Careful Planning for the Future
Silvie Aigner, 2013
Architectural objects and collages, photography, and drawings are the types of media that Judith Saupper uses in order to critically explore and explicate the development of the urban in our contemporary environment with subtle irony. In her work, its utopian buildings and high-rises expanding into the outskirts also provide a glimpse of a – neither positive nor sustainable – future urban growth. But it is not always about urbanism in general; often the artist focuses on a particular history. Without actually representing her protagonists, however, Judith Saupper plays a game of illusion and fiction, and the multiple
possibilities of reality, looking behind the scenes of the obvious and known. Such is the case with the Griechischen Collagen (Greek Collages), and the series of sculptures entitled P.’s 20 Jahre (P.’s 20 Years), in which the artist adds a new variation to the wanderings of Homer’s Odysseus, raising the question of what Penelope might have gotten up to during her husband’s long absence. A love of narrative plays a central role early on in these works, much in the spirit of Elias Canetti, who said on the topic, “I didn’t feel guilty about making up this story, I did not take them as lies
in the ordinary sense of the word. Odysseus, who had always been my model, helped me over the embarrassing aspects of this. What was well invented was a story, not a lie.”1 The artist’s aim is to tweak the story – or rather, weave a new one – for, as Canetti puts it, a “good, charitable purpose.” “What if,” says Judith Saupper, “those left behind were less interested in the farms and industries of Ithaca, and more concerned with their own lives? What if their loyalty to Odysseus waned during all those years of waiting? If more attention was given to the minor characters? After Odysseus went to war, did Penelope still sleep in the same bed? What happens to the youth, who see no future for themselves on the island, and what are the consequences of the long war, which certainly did not leave Ithaca unscathed?”2 In a series of photo collages, the artist combines reality and fiction, and anchors the Ithaca of Odysseus in the present day. The metropolis of Athens becomes the Ithaca of the future, an idyllic landscape cluttered with waste, and a recreation center built in 2006 appears to anticipate the current economic crisis in Greece. The title and the accompanying texts are an integral part of the project, not as exclusively typographical elements, but more as ways to open up new levels of meaning, offering a kind of aid to reading the work. Many of the texts are themselves quotes taken from literature, as well as everyday life, which Judith Saupper collected in her notebooks and sketchbooks, and later skillfully collaged into various images, giving the latter an ironic and humorous meaning. In the Odyssey, Penelope is portrayed as the epitome of the faithful wife, a woman who is known for her intelligence and constancy, and who rejects the many suitors who swarm around her palace. In her series of works entitled P.’s 20 Jahre (P.’s 20 Years), Judith Saupper asks the question: what if Penelope had yielded to the advances of the suitors, and exploited the awkward situations to her own advantage? Penelope plays Odysseus for a fool, the same way he fools with his own environment. Or, as Judith Saupper has Penelope say in one of the texts, “We’ll surely know how to amuse ourselves – it is the will of the Gods!” What did Penelope actually do during Odysseus’ absence? The artist’s sculptures show us possible stations in Penelope’s life, embellished by an imaginary dialogue between Penelope and Odysseus: from a hotel room rented by the hour, an indoor swimming pool after hours, right up to a suitor’s own hair salon. And all just because the waiting wife must ask, “What countries have you been living in, where have you been loitering?”3 Born in Feldkirchen in 1975, Judith Saupper studied theater and film set design at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. Her involvement in building and designing spaces as showplaces of possible narratives took root during her studies and continued beyond her photo collages in such pieces as Lug & Trug (Lies & Deception). “I see the collages as being formally similar to my sculptural pieces, in terms of meaning as well. Of course, they also allow a particular kind of shifting and insertion on multiple levels.”4 Through her works, which are located at the intersection of painting, sculpture, objects, and architectural models, the artist develops an impressive interdisciplinary and cross-media approach. In her object pieces, Judith Saupper always references existing works of architecture, but she is not interested in pinpointing the buildings geographically. Rather, they are a “play of fantasy architecture and illusion,”5 and a critical engagement with social and societal circumstances. The artist designs her models, which combine a variety of subjective associations and emotions, by deploying narrative details with great sensitivity. The objects frequently engender insights into private spaces, in which protagonists have left behind traces, yet are always absent. Much like the photo collages, the façades of the buildings are deceptive. Lies & Deception is a housing estate long since vacated by its residents. Saupper depicts the signs they have left behind using small objects. The spaces become a metaphor for a phantom human existence. In it, different
identities are sometimes engaged as a way to deal with individual perception. The utopian
nature of architecture, and the way it addresses satellite towns and their expansion into the natural landscape around big cities, is worked out more strongly in many of the objects, drawings, and photographs. High-rise buildings isolated from the urban context appear oddly displaced, like invaders from another world. Streets and highways follow after the buildings, continuing to destroy and change the landscape. Much of it set on stilts, the architecture represents its occupants’ yearning for freedom and individuality. “Castles in the air” are built literally, in order to stand out from the masses of other buildings.6 But even where, as in the photographic series Vororte (Suburbs), the buildings take on a unique style and one presumably believes to have successfully grabbed hold of a special place in the urban context, this world of make-believe still doesn’t function. Again, Saupper’s architectural utopias are sensitive observations of social trends
and fundamental anxieties. They demonstrate, among other things, the need for security, or represent the fear of the other, the stranger, the loss of personal individuality, and loneliness in the big city. The intent is to contrast these things with a singular architecture on stilts, which has a kind of protective function. The architectural objects range from a romantic farmhouse and a concrete cube, to a latex building, much like the Endless House by Friedrich Kiesler – designed as a single-family house for the museum garden at MOMA – which can theoretically be stretched and thus expanded on all sides.
