What metabolized?

            On the television program Top Design, broadcast on the cable channel Bravo, contestants compete to see who, in the eyes of esteemed judges, has "the top design." Whether forced to modify and decorate a space with flea market finds and scant budget or invited to construct a spatial plan without architecture or furniture but rather with flowers and shrubbery, the contestants (ranging from professionally accomplished to amateurish) must rise to the challenge or face elimination. Success on Top Design is premised on a delicate balance: Versatility and out-of-the-box thinking is praised as long as authorship--some flourish traceable to an individual--proves detectable in the product.

            On the face of things, Bernd Krauss' practice conforms to the dictates of a program like Top Design. His work asks: What might I make with the material I find? Within the limitations of budget, resources, bureaucratic and more mundane administrative norms, what forms may form? What found might be torqued to suggest, like a scent on the breeze, a shadowy author? The forms that follow these questions often pose other questions. Take for instance a few things and situations compiled and constructed to inaugurate his residency at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, an institution that grants master's degrees in Curatorial Studies and which also develops and houses exhibitions of contemporary art.

            To start with, a garden shed, traditionally used for storing tools, arrived on the building's back door, charging a hard-to-read question mark to the administrative offices it faced. The Center's building resembles a modern bunker, with glass windows wrapping around the back of the offices. On architectural grounds, the shed posed a question: How does a quaint wooden structure (not quite a dwelling but aping one with its gabled style, its palette of "almond with avocado trim," its angled roof, and windows on either side from which one could picture flower boxes hanging) speak to the cold, insistently minimalist behemoth dropped from the sky that is the CCS within the context of its site, steps from the Hudson River on the Bard campus in upstate New York? And what claims does this humble architecture make for Krauss, as a literal manifestation of his "residence?"

            Indeed, Krauss' original intention was to live in the shed for the fall semester before that plan was foreclosed by local fire regulations. To live in a structure requires a Certificate of Occupancy which may only be granted to buildings with electricity and a toilet. As electricity and a toilet were both financially prohibitive as well as counter to the stoicism of Krauss' plan, the shed was delimited to its functions as site of social life, art production, and a knowingly abstracted proposition of "curatorial work." As a literalization of his residency, his patented "residence," the shed produced a quasi-"outside" to the institution which invited Krauss but notably also the institution which, more pointedly, funded the shed's purchasing as well as Krauss' living expenses, travel expenses, and materials budget.

            Over the first weeks of September, 2008, other not-quite-objects appeared, orbiting the CCS building on its surrounding lawn, already home to a permanent installation of Franz West sculptures, a walkway with an imbedded Lawrence Weiner work, and a flagpole to date hosting flags designed by artists Peter Coffin and Frank Benson. These Krauss productions orbited the physical site but also siphoned from the exhibition program as a resource for both physical and discursive "raw" material.

            When Krauss arrived at CCS in late August, two exhibitions were on view in the CCS Galleries (Personal Protocols of Production) and Hessel Museum (I've Got Something in my Eye).  When both exhibitions closed on September 7th, certain opportunities arose. A wooden board on two stakes standing to the southside of the building (that had immediately before supported a billboard piece by Felix Gonzalex-Torres from the Marieluise Hessel Collection) became the ground for a billboard of 1ft square mirrors, glued in a grid of 12x8 feet. The mirrors, together, presented a distorted reflection both of the architecture always facing it, as well as of any passersby (students, Buildings and Grounds staff mowing the lawn, a family of deer).

            Just as the shed holds up a distorted mirror of the CCS building and institution--creating a micro-site that presents both an alternative and a potential microcosm for the CCS, this same transfiguration takes place in the mirror billboard in formal rather than procedural terms. The mirror rearranges the architectural codes of the facade--making jagged Lego-forms of its brutal grooved box and Cubist clones of onlookers--in a manner distinct from but begging comparison to the shed's propositional tweak of institutional and aesthetic norms, garden shed posing a question to administrative offices and pristine gallery spaces.

            The plywood support for the mirror billboard was residue of the directly previous exhibition I've Got Something in my Eye for which the artists Bik Van der Pol curated the Marieluise Hessel Collection, including some works from the Van Abbe museum's collection as well as a few of their own works. One of Bik Van der Pol's works cast a gallery with an Yves Klein quotation on the wall in a blue light within which an impressive cage housed live canaries. For his work Blue Room, made in anticipation of and ultimately included in the exhibition The Greenroom: Reconsidering the Documentary and Contemporary Art (September 27, 2008-February 1, 2009), Krauss videotaped footage of Bik Van der Pol's canaries in their blue environment--a video which was shown on a small monitor hanging precariously within a birdcage that had been used to initially transport the canaries to CCS. On view in the CCS atrium, a continuity is forged across time and space between the Bik Van der Pol exhibition (by then closed), Krauss' residency, and The Greenroom exhibition. Whereas temporary exhibitions go up and then by nature come down, a ghost presence is maintained here. Further, Krauss--in creating a work in response to The Greenroom--was then integrated into the exhibition based on an invitation from the exhibition's curator Maria Lind, director of the CCS graduate program. Institutional activities conventionally compartmentalized--the artist-in-residence as distinct from this exhibition--are bridged.

