Somewhere East of Eden
Renée Gadsden, 2013
Judith Saupper is not only a visual artist; she is also a director, a Cecil B. DeMille of her own, powerful miniature worlds. In works such as Das Haus meiner Träume (The House of My Dreams, 2011) or Sorgfältige Zukunftsplanung (Careful Planning for the Future, 2013), she builds small scale, house-like objects with staircases, some leading somewhere, some stopping in midair. She builds rooms, arranges them. Destroys them, rearranges them. The whimsicality of many of her objects is reminiscent of Cornell boxes. Potemkin, oder Mensch wie Haus (Potemkin, or a Person As Well As a House, 2011) is not dissimilar to Joseph Cornell’s 1951 Untitled (Window Façade). Saupper creates environments for actors who will never be cast, perfect stage settings for societal dramas that will never be played out. The who and the what, the how and the why of their interactions she will never encounter. It is enough to have provided the stage setting, and to know that the actors (in her case, the viewers of her art) will enter of their own accord. Fictive architecture is Judith Saupper’s milieu. Her work has a contemplative calm that is often referred to when discussing the projects of architect Peter Zumthor, whose approach to his work as well as the creations themselves resonate strongly with Saupper. This air of calm is in stark contrast to the seeming clutter and devastation she puts on display in many of her objects. The tension between destruction and quietude is what makes her art so appealing. One senses the mighty forces that could have been at work, the violence of natural or human made calamities that might have caused the walls of her objects to crumble and decay. Saupper presents us with the consequences of Time in a poetic yet dispassionate fashion. Like Edgar Allen Poe, she acknowledges the triumph of the Conqueror Worm, but does so with a humorous wink. She documents, as she puts it, “Die Zeit, die da nagt” (Time, as it gnaws away). The art of Judith Saupper could be placed in the era following the dropping of a neutron bomb. (The neutron bomb was an Orwellian product of the Cold War of the 1970s, an invention that was presented to the public in an almost cheerful, please-believe-in-progress way: a bomb that kills people but leaves buildings intact.) Urban landscapes, interiors, apartment houses, bridges, cellar doors, highways: Judith Saupper documents a world where people do not exist. Unemotional as a courtroom sketch artist, Saupper takes India ink and paper to relentlessly record the vision of her mind’s eye. Natural disasters as a catalyst for drastic change hold a fascination for the artist. Hurricane Katrina blew across Saupper’s consciousness as it did across the Louisiana coast in 2005. The fragility of every small, humble existence, that precarious hold onto the Earth, those wooden houses, tossed and displaced by the hurricane, revealed to Judith Saupper their inner logic. She has translated their message to us in a visual grammar that is sober, meaning unadorned, yet still is able to evoke a smile upon viewing, as in the drawing Immer ist Anfang (Always Is the Beginning, 2012). Other drawings, such as many of the Hinterland series of 2009, are reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s Plan Obus drawings for Algiers: massive fortresses of apartment blocks dominate cragged landscapes intersected by multi-lane highways. Implacable and bemused, Judith Saupper draws visions for us which could be construed, from a science fiction perspective, as being visions of our future. Works with titles like Paralleluniversum (Parallel Universe, 2011) or Der Besuch ist da! #1-3 (The Visit is Here! #1-3, 2011), which is a series of black and white photo light boxes, where mysterious UFO bubbles come down from the sky onto empty urban landscapes, reinforce the science fiction aura that pervades Saupper’s work. The unifying element in all her production is the lack of human presence in bodily form. The absence of people in the oeuvre of Saupper is not in any way life denying. Her spaces, absent of bodies, are an invitation to humanity to engage itself on the playgrounds she so meticulously and generously created for that purpose. Nonetheless, her creations are not full of longing; they are not waiting for anyone. They exist as an unspoken query, a platform for interaction to be freely chosen in time, duration, and in all directions. Saupper’s work conveys a fundamental belief in humanity, an even joyous belief in good outcomes. This quality is manifested not only directly in the works, but also in her witty choice of titles, such as Viva la revolución, Oh, Sweet Suburbia … and Gute, alte Zeit (Good Old Times). Her investigations of the interaction of human assiduity, primarily manifested through architecture, and nature, combined with the attitude that the best of all possible results can be achieved, makes her a spiritual bedfellow of the architect and inventor R. Buckminster Fuller. Saupper has built several prototypes of possible houses (one made of found materials and built in the branches of a tree; another, with the form of a submarine, placed atop a tall column) and put photographs of them as montages into various landscape scenes, giving us a fresh angle on what the urban environment could look like. Like Fuller, who worked together with John Cage, Saupper has also collaborated with composers such as Rupert Huber, who created the sound installation for her 2011 object Echo. Saupper’s work is open-ended, allowing the contingencies of any situation to develop. She describes the 2012 drawing Das Beruhigende von trennende Linien (The Reassurance of Separating Lines) as depicting a chain link fence protecting the viewer from ugly buildings. Exactly the opposite could also be true: the fence could be protecting the buildings, which seem huddled together in a crowd, from the viewer. In the photo series Überprüfen von Realitäten (Examining Realities, 2013), she demonstrates how the scheme, the pattern, one has of one’s life can be broken open. It only takes one step to the side or a turn of the photos 180 ˚ to see things completely differently. The parallel universe of myriad possibilities is one of the strong ideas that runs unremittingly throughout her work. Sorgfältige Zukunftsplanung (Careful Planning for the Future) is the object that gives the exhibition its name. A tower-like element of precariously balanced rooms displaying various states of array, covered as if by wallpaper with black and white India ink drawings of a plan, although a plan of what is not revealed. Saupper says flippantly that the rooms of the object are the “result that is achieved when one sticks to the plan”. Das Slavrumische Meer (The “Slav/Romanian” Sea, 2012) from the series “Wien liegt am Meer” (Vienna Lies on the Ocean) depicts a landscape of Saupper’s creation, showing countries north of the Danube as they have been sunk into the “Slav/Romanian” Sea. This is a new topography catering to her choices, placing Vienna on the coast of an ocean and giving it thereby the one element it lacks to make it, in her judgment, a “perfect” place to live. Saupper’s India ink drawings – so simple, and seemingly endless – flow from her pen in rhythmic lines that display uncompromising intent and command of the medium. One has the feeling, looking at Triangulation von Vorlieben (Triangulation of Preferences, 2012) that the series could go on infinitely. Fearlessness, curiosity, delicate hand work technique, the precision of a (Swiss) watchmaker, the ability to visualize dramatic changes of scale, the skill to handle a myriad of materials, the careless, or rather lighthearted, touch of someone who has achieved a certain level of mastery in their métier: all these things are combined in Judith Saupper’s art and work. She propagates a belief in beauty and in the harmony of form. Saupper has expressed the conviction that people and institutions can work together to change society for the better. Her work is a beacon that indicates: this metamorphosis can occur in our, instead of in a parallel, universe.