nathalie koger

No more labyrinth

On the Work Blind Date with Baldessari / Projects and Assignments
Nicola Hirner

Nathalie Koger understands her job as a curator and her role as an artist as a form of multi-disciplinary networking in various medias. Through interdisciplinary interventions that are based upon a pedagogical concept and that capture the whole sensual space of a permanently growing circle of people, she attempts to provide a jolt to affect the practice of psycho-social action.

In her artistic work at Saprophyt, Koger refers to John Baldessari’s list of “assignments” originally given to his students in the 1970s as an opposition to the sanctioned transmission of knowledge. By interpreting written instructions, a common understanding for transformation processes is produced.

They 40 years between the creation of the “assignments” and their new interpretation have required a profound adaptation to affect the current surroundings. With his experimental instructions, which, amongst other things, call to mind the changing relationship between nature and art – which is referred to in this exhibition –, 1 Baldessari expands the production conditions of that time. In the broadest sense, the exhibition is about the relationship to the permanently changing environment; with historical references to Baldessari, Broodthaers and Beuys and their ideas about and investigations of the intersections of art and nature in a globalized media-dominated world.

The contributions of other artists curated by Koger react to the structures of urban conditions as well as to the impact of industrial use of the countryside and of political impositions on the environment. In these works, diverging constructions of nature generate individual cartographies of the perception of nature. The presentation of the exhibition is then experienced as a relational spatial event. The communicative structures of the procedurally constructed exhibition series, whose conclusion was Koger’s project, manifested themselves in installations that were comprised of participating components and this series was continued as hybrid modeling.

Michel de Certeau indicates, that “space [is] composed of intersections of mobile elements. It is in a sense actuated by the ensemble of movements deployed within it. […] In short, space is a practiced place.” In contrast, “a place is thus an instantaneous configuration of positions. It implies an indication of stability.” 2

The urban space thus reveals itself in experimental experiences whose theoretical preconditions were developed in the 1960s. Henri Lefebvre coined the concept “experimental utopia,” “imaginary variations on themes and exigencies defined by the real as understood in the broadest sense: by the problems posed by reality and by the virtualities held within it” 3 . In the performative art practice in Koger’s exhibition project, this approach makes the urban landscape tangible in an art institutional context. The city is reclaimed as a terrain strewn with obstacles – as is suggested by the recorded videos in the exhibition of traceurs Duncan Germain and Tunc “Leech” Uysaler, where they appropriate urban spaces by overcoming of barriers according to specific athletic or acrobatic rules. The parcour-courses filmed by the traceurs’ helmet cameras are predicated on video games and their abstract perspectives of the environment.

While the institutional critique of the 1970s coincided with an expansion of traditional spatial concepts characterized by the contrast between urban and landscape, public and private spheres, current perceptual and learning processes affirm the ongoing transformation processes in coordination with the environment. Though it is implicit in American Land-Art’s fascination with scenic desolation, a heightened awareness of environmental issues moves to the forefront in contemporary art production. According to current views, the construction of nature is clearly determined by architecture. Through the shortage of designated open space, the urban between-spaces gain noticeable meaning. How much the economical and socio-cultural trends are constitutive for landscape design is mirrored in the outer and inner formation of public and private space.

In her internet research of Marcel Broodthaers’ 1974 exhibition "Un jardin d’hiver" 4  in Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, Simona Obholzer, who was invited by Koger to work on the exhibition, stumbled upon a Swiss company named Le Jardin d’Hiver that produces and distributes preserved plants. The “jardin d’hiver,” the winter garden or conservatory, stands as much for “a favorite place among the bourgeoisie of the 19th century,” as for exoticism: there, “exotic plants are cultivated and objects from the ‘far world’ are presented […], the foreign is considered threatening and sinister, feared as the vanishing point of the yearning for naturalness, a native quality that is immediate and pure. Place- and timeless distance, the conservatory is a spatial-social configuration of the putting out of sight and repression of power relations (and their simultaneous affirmation), of global capitalistic conditions of production […].” 5 As an homage to Broodthaers’ uncompleted project <k>Un jardin d’hiver (object-sujet)<k>(1974-1975), which describes the appropriation of the world by a classifying archive, Obholzer adds a slide of a current installation in Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin (2009) to the view of the first installation of this work (1974) where potted palms were shipped to the museum. This is supplemented by a photo taken from the internet of the Swiss company’s preserved plants with the registered trademark Le Jardin d’Hiver, which, due to their service oriented designs of low maintenance and representative instant decoration, can be found mostly in restaurants and hotels. Through the juxtaposition of this company name and Broodthaers’ conceived project of a critique of cultural appropriation techniques, this becomes more or less an absurd exchange of meaning: Le Jardin d’Hiver attempts to establish itself with plants by displacing them in an artificial condition –contrary to the fulfillment of aspirations after an initial exoticism –, and thereby inhibits their growth.

