Awst & Walther
14 Jun – 16 Jun 2013

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Opening: 13 June 2013, 7–11 pm
A figure cleans the floor with a mop and bucket. The room, an empty exhibition space at Kunstraum Aarau in Switzerland, has a smooth black floor that is being wiped continuously from one side to the other in an extended, repetitive cycle. At first it might appear as a laborious punishment, as in the Greek myth of Sisyphus, in which the King of Ephyra was forever doomed to repeat the chore of rolling a large boulder to the top of a mountain, only to see it roll back down again. However, in the bare exhibition space, the solitary performative act of wiping and re-wiping the floor radiates calm and reflection. The mirroring wet floor prompts a confrontation with one’s own image – the body is momentarily caught in space and time – and a process of unraveling occurs in which the spectator is invited to participate before the floor dries and changes back to its original impervious black.

For SALTS the Berlin-based, Welsh-German artist duo Awst & Walther have created an ambitiously charged site-specific artwork that plays with ideas of presentation and display in contemporary society. Working with the exhibition space's unique architecture and history, the artists have created an installation that disrupts the customary flow of communication between artwork, space, and audience, and challenges the visibility and transparency of people and the architectonics and objects they encounter. Once again, the floor becomes the catalyst: the artists have doubled its surface area by drawing walls up into the air from the same black tiles that cover the ground. The walls run parallel to the horizontal grid of the floor tiles and seem to grow from the floor toward the ceiling, becoming three-dimensional structures of various heights and lengths in a rhythmical configuration.

In his recent book Society of Transparency, the philosopher Byung-Chul Han writes of the current insatiable cultural norm towards voluntary disclosure, which ultimately leads to a society of “total transparency”[ 1 ]. According to Han, contemporary space is equivalent to an exhibition room, expressed through cleanliness, emptiness, and implied visibility. In this inviolable space we as individuals become objects on display, just like artworks in an exhibition.

At SALTS, Awst & Walther turn this particular characteristic of contemporary space on its head: Instead of relying on visibility, the artists have created new discreet pockets and moments of invisibility that challenge the supremacy of transparency in our society. Upon entering, we find ourselves caught within a monolithic

intervention that makes it impossible to gain an overview of the room. Limited by our own personal field of vision, and alerted to the sound of our own voices and footsteps, which resonate against the enveloping, tiled surfaces, interaction and intimacy are provoked.

With Show-Off, the artists play with the spectator’s expectations and defy the function of a showroom: The installation is a site of possibilities, not a vessel for display and entertainment. Thus the audience must ask itself what role it is to take – whom does the work serve, and for what purpose? The show may be over, but the experience has only just begun.

In addition to the site-specific work installed in the main space of SALTS, Awst & Walther have created a sound installation in the garage, based on their ongoing script and performance work entitled The Hole. Here the artists discuss the creation of a new room, reflecting on existing and imagined frameworks within the realm of the physical and the metaphysical. Both installations are evidence of a critical practice focused on uncompromising spatial renditions and the fundamental encounters we have within them.
Text: Samuel Leuenberger & Boris Poffala

Manon Awst born 1983 in Bangor, Wales
Studied Architecture at Cambridge University (MA Cantab)

Benjamin Walther born 1978 in Dresden, Germany
Studied Art History & Philosophy at Humboldt-University Berlin and Visual Arts at HGB Leipzig. Directed at e.g. Schauspielhaus Bochum, Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg, Bayerisches Staatsschauspielhaus Munich and Royal Dramaten Theatre in Stockholm

Works in the exhibition:

Front Space:
Show Off, 2013
Tiles, Plasterwalls
Dimensions variable

Resonant Frequencies, 2013
Sound recording, headphones, mini ipod, hole in the wall
Dimensions variable

The exhibition is generously supported by Richner Platten, Muttenz and anonymous donors.

[ 1 ] Byung-Chul Han, Transparenzgesellschaft (Berlin: Matthes&Seitz, 2013).

Photography: courtesy Gunnar Meier