Rainer Fuchs — Embodiments of space - 1997

The body of the sculpture, broken up or opened, with its center laid bare and accentuated as an open and hollow interior plays a central role in Wakolbinger’s œuvre. Thus, he undermines the notion that sculpture is about compact and static volumes while taking into account that it is bound to space. His concrete sculptures of the eighties, with inset elements of copper sheet, offered hidden beauty and preciousness. Their shell structures i.a. pointed to the act of enveloping space and to space being enveloped as a theme of sculpture. They are an early example of the way he consistently formulates the development of sculpture as carrying the illustration of space, of the place where it exists, in itself. In his sculptures Wakolbinger thematizes the fact that sculpture inevitably relates to its surrounding space while at the same time generating space within itself by inscribing itself in space. Sculpture as a kind of space container in space – this premise correlates with the use of materials and motifs that support the illustration of a space-object relation linking transparency and envelopment. The artist does not use cast or forged iron, but thin copper sheet, which can be shaped into sculptural wraps, as well as various types of glass as his primary materials, with enveloped hollow spaces being a recurring motif. In an obsessive engagement with space as sculptural context and text, his works run the gamut from the construction of hollow spaces in concrete, metals and glass to the observation and recording of natural hollow spaces – such as bubbles in water – in photographs. Wakolbinger’s works doubtlessly also have an ornamental dimension. The sweeping shapes, the metallic material with its sensual and painterly gleam, his reference to or emphasis on architectural elements are all indications of a dialogue with the history of the ornament and its use. Against the background of the Museum des Zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts with its strictly rational and functionalist architecture, the sculptures create a symbiosis of spatial geometry and sculptural-ornamental orchestration that is full of tension.

In Wakolbinger’s works, the fact that space and object are necessarily defined as interacting so that each can only be seen in relation to the other forms the basis of an understanding of sculpture as a connecting element and as a pivotal point for the seemingly contradictory. In this context, the shell-like sculptures are only one way to concurrently identify the distinct components of shell and core as elements that condition one another. Empty space and material abundance, transparency and opacity are more such criteria, usually seen as contrasts; in Wakolbinger’s works they seem to have been brought together in a relationship of simultaneity and complementary existence. The most remarkable example for this weave of relations are the copper bodies taking the shapes of waves, loops or knots placed in glass cubes. The loop as a band closed in itself, circulating in the confines of its glass space could be described as the most pertinent symbol of a space-object relation forever revolving around itself. It also fits into this context of circular and infinite relations that the copper-sheet pieces surrounded by glass envelop hollow spaces themselves so that we look at spaces within spaces and wraps around wraps. Moreover, the artist’s works also point to the ways in which the crystalline and the amorphous are intertwined and in which geometrically defined shapes are juxtaposed with dynamic forces defying exact determination. Geometry and amorphous shapes condition each other and create a mirror chamber of relations of mutual envelopment, with glass, actually fluid in its raw form, appearing in crystalline rigidity whereas hardened metal symbolizes flowing motion.However, the notion that in his works, Wakolbinger practically and visually blurs the boundaries between categories generally seen as polarities must not be considered a levelling of elements conditioning each other; on the contrary, this explicitly thematizes the relationality of differences. Since the sculptures refer to complementary relations and since the space where they are located or placed is also their complementary shell these sculptures are not bounded by their own exterior “skin”. They are sculptures that engage with the role of the viewer as he/she interprets a situation, not just an object. Sculpture as a visual invitation to also look at what is outside itself draws the viewer into this relationality. Thus, reception in this context is yet another way of creating a relation between sculpture and space, and thus an intelligible continuation of the plays on relations reflected in the works.

