"The performative essence in the work of Susanne Kutter"
Giacomo Zaza, 2009

The amalgamation of idea and material context continues, in the case of Susanne Kutter, to push her work as an artist towards a combination of languages and of forms in which the illusion (which pulses with the real) coexists alongside the real (with its “counterfeit icons”). This is a two-way extension of the imagination, from artificial to natural space, from individual “manipulation” to collective “reflex”. Nevertheless, behind this there is a persistent appropriation of both the primary and the secondary material connected with the “domestic” spaces of social life and of cultural exchange. And since Susanne Kutter has always  been interested in processes of latent turbulence, capable of shaking up contemporary society’s states of inertia and of settled tranquillity, her installations and her videos tend to “establish” a transition, from subdued quiet to a dimension inverted and agitated thanks to perturbing events and by means of novel visual constructions.

Artifice and reality often penetrate and are confused with one another. For the installation O.T. (2005), the interior of an architectural model shares in the real events of the street. In the video images of the interior of the model, furnished down to the last detail, the window of the “fake” dining room coincides with the “real” window of the gallery, open onto the street. The two foreign alternatives – one referring to the simulation of the architectonic space on a reduced scale, the other to the simultaneous registration of the real space and time of the urban location – enter into symbiosis. This contamination, the scaled-down furniture of the little room united with the “real time of the lived experience”, explores the controlled effects of an aesthetic construction with misleading implications. Again in The First Encounter (2005), the image plays with the same effect of deception, of gap between simulation and reality, by means of a miniature light fitting within the cardboard walls of a small box.

In the context of the architectural model, the experiment and the utopia of a simulated world become, in Kutter’s work, charged with hazardous meanings. We pass from the ordering and determination of spaces that at first glance seem domestic, to an interweaving of “vertiginous” moments, dictated by an idea of existence evolving. Rather than being projects of a pure and minimal kind, based exclusively on geometrical and chromatic structures, the artist’s montages are susceptible to the variations inherent in the unresolved complexity of the living world. From this there derives an environment developed – in the microcosm or on a human scale – through elaborations of objects that border on the hybrid, on the fine line that separates orderly composition and a chaos of the parts. Nevertheless this type of environment is a long way from the precious installations of Franz Ackermann’s “mental maps”, or from the combinations constructed by Tobias Rehberger where the pictorial and design elements confront the pairing of utilitarian/aesthetic and public/private. It also differs from the Lilliputian urban landscapes invented by Won Ju Lim, which are projected, rendered gigantic, on the walls, because the German artist's aggregation of objects is devoid of spectacular qualities, free of “theatrical” and “totalizing” intentions.

Insects and animals characterize another stage of the artist’s output, which oscillates between perversion and horror. For Sonntag Nachmittag um vier [Sunday Afternoon at Four] (2003), the video projects the scene of a sitting room invaded by giant flies onto the walls of the gallery. The flies seem gigantic and threatening because they are real flies moving around within the confined space of a model on a scale of 1:13. Whilst in the more recent video Panic Room (2008), a miniature castle made of bread, based on the structure of the Schloss Moyland near Bedburg-Hau, is slowly eaten by seven mice. The black and white scenes of the video seem to reveal an atmosphere that is almost surreal and visionary, redolent of cinematic history, from Buňuel to Ferreri, from Herzog to Jodorowsky. Amid the initial naturalness of a “bucolic” habitat there arrives the improbable reality of a “symbolic object” rendered edible, eaten at until it is completely consumed. A sense of panic takes hold thanks to the inexorableness of the erosion of the castle and of the disturbing activities of the rodents. We conceal our fear regarding the “animal” background to our existence. The assimilation of the castle by the mice brings to the forefront the organic and the naturalistic, perversion and instinct, the cycle of life and death. Although the question of perpetual change remains a pressing one.

