My Neighborhood

Nina Dunkmann, 2012

Have you ever asked yourself what your neighbor really does? Judith Saupper has, and approaches the question with great irony. About 170 centimeters high, the upper third of her wood towers shows three floors of a rental building. Here it’s allowed to peek through the keyhole. In fact, it’s made considerably easier by the fact that two of the building’s walls are missing. The Viennese artist studied stage design, something reflected in her art installations. When approaching Meine Nachbarschaft (My Neighborhood) the feeling of a crime scene becomes instantly pressing. Something is going on here … Saupper wants to uncover our basic fears. Observers, we are still safe and secure; we are the ones looking through the window, and not the other way around. The miniaturization provides observers with a much wider view range, enabling them to recognize relevant connections and interactions. For example, the fact that these three similar apartments have the same floor plan, but are inhabited by very different people. Surprised, one ascertains how very different the same apartment can become through human influence. Judith Saupper’s residents are never at home, allowing observers to look around with impunity. The first shock waits on the ground floor: This is where the bomb maker lives. He hasn’t made his home permanent, with boards on simple stands serving as makeshift tables. Instruments are scattered everywhere; one can see how eagerly he tinkers, or wires cables, to be more exact. There is mattress bedding in one corner of the room, with the dream of a better world pasted above it: a wall mural with palm trees, a beach, the ocean, and lonely little boats. “Judith Saupper creates a physical immersion in a world through her authenticity, which becomes ever stranger in proportion to its miniaturization.”1 A conspiracy theorist lives above the bomb maker. Everything happens inside his head. He lives sparingly, but the walls are densely hung with maps and photos, like in one of the evening crime shows, bundles of newspaper are stacked high on the floor. This person is set up for isolation and independence. Immense amounts of supplies are stored on a false floor, making it unnecessary to leave the house. Above these two, the reader has heavy baggage. The shelves and cupboards sag under the weight of their load, and yet there is still not enough room. Books are stacked on the floor and a person sitting on the sofa would be in constant danger of being buried by books. Does the reader even know what is going on below him? Or could it be that the excitable, slightly paranoid fantasy of the reader incited the man on the first floor to start building bombs in the first place? The examination of our underlying fears stands side-by-side to our craving for fear, which always contains a portion of curiosity and the desire to discover the world. “Many people retain this sense of eeriness in the familiar; they feel it when they go down in the cellar, or into their apartment at night.”2 We love to make up stories like this about “the person next door”. We are only really shocked when it actually happens. And this kind of headline story á la, “I never imagined…” is definitely a part of Saupper’s thought-provoking sculptures.


1 Theresia Hauenfels, En gros – en détail, Portfolio Judith Saupper, 2011

2 Herlinde Koelbl (photos) Manfred Sack (text), Das deutsche Wohnzimmer, München 2000, p. 142