Sabine Maria Schmidt

The landing capsule, weighing only 43 kilograms, entered the atmosphere shortly before 2 a.m. local time (11 a.m. MET) and hurtled towards the earth like a by and large visible ball of fire. After landing, a helicopter hunted about for the small capsule in the pitch-dark desert terrain. Once recovered the probes are due to be flown to the NASA laboratory in Houston, Texas, where the scientific analysis will commence as early as Monday. “Stardust” has travelled about 4.6 billion kilometres across our solar system in the last 7 years. According to the US Space Agency, the dust collected from the comet Wild 2 contains the fundamental building blocks, which are more than 4.5 billion years old, out of which our solar system has developed. (,1518,395381,00.html)

One of the practical maxims relating to upbringing, which characterized my childhood: don’t eat with your mouth open. (Colette)

Space, which rests in places

The catalogue at hand begins, almost programmatically, with a photograph of the snow-covered façade of a house. It shows a vertical structure that is rhythmically panelled and interrupted by a window and a wooden door. Three house plants peer out of the window. The lock on the door looks improvised, in fact, the damp wooden door seems slightly out of place, as if it has been moved from the interior to outside. After all, there is a second entry area to the left, with a cabin-like porch. On its roof, as though fashioned by nature, there is a snow sculpture. The photograph is both beautiful and fascinating and brings together a grammar that typifies Bea Otto’s entire artistic work: the playful use of architectonic building materials, the building-site character of neglected details, the opposition between framing and surface, breach and opening.

It is worth comparing the photo, produced during her stay in Oslo, with the installation “Anclote”, made in 2004 within the framework of an exhibition at the Schloß Ringenberg. Initially I stand in front of the installation as I would a picture. Not only the composition of the “first view” relates closely to the photograph. The viewer has a choice of three openings, or rather, entrances. The left one is closed off by the panelled wall, the right one leads down a corridor of steps, and, in the middle, a stairway opens out under a blue archway leading to a dazzlingly bright round window. Its circumference and surface is repeated as an orientation, or rather, vantage point in a mint-green imitation-stone pattern, similarly framed by a bright, white ring that provides a “viewpoint” for a spatial translation of a pictorial perspective. The arranged carpet object functions as a “meeting point” and not only centers the viewer, but the structures in the space as well. Tipping spaces into planes, and the reverse, transferring flat structures into three dimensions, are characteristic features of Otto’s works.

In the installation “Anclote” the found footage consists of several wooden panels that provide a contemporary German note to the atmosphere in the castle. Both sides of the erected wall are foreign bodies in the environment. The landscape photograph on the back addresses the outdoors while the wooden panels address the architecture of the interior. Both present forms and versions of “being settled.” In many of Bea Otto’s works the objects appear like silent viewers, that observe one another, even engage one another in a dialogue, that ignores us viewers. Photography plays an important role by facilitating possible quotes. The jungle-like lakeland creates an atmospheric picture, in turn, recalling the tradition of photo wallpaper: the photo wallpaper, in its turn, the tradition of illusionistic murals. Illusionistic spaces mingle with imaginary and the real surroundings, that become a framework for spatial constructions.

At the same time the photograph of the house façade mentioned at the outset confronts me with an entirely new difficulty: the dialectic of inside and outside, the subject of Gaston Bachelard’s book “The Poetics of Space”(*1). Without it being apparent, this dialectic namely provides a basis for many other pictures, that e.g. govern all thoughts relating to positives and negatives. That is what the philosopher is thinking, Bachelard writes, when he thinks about inside and outside, being and not-being, the theology of the here and now and the afterlife, almost everything can be accounted for by this opposition, even the infinite. That is where one tries to pinpoint being. But how does this happen? One attempts to pin it down by transferring being into situations. Or expressed differently: one tries to define being by confronting it with being somewhere, that presupposes a place.

Moreover, “outside” and “inside” sounds like a sort of formal opposition. But we quickly notice that both terms are not equally matched and hardly symmetrically positioned vis-à-vis one another. That inside should appear in concrete terms and the outside in wide-ranging terms is an experience that Bea Otto’s installations specifically highlight. In any case, outside remains an abstract construction. For even when we are standing “in front of it” (such as, e.g. the façade of a house), the inside is a momentary outside, as the internal spaces shape our experience of exteriors.