Elsewhere Kutter further increases the simultaneous presence of playfulness and attraction in her work, as in Ausserhalb der Sperrstunde (2006) [After Closing-time]. Here a closed and suspicious-looking dresser is suddenly opened by a detonator with a fuse, seducing the visitor with an assortment of drinks that are reflected in the glass inside the piece of furniture and illuminated by orange neon lights. As in the work of Tiravanija, the piece “offers” itself as a convivial moment dedicated to the consumption of cocktails. After the unexpected explosion of the “bar/cabinet” and the participation of the public, the traces of the happening remain visible. Instead, the installation Nepal Vario (1999) widens the field of action. This creates an intervention that is more unexpected, a vision taken almost to the limit of the “non conformist”. Using compressed air, a tube moves icing sugar around inside a tent. The spectator witnesses the moment following this gesture, testifying to the enigmatic character of a snow-scape composed of objects entirely covered with white sugar. The work exists as a behaviour and as an ambivalence. In this way the recourse to material and technical tricks articulates a “visible” world that is the mirror image of the universe which is creative even before it is real. Thanks to the ambiguous evolution of the elements, the discontinuous flux of their interpretation emerges.

The itinerary created by Kutter in the rooms of the Nuova Pesa is equipped with scenes in which the equilibrium is completely deranged. The entrance is occupied by the remains of a semi-destroyed crystal chandelier, smashed onto the floor  – Herrn Orleanders grosser Auftritt [Mr Orleander’s Grand Entrance] (2005). Although the chandelier as an aggregation of pieces remains what it was, its physical properties, in terms of density and of integrity of its parts, are unquestionably altered. Pieces of broken glass scattered around the point of impact alongside a few still-functioning light bulbs establish an area of forces in act, as well as the collision that has already taken place: this is not an end, but the progression of an “environment”. So a temporal space is created that recalls those moments in which one remains suspended, in shocked silence, waiting for emotional equilibrium to re-establish itself after a moment of turbulence. A pause dedicated to the perception of fragility, like that of the crystal drops of the broken chandelier.

A similar sense of process is evident in the words traced out on the wall of one of the rooms in the Roman gallery by the smoke-stains produced by the burning of a long fuse. The fuse, rather than provoking the detonation of an explosive device, articulates the phrase, “We will kill you anyway”  – in itself an explosive sentence. The effect sought is a sort of admonitory pause, rooted in the idea of a “mental gateway”, facilitating a momentary break in the constant rhythm of daily life. Various levels of reading are possible, without there being one clearly identifiable subject. The phrase on the wall weds well with possible figures of rhetoric concerning vanity, with citations taken from the repertoires of cinema or television, and perhaps with a vaguely ironic approach to existence, free of any latent ideological overtones. In any event, the identification of its significance remains unresolved.

Susanne Kutter's ambiguous style of work concerns itself as much with the spectre of power as with hypotheses of beauty or of luxury. In her hands luminous neon signs (Netto, Norma, Penny, Schlecker, Praktiker), realized with cardboard and sheets of newspaper, lose their function as indicators of consumerism, to take on the multiple function of “double meanings”, on one hand alluding to commercial brands, on the other connected with the pure tautology of the word. Superficially sharing the orthodox effect of metropolitan adverts that seduce the consumer, these signs create double-entendres around the logos of products or of seductive shopping centres. Suddenly Norma enters the scene, an ambivalent linguistic entity, situated somewhere between the semantic fact of “norm” or regulation and a piece of advertising.

This visual constellation acquires a further sinuous detour with the work Swaying Palm Trees line the Sandy White Beaches as they meet the Atlantic Ocean. Using found or salvaged materials, scrap material, it suggests the fascination of a pleasant image, and the atmospheric effect of a beach on the ocean. The movement of decorations for cocktails, stirred by an electric fan on the ground, dialoguing with the effect of water bubbling in a sort of aquarium, is projected “by magic” into a cardboard box. With the imposed cohabitation of several elements, as a whole it imitates the “cult” iconography of the movement of the trees in the strong wind on the Florida coast. The result of the artifice becomes surprising: the impurity of the assembled objects creates a mirage.