Envelopment and inscription could be a significant pair of terms to interpret these plays on relations internal to sculpture. first, concrete was used for the jacket and shell surrounding copper-clad centers, then glass became a transparent case and vessel to hold the copper interior. The copper shapes held by the glass cubes as if constrained by them simulate a relation of forces full of tension. However, these tensions are feigned in the construction, not real, they are snapshots of the more precarious statics fixed in sculptures, as it were. Thus, these sculptures are at the same time “pictures” of energy potentials, they visualize deformation and warping, thereby enabling an experience of clearly delineated space as a given and constraint for its outward appearance. The reflections in glass and gleaming copper underscore the intention to be ephemeral and process-linked or the dynamism of forces that basically withstands any attempt at pinning it down. Since the tightly held copper in its sensual and flesh-like presence is a fragmented and symbolic echo of the living organism and its precarious existence between constraint and liberation, the play on forms and materials acquires an existential meaning as it also points to the sculptural analysis of space as an engagement with the world the viewer lives in.The undulating copper sheet placed in glass cubes or set in walls, another group of works, stands for an integration, connection or involvement with existing elements in space and thus for a dependency which, in the latest works, literally ends up in a state of suspension in space. Precise construction and the deliberate display of rough welds and of the impact welding has on the metal strike a balance in these works. Hung on chains or mounted on specially designed racks, the solid-looking sculptural shapes seem to float in space which makes their bulk all the more impressive. This kind of relation to space explicitly introduces gravity as an invisible force acting in space.

The dynamism of spatio-sculptural tensions, frozen as in a snapshot, but also accentuated here, reveals itself as movement staged in real terms in the rotating sculptures. These works, qua forms of movement, deliver to us what the gaze around and the play of changing light normally do to them: the constant transformation of appearances in space, which turns out to be the only stable component. The shape of the sculptures, their roundness and open space-enveloping form already visualize motion, inscribing itself in space and taking up space, which then actually takes place as a real event, driven by a motor. Sculpture as a sequence of movements – those in the work’s shape and those of the recipient – in a form that per se has dynamism seems to be expressed most pertinently in these rotating objects.

Placed on the floor, suspended from ceilings and hanging on walls, set in motion – these forms of presentation correlate with the shapes of the exhibits. They virtually map their positioning and presentation on themselves or determine their shape on the basis of their relation with space. Thus, one of the hanging sculptures reminds us of a wing-shaped form, and the act of floating becomes more specifically an act of flying. A copper shape lying on the floor evokes the motif of a place to lie down and of the reclining body. A kind of sculptural-anthromorphic piece of furniture, the object transforms its surroundings into an interior. The sculptures seem removed from their glass cases or recesses and frames in the existing architecture and directly appropriate their environment. Depending on their own position and shape, they imprint and mark it as a quasi-aeronautic air space or a fictitious space to inhabit and live in. Technology and aviation are as legitimate as potential frameworks of interpretation as are references to the body and the oppressive bulk of the fleshly subcutaneous.

The fact that functional objects have always occupied, delineated and characterized space is something that Wakolbinger’s works make us explicitly aware of. Thus it is not at all far-fetched to become directly involved with existing space-object relations, reflecting on them by sculptural interventions. In this sense,
the artist used some of the display tables which are part of the museum’s furniture, integrating copper shapes in them. The furniture-like sculpture is thus complemented by the piece of furniture that has factually become an art object. The artist’s intervention involving the table recalls the space in the object, which in turn occupies the museum space. It seems quite obvious to consider the Museum des Zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts as a huge display case which thus forms the architectural super-system for the display tables – like an expanding system of cells pointing at its infinite potential for expansion and identifying the individual work as a catalyst and paradigmatic deployment of this dynamism that does away with all boundaries.

The themes of “floating” and complementary space-object relations are not only characteristic of the most recent sculptures but also of the new photographic works depicting bubbles rising in water. They are yet another example of the physics of gravity as a basis of an obsessive artistic engagement with the dichotomies of abundance and emptiness, weight and lightness, confinement and liberation. Rising and suspension as different appearances of the force of gravity indicate the range of the fatalism of natural forces Wakolbinger uses creatively. In the photographs, the hollow bubbles appear as the actual objects depicted within a seemingly infinite space of water. Wakolbinger’s gaze thus focuses on the embodiment of space in space, no matter whether he acts as a photographer or a sculptor.

