17,000 years ago, a number of holes were made in the walls of the caves of Lascaux, in the South of France. Branches were stuck in the holes, serving as stable horizontal beams. Vertical beams were then attached, creating a structure that gave access to the ceiling. This is how the Lascaux caves were painted.
The ancient Greeks built scaffolds to make statues, larger than life. In the Altes Museum in Berlin there is a drinking cup from the early 5th century BC. The ‘Berlin Foundry Cup’ is painted all around with images of an ancient Greek foundry. Sculptors work on one of the statues, standing on a wooden scaffold.
We use metal scaffolds to construct our buildings.They were developed by two English brothers called Daniel and David Jones. In 1913, they built a scaffold around Buckingham Palace using their patented system, ‘Rapid Scaffixers’, to fit the metal tubes together. Their scaffolding promised change, promised progress, and stood in the way of an unobstructed view on development.
There’s no such history written of safety mesh, the netting that contemporary scaffolds are often wrapped in. Façades are wrapped in scaffolds are wrapped in mesh. The veils that shroud the work of construction in mystery.
Mesh tries to cancel the scaffold’s promise, to make it disappear before the work is even done. All it wants us to have is the grand reveal. It renders almost invisible and harmless the messiness of construction. Almost.
Mesh is not transparent, but it’s also not opaque. It’s a web that places itself between us and an object and makes us look at both, simultaneously. We see the building behind the scaffold’s sharp lines through the mesh; the veil and its objects becoming one.
In the late 19th century, widows concealed their faces behind a mesh called ‘Courtauld crape’, named after its main manufacturer: Courtaulds from England. Crape was a matte gauze made of waste silk, crimped with heated rollers, then dyed black and stiffened with starch or glue.
Strict mourning etiquette forbade all colors but black and dictated widows to wear crape veils over their faces whenever in public, for up to four years after their husbands had passed away. For the prescribed duration of the process of mourning, the widow had no choice but to present herself to the outside world as a colorless image reminiscent of the past. Like a classical façade against a rapidly modernizing backdrop, she stood out from her surroundings, performing an apparent nostalgia for times since gone.
Some women called crape ‘a veritable instrument of torture’ because, apart from this emotional labor, it was costly, kind of heavy and unpleasant. It caused irritation to the eyes and skin and stained the face when wet or damp.
“Many a woman has been laid in her coffin by the wearing of crape,” a doctor wrote by the end of the 19th century. It’s true that inhaling its poisonous particles was known to have caused death. But despite all this, the obscuring mesh supposedly served a noble cause: to protect the widow against “the untimely gayety of a passing stranger.”
Like the veil protecting the widow, mesh protects building and builders from the gaze of the outside world. And yet it seems made rather for that outside world, protecting it from falling rubble, and substituting the view on reconstruction with a promise of the reconstructed. As if that passing stranger couldn’t already recognize the widow, behind that blackest of black surfaces.
What if the veil actually served to protect the outside world from the widow? We enjoy the stability and permanence of nostalgic façades, not the instability of the ruins behind them. Mourning makes us uncomfortable, we prefer not to see the widow’s grief. But what if we invert the gaze and look back at the world? What did she see through the mesh?
“What a dark, ugly thing it is!” said Amy, unfolding and throwing it over her head; “how dismal it must be to see the world through such a veil as this!”
“And yet till one has seen the world through a veil like that, one has never truly lived,” said another voice, joining in the conversation.
from ‘The Mourning Veil’ by Harriet Beecher Stowe
By Michiel Huijben
They still exist, the good things.
A church window, a couple sleeping blissfully in their cozy home, the awning of a pavilion from the last garden party. Here, the world is still in order. Jasmin Werner, in her first exhibition at Gillmeier Rech, confronts the visitors with an exhibition layout that, among other things, reveals an early modern depiction of Sarah and Tobias, the Old Testament couple who represent an idealized model of marital virtue. The marriage between a man and a woman as the nucleus of society, the Christian archetype as “Home Sweet Home” fantasy, replete with puppy.
And anyway, back then when the world still was in order, we still made everything ourselves – just as Jasmin Werner does her imitation stairways, made inaccessible through dark-green dust sheeting, precisely erected with screws and metal poles. Because today’s ideals aren’t so down-to-earth after all; instead, the prevailing imperative is now one of an unremitting drive to the top. One step at a time: a fragile 5-step program of self-optimization, one that perhaps leads us (in)to nothing(ness).