Kutter always takes into account both what is happening and what has happened in events and in environments. Almost as though they were diachronic moments, in contrast with the hyper-synchronization of virtual/digital transmissions worldwide, her multimedia “projects” put into practice a mimesis that favours a global discontinuity, a conception of mental participation as discontinuous. In comparison with many contemporary mimetic situations, facilitated by their game of illusions and of emotional participation, Kutter's mimetic constructions confute the normal sense of things and rattle the logic of their relationships. With situations that are almost “cynical”, devoid, however, of political elements or intentions, this is not the same mimesis that is to be found in the metaphorical narratives, with their sociological overtones, of the work of Tacita Dean or Auri Sala. Their observations and their registration frequently cross over into aspects of the ironic and the illogical. Well beyond “televisual romanticism”, they document situations and lengthen presences, uniquely activating a metamorphosing “container” experienced as “chamber” theatre.

The transition from one state to another remains one of the linchpins of her latest pieces. If in the “model rooms” the video camera reveals images in which the forms of the artefact are indistinguishable from those of reality, for the videos Flooded Home and Moving Day, the images record the gradual mutation/destruction of the environments, the water that floods in or the movement that disrupts and destroys. In Flooded Home (2003), the domestic furnishings – cupboards, chairs, sofas – move underwater as though in a lymphatic womb. Here the objects lose their static dimension and enter the sphere of the dreamlike and the unimagined. They are stripped of their force of gravity. A sudden and powerful stream of water enters the scene of the furnished room, lifts and submerges the armchair illuminated by a standard lamp, the table which is decorated with a chequered cloth and a vase of flowers, and the television which is still switched on. For a long time the objects of the pseudo sitting room float under the increasing pressure of the flooded room. The loss of gravity corresponds with the loss of an idyll, or the delusion of the failure of the house as refuge, prelude to an alternative parable. In contrast, the video Moving Day (2001), “narrates” an earthquake simulated in a room/container, which moves along the city streets. The video camera records the seismic movements that torment the room, which was originally composed and orderly. Victims of this violent shaking, the objects begin to take on a life of their own, they are agitated, they vibrate, they crash to the floor, creating a casual sculptural “dripping”, redolent of Fluxus. Again, in Thanksgiving Plot, the artist throws a cupboard brimming with dishes to the floor: all of the contents smash. The old idyll is broken, a new one begins with the advent of a new landscape of materials. Our relationship with reality takes over a parallel topography of experience.

In these works Kutter seems to concentrate on scenes that are gradually modified by “catastrophic” events, suspended between a seraphic beginning and a ruinous end. She starts to include themes connected with danger and uncertainty. The intention is that of rendering the spaces of existence precarious and open, drawing the viewer's eye into a world both fictitious and concrete, somewhere between aesthetic pleasure and a nightmare. The artist's choices are not motivated by a wish to destroy, but by an interest in the transformation of the material, in subverting the “state of things”. Each mutated object is nothing other than the consequence of a  physical process such as gravitational impact or a collision.

Kutter's representations, based on surprise and tension, on the continuous alternation of prelude and ending, are legitimized by a performative procedure that eludes the diktats and the limitations of language. The process is rendered protagonist. Its “manifestation” in multiple forms is not immediately loquacious and communicative, festive and illusory, but often “coded” and “doubtful”, averse to any unitary entity, impossible to link back to a conventional code or an immutable identity. In addition, all her pieces are defined by a very simple range of iconic references, almost obsessive in its recalling of the house and home, its extension at times exclusively that of the limited spaces of interiors, as for example in Flooded Home or in Moving Day. In one sense her works include a climate of radicalism, of impenetrable psychological tension. Rather than the amplified space bristling with symbolic, political, fantastic and surreal elements that has been developed by a vast number of artists from Hirschhorn to Büchel, from the Kabakovs to John Bock and Jonathan Messe, Kutter prefers a scene and tales that are stripped down, that demand attention, their iconic and perceptive incisiveness taken to the very limit.