The bubbles form ephemeral centers rounded in themselves, pliable cores, even though they actually mark nothing but empty space within an abundance of water. Here, the play on emptiness and abundance, shell and core culminates in seemingly reversed relations which are all the more convincing in that they deal with the irreversible intertwining of space and object. The air rising up thus represents the infinite space it strives to reach. We could recognize in it emptiness pressed into a specific shape and thus made visible. Like the earlier black-and-white photographs of architectural or floral motifs, these works, too, are to do with the visualization of sculptural structures normally hidden from sight. The fact that the motifs are enlarged and in the center of the picture, that they are displayed macroscopically turns the transitoriness of time into an endless moment in which the viewer’s gaze can rest on the ephemeral. The representation allows for an ambivalent reading: the macrocosm of the galaxy and the microcosm of biology suggest themselves as equally associative spaces.

It is fairly obvious to compare the representations of emptiness recorded in the photorgraphs with the sculptures displaying “deformed” copper parts in glass cubes. The copper shapes enclosed in glass are not only reminiscent of transparent showcases for organic exhibits, they also symbolize the hollow air space inside as an objectified and clearly delineated void, i.e. as the invisible and immeasurable turned visible and measurable.

In a new series of photographs Wakolbinger mixes collage-like pictures which look like smaller picture windows scanned and incorporated in frame motifs. Photographs of landscapes, factories, butchers’ shops and various snapshots collected while traveling are combined with picture details from anonymous sources to form pictures within pictures. In these photographic works, the human body is shown in diverse narrative and associative contexts, in both intimate moments of privacy and situations exposed to a voyeur’s gaze. However, the decisive factor for a meaningful connection is the overall context of the picture. For example, one of the works shows the picture of a nude female body, ready to be “shot” by some voyeuristic photographer, within the representation of a butcher’s shop with the bodies of dead birds on hooks. When we look at the lowest common denominator of the pictures, the work refers to the way different bodies are marketed, to their value as mere consumer goods. The viewer is, of course, free to read this “picture story” as a moralizing tale, but the commingling of morbidity and eroticism, death and pleasure does not stop at a moralizing gesture. The lifeless animal body on a hook, as both a morbid and culinary motif, recalls some of the suspended copper sculptures, which is only one potential cross-reference between Wakolbinger’s photography and sculpture.

The combination of pictures Wakolbinger practices in these photographic works defy any unequivocal narrative message, on the contrary, it cultivates the disruption of narrative stringency by using the different images of bodies and spaces as shifters which, depending on their respective context, have a textual poetry of their own while at the same time penetrating their context semantically. The fact that the viewer’s consciousness, itself specifically conditioned and conditioning meaning, is the control center for this, identifies these “picture stories” as invitations to read them, as puzzle structures asking the viewer to create associations.
The relationality of the pictures, the pictures inscribed within pictures, interiors within the exterior spaces of landscapes, the combination of organic-sensual motifs with technoid, industrial and architectural structures suggest a comparison with the sculptures and the complementary and relational components negotiated therein. One of the photographs shows two people embracing in a room set against the background of a landscape with a concrete factory. Another small photograph with an enormous number of parked bicycles seems to mediate between technoid austerity and physical closeness. Like the sculptural motif of the loop, the photographic motif of the embracing bodies seems to stand for a metaphor of different worlds of images blending with each other. Moreover, these pictures may undermine, superpose and disrupt each other at first sight but it is precisely the staged “picture disturbance” that enables their identification as pictures, as constructed images with mediatized connotations.

It would be pointless to seek a kind of neutral or objective truth behind these pictures because the images and their combinations have a share in determining the perception of what we call reality. Here again, we may draw a comparison with sculpture: in the sculptures, the neutral or empty space as an objective reality is mere fiction because space has always been defined and thus co-determines its own content. Seen against this backdrop, Wakolbinger’s œuvre in all its distinct forms of expression is a set of instruments defying fatalism and naïve realism while at the same time interpreting and building a definition of “space” and “reality”.