Gregor Schneider: temporary structures that resist conformity

by Stuart Munro

Special To The Japan Times

Seemingly out of nowhere, German artist Gregor Schneider exhibits major work at the recently opened TOLOT/heuristic Shinonome complex. His solo show brings together “It’s All Rheydt” (Kolkata, 2011) and photography from his largest undertaking, “Haus u r,” a house in his hometown of Rheydt that, since 1985, has slowly been refashioned from within.

“It’s All Rheydt” (Kolkata, 2011) is a collaborative project between himself and Bengali artisans. During a trip in 2010 to the Indian city of Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta), Schneider was inspired to build a pandal, a temporary structure fabricated for religious ceremonies.

The façade of his structure, with an upturned street complete with tarmac, manhole covers and street lamps, is intended to echo his hometown in Germany. Imagined as two parts, the second was supposed to see him carefully disassemble the structure in Kolkata and move it to Kassel for the 2012 Documenta, the contemporary and modern art exhibition held once every five years.

This second part, however, was never realized. The re-creation of a Kolkata Pandal in Kassel was permanently put on hold. Though rumors of a conspiracy proved to be unfounded, Schneider’s response was to exhibit his correspondence with the festival at Berlin’s Future Gallery in a show simply titled “Scheiß e-mails.”

Other work, such as his scheme for 2005′s Venice Biennale in which he created a 14-meter-tall pitch-black cube inspired in part by the Ka’ba — the cube that stands at the center of Mecca’s al-Haram Mosque — befell a similar fate. It was canceled due to “political issues.” Banned from being constructed elsewhere, it finally materialized several years later in Hamburg, simply titled “Cube Hamburg 2007.”

The outcome of his constant battling exposed the fear that lay at the heart of sensitive liberal European sensibilities. No religious group consulted ever expressed any concern or reservation about the work, yet the simple black box was deemed potentially offensive, a subject way too sensitive. Shown here as a series of photographs, “Ka’ba Venice 2005″ places Schneider’s cube — an intriguing and strangely controversial object — at the heart of Venetian culture.

Schneider’s greatest work is “Haus u r,” a building inside of which replicas of rooms are built within other rooms — each seemingly independent from within. These “double rooms” shift with the aid of machinery that move walls and floors in and out of sight, at times making some of the rooms out of reach.

In 2001 “Haus u r” was reconstructed in the German Pavilion at the 49th Venice Biennale, where his rooms remodeled the Pavilion’s interior, making it virtually inaccessible. The result, titled “Totes Haus ur VENEDIG,” earned him the Golden Lion, one of art’s most prestigious prizes.

The TOLOT/heuristic Shinonome complex of galleries is becoming an interesting space to watch, here offering Japan’s burgeoning multicultural society an opportunity to experience fragments of the rich contradictions that Schneider explores, while piecing together the absurd paranoia his work exerts on Western establishment.

“Gregor Schneider” at Wako Works of Art, TOLOT/heuristic Shinonome runs till July 27; open 11 a.m.- 7 p.m. Free admission. Closed Sun. and Mon. www.heuristic.com/tolot