            A sheath of bamboo, leaned furtively against the shed and resembling a harvest symbol, also originated with a previous exhibition; the bamboo formed the invisible infrastructure for Michael Beutler's expansive tissue paper installations in Personal Protocols of Production. Here, the silent origin stories of his materials prove a channel through which Krauss engages with the institution's exhibition program, cannibalizing the discarded and assimilating footage of the ephemeral to torque preceding exhibitions and eat up the institution just as the grid of mirrors eats up the building, instantly digests its forms, and spits them back to us.

             A path, delineated on the lawn in orange spraypaint, diverged from the concrete frontal entranceway to CCS, embedded with a permanent text piece by Lawrence Weiner. Leading in meandering curves to the mirror and, slightly beyond, offering a vista to the shed behind the building, the path connects the situations Krauss constructed on the grounds to the side and back of the building--grounds ordinarily not seen in aesthetic terms, compared to the frontal grounds of the CCS at its entrance where the West sculptures, Weiner walkway, and flag works are situated.

            The shed, mirror, and path each suggest at the same time the materials of their making--a prefabricated wooden structure purchased locally and purportedly built by the Amish, a number of cheap mirror tiles, and spraypaint laid down by a Bard College soccer coach using a device used for marking up the zones of a soccer field--as well as propositions to enter, use, walk. They exist as installations and situations that mirror back the building, and the institution somehow inside of and yet not limited to the physical architecture. There is a challenge to aesthetic taste that is ventured through the cheap, the mundane, but also an aping--an adaptive mimicry--through the retrofitting of exhibition and artistic materials and images. These sites and situations materialize as not-quite-objects what is detailed by other means in Krauss' Sniffler publications, single-edition hand-written and drawn newspapers that excerpt anecdotes, conversations, exchanges overheard or negotiated at the institution. These scrawled publications offer another distorted mirror, making a caricatured index of the host institution. Administrative gossip and shape-shifting formalism recognize each other in the mirror and an institution's contours are traced out of the negative space.

            Simultaneous to these materializing and materialized strategies, first year graduate students in Curatorial Studies arrived on campus; seven students opted to work with Krauss during his residency at CCS, a collaboration occupied largely by the realization of an exhibition at the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild to open in late October. The collections of objects and materials on view in the Kleinert/James gallery space reflected back on these initial projects sited around the CCS building and their typologies--photographs of sheds observed by a young photographer in Cornwall, England both recall Krauss' shed while expanding its discursive referentiality. Other elements implicate and reflect upon the site of the Guild itself, custodian of the Byrdcliffe art colony--home to utopian projections and arts-and-crafts style furniture design and production in the first years of the twentieth century.

            As a culmination of the residency, the displayed objects and items present in Woodstock--chairs bought from Ikea, photocopied readings on a wide range of art colonies, forgeries of Bernd's past works created by one student, etc.--were collected and transported to CCS Bard to be repurposed in a mode not dissimilar from Michael Beutler's bamboo rods or the plywood support constructed for Felix Gonzalez-Torres' billboard. In a video-documented migration, the shed moved from its situation behind the administrative offices to another marginal, disused locale, to the edge of the lawn ninety degrees to the north of its previous site. Here, it was announced, the shed--built as a storage space for gardening tools and equipment, repurposed as a studio, curatorial, and social space when it could not be literally resided in by the artist-in-residence--would become an archive of the residency. Objects and ephemera produced, found, or bought during the course of the residency are here poised between decor, permanent installation, and artifact. This is not an archive in file boxes or in a digital database but spatialized wherein the shed's interior functions as by turns index, memorial, shrine, and, humorously, site for garbarge and recycling. Indeed, the shed here becomes both archive and an interim space where garbage and recycling can be kept before being collected by the college, with room just inside the double doors allotted for bins.

            In conflating the space of the archive with the space of waste and recycling, Krauss' shed proves both a metonym of his residency and a space-as-question concerning the role of the arts institution as what..? A space of the new, a storage space for junk, or a recycling center? And, if the latter, what might be digested, what metabolized? Is it, in the end, the spaces that remain, if only briefly, vacated by their designer but somehow haunted as by a grinning cat?  

Niko Vicario was the Curatorial Fellow during the 2008-2009 academic year. He is currently a PhD candidate in the History, Theory, and Criticism of Art and Architecture at MIT.