Künstler: Bill Bollinger, Mary Ellen Carroll
In concrete deviation the work of Mary Ellen Carroll and Bill Bollinger are linked by a spatial and abstract concept: the rotation of an object in space around its own axis. Whereas in Movie (1970) Bollinger repeatedly tries to place a tree trunk in an upright position, in prototype 180 (1999–ongoing) Carroll effects the one-hundred-and-eighty-degree rotation of a single-story home. Despite the formal analogy between the two works, each respectively leads to different semantic realms in terms of epistemological or socio-aesthetical considerations.
The turning of a residential home in Carroll’s work as well as the setting-up of a tree trunk in Bollinger’s film present conscious deviations of each object from its “normal state.” Both artists are interested in conveying a processual quality of these three-dimensional objects and thereby produce seemingly absurd spatial interventions. In the work of Bollinger the material qualities and the spatio-sculptural potential of the object are foregrounded. In contrast, Carroll’s manipulation within the urban sphere focuses on the socio-aesthetic status of the house and it conventionalization.
Despite the varying contexts from which the two works originate and the differ-ences between the two artists’ practices, both works clearly entail points of contact with positions in Land Art, such as Robert Smithson and Walter De Maria. concrete deviation sets up a temporal parenthesis, which not only establishes a relationship between two artists of different generations but also articulates varying discursive idioms rooted in different eras. Although the works of Bollinger—which despite certain unique qualities still bear a strong relationship to the phenomenological aspects of 1960s Minimalism—seem at first glance to focus on processes of entropy, Carroll’s conceptual practice substantially incorporates the political dimension of space and the perception thereof. In the work of both artists architecture is present as a dispositive that regulates the relationship be-tween the interior and the exterior. It is also manifested as a hinge between the world of things and of subjects (Bollinger), on the one hand, and as the result of a complex set of interdependencies within the social realm (Carroll), on the other.
At the center of Mary Ellen Carroll’s conceptual and process-based work prototype 180 is the rotation of a one-story single-family home, which is situated in a suburb of Houston, Texas, in an economically stagnant, middle-class residential neighborhood. In 1999 Carroll purchased the ranch-style house, which was built in the 1960s. It took over ten years of ongoing research, planning, and financing until it was possible—at great effort and cost in terms of the building measures involved—to rotate the entire property one hundred and eighty degrees in the year 2010. The front of the house and the adjacent front garden became the back and vice versa. The interior of the house remained as it was, although the view from the house and lighting situation within changed fundamentally. However, prototype 180 cannot be reduced to this mere physical alteration; in this work the idea of change is more closely linked to structural than spatio-architectural issues.
On the one hand, Carroll’s intervention manifests the house as a dispositive. This raises questions as to the perspectives that it produces and the status that it conveys upon the subject living within. On the other hand, as a reflection of a system, the artist’s manner of working points to a higher order, which does not merely address the role of the viewer/inhabitant but is part of a meta-discourse interrogating the house as a social artifact. Which ideas and types of communal living accompany this form of residence; what social ideals does it reflect; what kinds of social inclusion or exclusion are conditioned by it? The work is not concerned with the representation of a building but with its social, economic, and legal implications and determinants. The documents surrounding the official au-thorization for this structural alteration constitute an important “material” basis of the work. In Houston there are extremely few regulations and ordinances gov-erning urban planning. Industrial and residential buildings have existed next to one another since time immemorial, without adhering to any orchestrated urban plan or organization. The quite immediate availability of land to build on has led to deregulated urban space, the organization of which primarily follows the laws of economics. The phantasm of “freely” available urban space is in actuality an urbanistic reflection of neoliberal economic interests.
prototype 180 is not so much an architectural alteration as it is a strategic spatial intervention, which frames urban space and spatial order in terms of their social and political dimensions. Many years in the making, this comprehensive work of art cannot be distilled down to a specific medium or form of representation. Documentary images, the video of the performance-like rotation of the building, and also the administrative work that spanned a period of over ten years all contribute to the work as a whole. prototype 180 did not come to an end with the rotation of the house in 2010. Instead, the reorientation of the building is simply one step in a process of structural change. The work keeps developing, slowly but unremittingly, and the immediate impact is accompanied by long-term changes in the reception and use of the building, as well as changes in the perceptions of the viewers, visitors, and users. The rotated house is becoming an “institute that can run and study itself—and its context” (Mary Ellen Carroll). prototype 180 points to a realm of possibility beyond existing spatial, social, and political conditions. Although it can be understood as a clear three-dimensional form, the house is not reified as a given object but is shown as being manifested from a process of socio-aesthetic agreement.
