Perceptions of place
Is the centre of Munster in Westphalia an authentic place? A legitimate question.
Because what is now affectionately called the 'old town' turns out to be a surrogate, constructed on a medieval ground plan after the inner city was almost completely destroyed in World War II. The reconstruction did not aim at a historically exact copy or at originality; the considerations behind it were purely pragmatic.
Inspired by Munster's contradictory qualities, a collaboration between the British artist and curator, Andrew Cross, and Susanne Gaensheimer, director of the Westfalischer Kunstverein Munster, has resulted in this exhibition which deals with the 'reality' of places. Investigating the perception, experience and mediation of place, 10 international artists present their different positions and perspectives.
Two large photographs by Cross introduce the viewer to the show. Though they were taken in Munster, the artist is less interested in recognisable topography than in the intersection of city and periphery - a diffuse zone in which the borderline between public and private is blurred.
Annelies Strba and Andreas Hofer devote themselves to the subjective component of determining a place. Strba shows two video works in a darkened side room. Shot during a boat trip, and accompanied by a monotonous background noise, the sequences seem to stem from personal recollection, almost like dream images. The viewer glides past the overexposed blurred skyline of Manhattan or glimpses fragments of Paris at night on the River Seine. Hofer offers a collection of German mentalities under the title LonduBETAdorf - a combination of London and NuBETAdorf. With an almost folkloristic interest and naive curiosity, he focuses on his home village in order to create a collage-like codex of Upper Bavarian cultural history, which oscillates between romantic idealisation and Nazi folksiness.
The self-reflections of the inhabitants of such an encoded landscape are the subject of the work by Henrik Meyer and Martin Keil.
In their video they ask people living in the Erzgebirge about their identification with the region and their idea of a future in a united Europe. A telephone call made by the English artist, Graham Gussin, documented in the form of a text, leads us overseas. By asking an expert from the Panorama Guth Museum in Australia to describe the panorama painting exhibited there, the artist explores complex aspects of communication: how can the image of an unknown, illusionistic and idealising panorama be conveyed just by means of a telephone conversation, and what is the relation between the listener's idea of the panorama evoked by this description and the real picture.
Bernhard Walsh also plays with expectations - in this case, of visitors to a capital city. One part of his exhibit is a carouselprojection of snapshots of Trafalgar Square, while on an adjacent wall identical postcards of the square are arranged in a decorative montage. This place was once seen as the centre of the British Empire: as a prime tourist destination, what is its reality now?
Bridget Smith's photographic work presents an extremely artificial place, namely a golf course under construction in a desert.
Tania Kovats' contribution is a photograph from a journal, which she has manipulated by covering parts of it with white paint, thus obscuring context. Contextuality is also Jacqueline Jeffries' subject. Nine pencil drawings, arranged in groups of three, meticulously depict geological samples taken from different sources - they are an index of place. Yet no matter whether the representations are copies of a copperplate or photograph, or are drawn from nature, they all develop qualities which dissociate them from their model and make it impossible to infer broader connections from them.
Though it may still be possible to determine in practice whether a place is experienced as real, artificial or virtual, the exhibition's overriding question - what constitutes the 'reality' of a place? - remains unanswered. Instead of presenting findings which could be generalised, the show stresses subjective perception. It seems that even the authenticity of the centre of Munster can be judged only by personal estimation, rather than by historical facts.
Marcus Lutkemeyer is a freelance journalist