of psychograms illustrating the desire to retain social order in time of fast-growing insecurity.
This exhibition is supported by:
Müller Maschinen AG, Bättwil
Mösch AG, Basel
Roesen Haustechnik AG, Basel
Stoeklin AG, Dornach
With special thanks to:
Hauser & Wirth, Zürich
watch video of the opening in the Kunsthalle at