The works of Bill Bollinger (1939–1988) are constellations of simple, often industrially manufactured materials. For example, he used aluminum tubing, rope, wood, and water in a highly reduced and “direct” manner, that is, without investing them with symbolic or narrative significance or using them to imply any formal ideal. His objects definitely have the status of the “concrete.” Before studying art, Bollinger completed a degree in aeronautical engineering, and his work evinces his fundamental interest in spatial principles and the laws of physics. His work reflects the effects of gravity, investigates the phenomena of the vertical and horizontal, and also focuses on the specific characteristics of the respective materials employed. In their rough, unfinished quality and radicality Bollinger’s works often recall the processes involved in physical experimental setups and procedures. On the one hand, they suggest the sculptural autonomy of objects, and, on the other, they convey their status as artifacts and utilitarian objects. Culture and nature, industrially produced materials and natural substances are would-be opposites in Bollinger’s work, yet for him the physicality of an object includes the physical processes to which it is subject. A stringency of form and formlessness or order and transformation do not pose morphological, and by no means ontological, contradictions but are different modalities of a process-based state of being.
Bollinger’s works were largely conceived as temporary; they were usually installed in situ and thus were inherently transient. In this aspect Bollinger was more indebted to the principles of Concept Art than the classical notion of sculpture. Bollinger included—and in this regard he could be considered a Post-minimalist—expressionistic and subjective aspects of experience, his interactions with and surrounding the object, in the otherwise straightforward and rough staging of his work. According to Bollinger, the form of a work is not “the form of an object but whatever is necessary to represent conceptual qualities that resist being localized.“(1). The artist neither aimed to express the ideal quality of form, nor was he concerned with the aesthetics of Minimalism, largely devoid of the human subject, which prevailed during his era. Instead, in his approach he sought possibilities for a perceptual “engagement” with the object.
Bollinger’s only film, Movie, was first shown in 1970 in the exhibition Information at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The fifteen-minute 8-mm color film shows Bollinger as he repeatedly tries to vertically balance a tree and set it on end in the landscape. When he finally manages this after countless repeated attempts, Bollinger briefly steps out of the image, allowing the scene to appear like a still photograph. Then he ultimately causes the tree trunk to fall down with a random movement. Through his repetitive actions he brings a processual element to the fore, which robs the sculptural object, the tree trunk, of its spatial and contemplative qualities. In Movie Bollinger activates the verticality of the tree trunk in a manner that goes beyond architectural and functional ideas. The performative “utilization” of the object causes viewers to focus their attention on the system through which it is set on end, on the norm to which the tree trunk should comply. In this case, the verticality of the tree is not simply a symbol for the upright forms given in nature as a fundamentally sculptural variable; verticality is also socially connoted in relation to architec-ture. Even if not apparent at first glance, the work negotiates the relationship between nature and culture on an aesthetic level. Bollinger’s film redirects the gaze away from the object, its concrete presence, and its abstract qualities to its “form of usage” and potential cultural contexts. His film shows a process of entropy, which refers more immediately to human intervention than the forces of nature.
The works of Bill Bollinger and Mary Ellen Carroll focus the gaze on the process- and system-based dimensions of the three-dimensional object they respectively investigate. Even if the “performative activity” in Bollinger’s work seems to be more related to the immanent materiality of the object, the tree trunk, and the physical laws to which it responds, the work by no means perpetuates the basic no-tion of the opposition of nature and culture or the man-made/constructed and the naturally given. Instead, it also considers the “reality of the made” in addition to the physical and socio-aesthetic conditions to which it is subject. Given that Carroll takes a substantially more politically inclined approach, initially her work seems more rooted in reality and more critical. Nevertheless, prototype 180 entails a projective or even poetic dimension when viewed in the context of the processual and entropic concept of reality expressed in the work of Bollinger. Carroll does not merely question existing conventional notions of space and the urban order. prototype 180 holds an imaginative potential, which makes it possible to conceive alternate forms of spatial and urban organization, making the clear and stringently conceptual work ultimately a projective and imaginative undertaking with an uncertain outcome.
1 Harris Rosenstein: Das Bollinger-Phänomen, in: Bill Bollinger, Die Retrospekive, hg. v. Christiane Meyer-Stoll, Köln: Walther König 2011, S. 38.