Bea Otto mixes the materials attributed to objects, moving interiors outdoors and exteriors inside. The most important elements prove to be visual quotes and the hole. In her most recent installation in the Gallery Ruzicska/Weiss, viewers found themselves in an almost elevator-like installed space, lined with silver insulating material. There were milky niches like glass bricks in two places, that allowed light in from the outside and the adjoining room of the gallery. The materials that Bea Otto uses often indicate improvisation (polystyrene, chipboard, laths, etc…). This is less of an anti-aesthetic device than a way of giving the construction a mobile and temporary feel. This improvisation supports the notion of a transitory place, that keeps on moving.

“One only needs to make a hole and one’s there,” Henry Moore once observed laconically, when he began to open up his self-contained freestanding sculpture and to incorporate the surroundings into his work. In Bea Otto’s work the purely sculptural gesture has an ad13ditional completely different level, namely a narrative one. Not least because the holes are mostly positioned where they are entirely inexplicable and so fuel the imagination all the more. At the same time the openings seem like the fundamental building blocks of emptiness. “I am interested in the jumps from near to far, wide to narrow, strange to familiar, genuine to artificial. It’s a strange world,” remarked Bea Otto in conversation.

She is interested in creating places that raise fundamental questions as to what a place is. Heidegger reflected on the emergence of places and spaces in his oft-cited text “Building Dwelling Thinking”(*2) and, using the example of the Heidelberger Bridge, explained how a broad flowing shoreline becomes a place. A bridge doesn’t just connect two opposite banks, but rather, its primary function is to define the place. The place doesn’t exist before the bridge’s appearance, but is a direct consequence of it. Space can only be transformed into a particular place through delimitation, circumscription and a distinguishing feature.

Space is inside and outside. The hole is a leitmotif in Bea Otto’s work, providing a place for the encounter between inside and outside. In addition the artist has developed various strategies, using minimal objects and elements incorporated into walls, for structuring small sites or even for staged (cultural) landscapes. In so doing, she often shifts the boundaries, creates frameworks and distinguishing features, that cite something which, in point of fact, is out of place. This sense of “dis-placement” is turned into a strategy that can also be used for sampling various artistic genres.

The fact that Bea Otto regards places as transitory spaces makes her work especially exciting. Crossing space is linked to comprehension. We see with our legs and always carry spaces we have traversed around with us. The door is an especially symbol-laden motif of transitoriness: “How many daydreams had to be investigated in combination with the simple idea of a door. The door! It is a whole cosmos ajar – at the very least it provides the model, the bona fide origin of a daydream bringing together desires and temptations, the temptation to infer being in its subterranity, the desire to conquer all locked essences. The door schematizes two robust routes to distinguish relatively clearly between two types of daydream. Sometimes it is utterly locked, barred, fitted with a padlock. Sometimes it is open, in other words, wide open.[…] The hinges are well oiled. Then destiny emerges.”(*3)

3A fantastically absurd sculpture was produced for the annual exhibition at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1996. Bea Otto put a white rectangular wooden frame, that resembled a minimal sculpture à la Sol le Witt and had the proportions of a telephone box, around the open door of a recess in the wall. If one attended to the demarcated border, then the interior of the niche was closed when the sculpture was open and the interior became an exterior. The open door, on the other hand, referred to the surrounding area beyond it, that no longer circumscribed anything.

Bea Otto confronts the immensity of space with the geometry of a three-dimensional picture, that is changeable. But a place is not just comprehensible in terms of geometry.Memory also makes objects to places. The trace of a sawn slit transforms a concrete floor into a playing field, the suggested frame over a brownish expanse creates a panoramic landscape, a woollen blanket a picnic meadow. That the places invariably come and go is also expressed by “Passageway or place to stay.” The protruding white construction leans in front of the wall of a room like a gleaming dazzling snow space. Two orange seat mats shine on the floor like the “snow sculpture” on the roof of the photographed façade of the house. Two blank spaces for a body that Merleau-Ponty defined as the quintessential place for the foundation of humankind in the world. The space around us seems rather to result from our corporeal anchoring in the world. Because we are body, we have space that rests in places.

*1 Gaston Bachelard: The Dialectic of Inside and Outside, in: The Poetics of Space, Frankfurt am Main 1987 pp. 211 – 228
*2 Martin Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking” in: lectures and essays. Pfullingen 1954, pp.148 ff
*3 Bachelard, ibid. p. 221 (trans. CM)

Translation: Christopher Muller