And so one may, upon contemplation of the steps, half-obscured as they are from the gaze, be reminded of the lessons of Scalalogy, which investigates stairs and their effects on humans. Or of the way in which the architectural elements of a stairway embody the representative ambitions of the building’s developer, giving them both material and aesthetic form. How the rise or descent of a staircase can become a ceremonial performance that regulates the communication between “us” and “them up there.” How, in this architectural motif, the sacred – the temple entrance, the pilgrimage church on a hilltop – mingles with the everyday.
Today, it is temples of another kind (museum buildings, Apple stores) whose steps provide a glas- sy and ethereal path to higher pleasures. The models for Werner’s “Ambivalent Ladders” regulate the entrance to libraries, to places of worship, to prestige buildings of modern museums; those institu- tions whose authority has rightly come under fire for a long time, but which now at times provides comfort. Jasmin Werner’s “Status Faux” is an exhibition as pastiche-collage, and as such, it opens the way for ambivalence, for a subtle and ambiguous play with codes; one which eyes the victory podium with both desire and mistrust.
The seizure of power and the attention economy lie closer together today than ever before. Ideas of high and low, and their codes and methods of communication, are turning upside down. And here, the art world itself stands on shaky foundations.
Hanna Magauer Translation by Ben Caton
Salon Stuttgart is pleased to present unkratufrei by Jasmin Werner. Comprised of sculpture and collage works in a domestic environment, unkrautfrei ploughs a line through contemporary quests for status and self-realisation. The exhibition is anchored by two ploughing devices rusted with time and worn with use. The apartment setting of Salon Stuttgart renders these harrows decorative; a display strategy often seen with similar tools now devoid of their former use and relegated to the embellishment of sites, not of labour, but consumption: rustic eateries or eco-experiences. Each harrow has been adorned with an organic ooze of piped icing. Together, the rustic farm tools and domestic handicraft signal a different time: a place where men tilled the earth to grow their food and yearnings for expression – desires for something else – could easily be diverted and distilled into the domestic arts. But perhaps those times are not so far away. The elaborate equipment required to precisely pipe icing can easily be purchased today and even in the middle of the city, urban farmers and guerrilla gardeners exercise their green fingers. The call to live ‘auf dem Land’ resounds: a return to nature, the land, to ethical ways of living and being. Rosettes as sweet as icing, balanced on a metal spike.
Dispersed throughout Salon Stuttgart are collages juxtaposing product pictures and captions from Manufactum: an emporium of ‘skilfully crafted products made of premium materials’ with images of Adriaen Brouwer’s genre paintings, set in taverns and lowly hovels, where drunken peasants languish and brawl, their expressions of pleasure and pain executed in great detail. Morality plays or technical feats of realism, Browuer’s work approaches virtue ambivalently, unwilling to condemn particular preferences or activities. But the objects for sale at Manufactum (simple wares at exorbitant prices) seem to harvest moral outrage. The ownership of these heritage goods might be read as displays of piety: a stand against rampant consumerism and a lack of care for the environment. The founder of Manufactum, Thomas Hoof, believes there is something in the past that is still relevant today, that the objects of old daily life still have a complexity that is understandable, manageable to the individual. Hoof is also the owner of Manuscriptum, a publishing house that prints right wing populist material criticising the emancipation of women, political correctness, and European immigration policy. Among their titles are Akif Pirincci’s Die Grosse Verschwulung: Wenn aus Maenner Frauen werden und aus Frauen keine Maenner and Rolf Peter Sieferle’s Finis Germani
The works in this exhibition draw attention to the desire to align oneself with nature and a pre-modern past, while occupying spaces of production and consumption that threaten to extinguish those very ideals. The pieces nod to the distinctions often drawn between nature and the man-made, the old and the new, the country and the city, and the ways in which these boundaries are patrolled yet blurred in an attempt to encourage a dis-identification that leaves one wanting but unable. Jasmin Werner’s work often explores architectures of power and objects of status. unkratufrei posits that these signifiers are idealised models – abstractions – about possible futures. Werner’s objets present the allure of nostalgia and drive to display piety in the face of uncertainty. If our imaginings of the future are idealised then they also produce a counterpart that is deplorable, immoral and ignorant like the peasants Brouwer painted. In the imagined future we must sieve the wicked from the good, in the imagined future we can taste only emancipation or dread.