So Kutter puts in act subversive narrations that are apparently linear, spliced onto alarming formal accents, veined with a strong sense of the disturbing. She creates an itinerary in which  boundaries become mobile, run-through with propulsive forces and energies; an itinerary which often appears conformist and pacific, and then moves towards disorder and disquiet. It implicates a world of precariousness and of vulnerability, it contains tension and mutation. Like the pieces of furniture submerged in the water of the video Flooded Home, where the green tone gives them the look of giant algae devoid of solidity, entirely at the mercy of the deep currents, every stage in Kutter's itinerary is immersed in a flux of real and imaginary pulsations.

There is, today, a growing phenomenon of insecurity regarding rights, quality of life, work, an uncertainty as to present and future stability, regarding the vulnerability of our own bodies, our selves and our communities. Under pressure to be “productive” and “efficient”, where marketing and short-term contracts are sovereign, the precariousness of conditions creates experiences that are rapidly consumed. As a result, moving beyond the modern politics of a dissolving and decomposing of human ties – including communities, art offers itself as a fact, as a stepping-stone to discussions regarding sensations, perceptions and estrangements, no longer, alas, ideologically programmatic as intended by Wolf Vostell. Art demonstrates itself to be removed from the “moralistic” system that anaesthetises society and identity. “Making art” means practising an evolving and “mobile” sense of our own belonging, both existential and every-day. The result is a simultaneous presence of means of exchange: metamorphosis, nature, the primary, the obsolete, falsity, the domestic habitat, illusion, the biological roots of our being.

Susanne Kutter senses the dangers of the ephemeral and of glamour. She keeps her distance from trends and fashions, concentrating on linguistic operations that can enter and journey into the cultural context, tending away from the incorporeality of software, from the superficiality of certain research labelled “new” and “post”. Her tactic has to function within the contradictions of our era: “global” unification and “local” differentiation, expansion and contamination, privatisation of the public sphere and lies, rhetoric defending diversity and bigoted conformism. Berlin itself – the place in which the artist operates – is now confronting the looming of the spheres of technology and communications, connected with those of economics and finance which have emerged from the dismembering of the structures of totalitarianism and of the collective identity. Damaged and divided, Berlin remains a rapid stratification of changes. In the fissures of the city's existential divide, not only before and after the wall, but before and after every one of its metamorphoses, art attempts to snatch at the traces of an alternative underground culture. As a metropolis more Eastern than Western, Susanne Kutter's Berlin reclaims its own dialectical depth, which has been sapped by the exaltation of mere economic value and by the fetishism of goods. In effect, despite the circulation of monopolised “fashions”  – in the rest of the world as much as in the opulent West – Berlin's identity has not lost its “state of non-equilibrium”, a quality engrained in a metropolis where nothing is so certain that its opposite cannot be affirmed. Between provincialism and cosmopolitanism, devastation and reconstruction, memory and renewal, the dilemma of “National Socialism” and the Cold War, Kutter's research mixes divergences and elaborates the “cohabitation of opposites”. With all this in mind, the video Flooded Home can be taken as a metaphor for the incessant metamorphoses of Berlin.

Certainly the themes of History without redeeming hope and the various forms of vindication of insufficiencies and injustices have had their day. The “not-only-but-also” attitude wears a different guise. Far from the ideological/political practices aimed at stimulating an awareness of the absurd, and from the social role ascribed to art by Beuys, Kutter's events see a mixing of artefacts and of appropriations of reality, and of the media, in which a performative approach dominates, at the margins of “geo-economic” control.

Just as Wittgenstein in his Tractatus demonstrates that language – the full extent of the imaginable world – cannot be avoided, so for Susanne Kutter it is not possible to escape from artifice, in as far as it is a part of the nature of Nature. Sharing the contemporary sense of nature as a product of artifice, the artist forces its boundaries from within, manipulating and reproducing it in unstable, dynamic and, at times, disjointed forms.

In: Susanne Kutter. Luxury – power – beauty. hrsg. v. Giacomo Zaza, La Nuova Pesa Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea, Rom 2009.





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