One Man – One Room – One Central Locking System! (P. Sloterdijk) But in reality, the uniformity of single-family houses that characterize the outskirts of the city is dominant. Oh, Sweet Suburbia … is an object that seeks to rid itself of these houses. If one gets near the piece, it begins to shudder like a living thing, trying to shake off the parasites – i.e., the single-family homes – on order to rid itself of the boredom of uniformity. The housing development assumes responsibility for itself, no longer content to be the setting for battles over garden fences, xenophobia, caste-thinking, and evergreen hedges. Like the buildings on stilts, it articulates the artist’s notion that a person creates a cocoon to avoid coming into contact with the outside world. “In almost hair-splittingly identical houses, the individual appears to become isolated: the living room is decorated almost the same as that of the neighbor, but no one knows it – because they won’t let anybody inside!“7
In her large-scale collages on Tyvek, a fabric also known as “kite paper”, the artist depicts sweeping landscapes in order to represent a larger context – a perspective of inhabited
architecture that is normally denied to the individual and which, like the drawings in the Hinterland series, shows the “brutal force with which the landscape is occupied” 8. As in the piece titled Informell (Informal), the search for a special abode leads to settlements of so-called “non-places”, like the pillars of an elevated highway. Nevertheless, our ideal image of that place we call “home” – a house with a garden in the countryside, with a beautiful, shady tree in front of the door – remains intact. However, our modern, increasingly mobile life doesn’t permit this idyll. So in her piece titled Heimaten (Homelands), Judith Saupper comes to the rescue with a design for a mobile home and a tree that travels along with it. Our environment influences our actions: this is the thesis articulated by Judith Saupper in her installation Excavations (Design Proposals or
Necessary Renovation Projects). It deals with the interaction between the way we live and dwell, our perception, and how we act – as a reaction to the current political context, and specifically with reference to the responsibility of key decision makers. The work is to be read also in the sense of Anthony Vidler’s “Essay on the Modern Unhomely, The Architectural Uncanny”. However, the hypothesis that a beautiful environment has
a positive effect on a person’s actions also leads to the question of how to build in order to shape a creative environment. The publication at hand is being released on the occasion of Judith Saupper’s solo exhibition, part of a book series by bäckerstrasse4 – plattform
für junge kunst, and provides an overview of the artist’s work up to this point. The exhibition itself is a documentation of the fact that her art always results from reflections on the real life world. Under the title Sorgfälte Zukunftsplanung (Careful Planning for the Future), it deals with the contemporary “problems” of planning life. In the present day, every individual is required to pursue a “career plan”. Whether this means going to the right kindergarten, the right party membership, “resumé building” leisure activities
and networks, or attractive social media profiles, nothing is left to chance. “At the same time,” says the artist, “that current ‘rules of behavior’ are rarely questioned, while enormous effort is expended to create a ‘unique and distinctive’ personality that produces similar lives, identical almost to a single strand of hair.”9 The sculpture titled Careful Planning for the Future shows the supposedly perfect (life) plan and the possible
correlations that are responsible for the success or failure of a life project. The core of this future planning is shown in Judith Saupper’s façade design for bäckerstrasse4 - platform for young art, titled Checklist: Planning for the Future. Taking shape here – in the public space of Bäckerstrasse – is a simplified plan, offering assistance in the form of a list, with the key words “Make the world your own”, “I-immunity”, “Simulate life”, and “Everything is exactly as it seems”. But to break through this supposed “road plan of life”, the photo series .berprüfung von Realitäten (Testing Realities) shows how quickly this plan can fail. All it takes is just a step to one side to see things in life from a different angle, or, if even just a few circumstances are altered, the previously envisaged life has to be adjusted or
abandoned. But at least there was an idea and a vision, and It Could Have Been All So Nice, as the title of an installation tells us. If only – yes, if.
1 Elias Canetti, Die Fackel im Ohr (The Torch in My Ear), Frankfurt, 1980, p. 133.
2 Judith Saupper, portfolio, the artist’s archive.
3 Judith Saupper, texts from the series of works titled P.´s 20 Years.
4 Interview with Judith Saupper, April 2013.
7 Judith Saupper, porfolio, the artist’s archive.
8 Interview with Judith Saupper, April 2013.
9 Judith Saupper, exhibition concept, bäckerstrasse4 – plattform für junge kunst, April 2013