Wolfgang Winter and Berthold Hörbelt have shared a long history of collaboration since 1992. Operating under the title Winter/Hörbelt, the artists have created work that has been both exhibited and commissioned internationally. Combining and expanding the boundaries of sculpture and architecture, their body of work reinvigorates the space in which it exists. BimBam im Selbst offers a combination of both new and adapted works, granting a unique glimpse into their ongoing practice.
In a week in which the BeachCare Programme collected 600 broken bodyboards left on three West Country beaches, and in which France became the first country to ban plastic plates, cups and utensils with effect from 2020, it is particularly apt to be invited to view new commissions by two artists who have always had an engagement with the raw by-products of mass production and commodification.
Early in their practice, Winter/Hörbelt created an experimental material, named HOEWI 301, deriving a mouldable gelatine-like substance from animal waste products freely available in the slaughterhouse. After a period of experimentation, the artists soon became aware that their new material behaved according to its own rules. Subsequent moulded forms were dictated more by the plastic properties of the material rather than their own artistic intent. It was also a ‘political’ material, its use coinciding with widespread alarm about animal health and the transfer of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy and Mad Cow Disease into the human populace. Busts and figurines cast in HOEWI 301 became distorted and homogenised homunculi.
In another work, Vertieft-Erhaben (2015), a frieze for a tall interior wall at the ZWuV building in Frankfurt, the artists used no additional materials to create images by chiselling through the white render to the concrete wall underneath. The resulting collage of scenarios depicts ways in which the exterior urban world in Frankfurt is used by the population (referencing a shift from ‘built environment’ to ‘lived environment’): couples conversing on a park bench, a council worker with a leaf-blowing machine, birds share airspace with aeroplanes, traffic on the Autobahn, the artists themselves. The technique suggested a wonderful paradox: that the most durable material for creating an image was ‘no-material’ at all. It also transformed a static, boring architectural plane into delicately organic surface. As Marianne Brouwer suggests, “In the work of Winter/Hörbelt, even the simplest things become gently transfigured, enchanted, illuminated, as it were, from within” (1)
In their exploration of frontier areas of the sculpture as architecture or music, Winter/Hörbelt’s building-like sculptures or sound-animated objects can be perceived in the extended sense as usable. They are at pains to point out that the resulting structures “leave the division between applied and autonomous art well behind them. They are both: sculptures that can be used as apparatus.” (2)
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the space-enclosing architectural structures created from FTK (Flaschentransport-Karten) bottle transport crates made by the German bottling company Deutsche Baumen AG, in highly UV-resistant, tough, uniform coloured plastic.
The artists’ use of these uniform crates is more than just the redeployment of readymades as architectural material. Their Kastenhouse 356.11 project (2000) is a site-specific fully-functioning lighthouse situated on a rock in Skarhamn, Sweden, constructed out of 356 mint green bottle cartons. The permeability of the structure allows sufficient light to be emitted to act as a shipping marker, and the durability of the pre-formed plastic units allows extreme resilience against weather conditions. This is no mere ‘Lego Eddystone’: the form and appearance of the structure alters with the rise and fall of the tide, and the changes of natural light in its outdoor coastal setting – it is designed to be looked at and enjoyed; even more pertinent is its location within view of the Nordiske Avarellmuseet (Museum of Watercolour Art) – the structure also suggests a redeployment of a common meme of 19th Century Scandinavian watercolour seascape painting, the lighthouse.
By choosing to work with bottle crates, the artists open a dialogue about the potential re-appropriation of such mass-produced objects as agents of spatial transformation. In order for us all to buy into the aspirational product (whether Coca Cola in 1966 or Smart Water in 2016), the product must be manufactured, housed, shipped, stored and retailed en masse. The crates are actors across a network of production and supply and icons of homogenous functional urban design: they are the unseen ‘mules’ carrying the ‘gold’.
Here, transformed by the artists’ intervention, they become something more transient, more life-affirming and behave more as actors inviting us to explore the space in which we live. The resulting structures have an ‘organic’ quality not unlike the cellular structures in a leaf which support photosynthesis: the crates allow a similar osmosis of light or sound, or viewing a skyline from an alternative interior.
So what of the old German Bim-Bam grandfather clock, so ubiquitous for all aspiring bourgeois households 100 or so years ago? The slightly-convex clock-face once acted as a lens which distorted our own faces as we reset the pendulum mechanism to keep our lives running ‘on time’; relocated from the mantelpiece to the gallery space, the lens swings past and glimpses – what exactly? What ‘time’ are we running on now?
Many of the works made by Winter/Hörbelt intervene in their conventional urban or gallery locations to open up the potential of a warm, human interaction with organic shapes formed from a seemingly banal, uniform and ubiquitous element: you can sit on them, sleep in them, watch films in them, buy tickets from them, listen to them or read a book by the light they produce.
The objects in this exhibition invite engagement, speculation, discussion, manipulation, play and use. Without the people moving around them and interacting with them, they are not fully realised.
We are in the space with them, and their possibilities are also our possibilities.
Mo Bottomley, September 2016
1) Brouwer, Marianne, Gelsenkircchener Barock, in Friederike Wappler (ed.) Winter/Hörbelt (2003), Hatje Cantz.
2) “In our work the crucial focus is on a changed experience of space, of the actual surroundings”, in Friederike Wappler (ed.) Winter/Hörbelt (2003), Hatje Cantz.