As a point of departure for her installation, Koger chose the fifth, more encompassing, of Baldessari’s instruction, which calls for a sharpening of the awareness of the use of plants in art contexts to provoke a more general awareness of the artificiality of nature. An integral component of this installation was the wall installation from the previous exhibition made out of old clothes and fabric scraps by Josip Novosel, which is related to Christian Boltanski’s installation <k>Personnes<k> (which, in French, is phonetically tantamount with the presence and absence of persons) in the Grand Palais in Paris, which created a memorial of those murdered in death camps during the second World War. In front of the same, now painted green wall, Koger arranged the private plants of Barbara Kapusta and Stephan Lugbauer (Saprophyt), covering the resistant and cheap supermarket plants and making clear just how much the meaning of the exotic can turn into the banal, the ordinary. On the backside of the wall, the haphazardly stacked remnants of the previous exhibition are stored: fabric scraps, lamps, a broken bench and a note with Diane di Prima’s “Revolutionary Letter #13,” a “peace poem,” from 1969. 6 Converted into a dividing wall, the wall makes a small corridor in which Su jeong Shin-Goldbach’s video documentation of her performance was projected. From a helicopter, Shin-Goldbach films the public waiting for the performance at the potassium mine in Empelde, and takes aerial photographs of Empelde, an industrially used mining dump. Here, art becomes an attractor for recultivation, something which city politicians have been working on since Expo 2000. With the aerial photographs, Shin-Goldbach undertakes a surveying of the development of Empelde, a place imprinted by traces of the years after the war. As an accompaniment to Shin-Goldbach’s performance, Psalm 90, a creation report, can be read. A further performative work in the exhibition is that of Maria Giovanna Drago, which shows two photographs of a performance choreographed by Koger in brut/Künstlerhaus.

The Swiss artist Christian Philipp Müller recontextualizes one of his old works. As a remake of his project shown within the context of "Stellvertreter" 7, in which the conditions of national identity through transnational contextualization are furthered, Koger suggests an update of his work "Grüne Grenze". The, in this work, central border crossings from Austria to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia are to follow precise directions provided in the catalogue and supplemented by diverse cultural research.

Like Koger, Sofía Táboas also chose Baldessari’s fifth instruction as a point of departure: with her minimalistic sculpture "Horizontal Code", she combines various determining factors of art and nature. Following the artist’s instructions, multi-colored carnations (a flower that is very present in her native Mexico), were placed in metal grid floating 130 cm above the ground. Without irrigation, however, the flowers dried quickly. The ambivalence of "Horizontal Code" is created by the contrast of strict formalism and natural processes: when Táboas hangs the metal grid at 130 centimeters, she refers to the minimum clearance of the hanging of artworks and thus implies the standard of a cultural code. Applied to the horizontal, this creates a floating, ephemeral floral image.

Baldessari’s 35th instruction (“what kind of art can be done with real animals?”) is the true counterpart to his fifth instruction. Fahim Amir grapples with this question in a fictional exchange of letters and examines three prominent artists (Joseph Beuys, Damien Hirst and Martin Kippenberger) and their use of animals. Beuys’ action with the coyote, "I like America and America likes Me", is, for Amir, an example of “chauvinistic behavior that can be hardly separated from that of a colonizer to natives.” – “With Beuys and Hirst’s tiger shark in formaldehyde, "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living", the relocation and out-of-placeness of real animals, regardless of their being dead or alive, seem to address art spaces as being a threshold between domesticity and wilderness, sovereignity and self-will.” (Amir) 8 –  “When Kippenberger had his photo taken in 1996 shortly before his death on St. Mark’s Square in Venice with pigeons on his head and shoulders, he became part of the habitat of city pigeons, an animal that occupies public space and is part of the circulation of city pictures and thus, in contrast to Beuys and Hirst, Kippenberger compromised himself.” (Amir)

Within this broad referential framework of the exhibition, the relationship between the constellations of the works takes prominence over the meaning of the single artistic positions. Here, spatial experiences are created similar to those developed in the 1960s’ environments. In the permeable arrangements and the playful exchange, a desire for more immediacy within the institutional and spatial conditions emerges not only within the art world but also in daily existence.

translated by Shane Anderson


  • Notes:

    1 The fifth of Baldessari’s 109 instructions reads: How can plants be used in art. Problem becomes how can we really get people to look freshly at plants as if they’ve never noticed them before. A few possibilities: 1. Arrange them alphabetically like books on a shelf; 2. Plant them like popsicle trees (as in child art) perpendicular to line of hill; 3. Include object among plants that is camouflaged; 4. Color a palm tree pink. 5. Photo found growing arrangements 6. Or a movie on how to plant a plant.” John Baldessari, Assignments, CalArts – California Institute of the Arts 1970.

    Michel de Certau <k>The practice of everyday life.<k>, University of California Press 1984, p. 117.

    3 Henri Lefebvre, „Utopie expérimentale : Pour un nouvel urbanisme“, in: "Revue française de sociologie", 2, no.3 (1961), p. 191–198, here: p. 192; here quoting Sabrina van der Ley et al. (Ed.), "Megastructure Reloaded. Visionary architecture and urban design of the sixties reflected by contemporary artists", Ostfildern 2008, p. 108.

    4 See for instance: Kunsthalle Wien, Sabine Folie, Gabriele Mackert (Eds.), "Marcel Broodthaers", Vienna 2003.

    5 Quoted originally in German and found in Johannes Porsch, „Vorwort. Un jardin d’hiver*, präsentiert“, in: "Hintergrund", 32 (2006); here quoting the online version at [], 2011-08-26.

    6 See page XXX in this book

    "Stellvertreter – Representatives – Rappresentanti" was Austria’s entry to the 45th Venice Biennale in 1993.

    8 Quoted originally in German and found in Fahim Amir, „Dear John, I don´t care if You like Animals or Animals like You“ 2011