In his interview with the Ecole Nationale Superierure des Beaux-arts (Paris Academy of the Fine Arts) the artist Absalon refers to himself as an architect aspiring to “close the gap between his thoughts and his life”. The embodiment of these aspirations are his houses, or Cells, which are indeed the center pieces of the exhibition presented by the Kunst Werke Institution of Contemporary Art in Berlin. The exhibition is the most thorough presentation of Absalon’s art to date, and covers nearly his entire body of work.
Before his untimely death in Oct. 1993 due to AIDS, Absalon was realizing his most ambitious project in which six Cells of his design were to be installed in six different cities (Paris, Zürich, Frankfurt, New York, Tel Aviv, Tokyo) where the artist would then live in them for an extended period of time.
At first glance Absalon’s white Cells look as if they are an ultra-modern housing development from Apple Computers, but are built with the wisdom of antiquity by using measurements taken from the artists own body. Absalon painstakingly took measurements of his height, arm span, and shoulder width to serve a minimalist form and function. In addition, the houses are built for specific sties in each city, yet emphasize a complete cultural disconnect with their surroundings.
Absalon’s houses are “in no way utopian”, and are minimal to the point of playful discomfort. Once inside, one does not always have the ability to stand up straight. The rooms afford only enough room to serve basic single functions, and are intended to demonstrate how we can learn to live with discomfort through custom or routine. The Cells were originally intended to be left unkempt after fulfilling their use, making their preservation an otherworldly monument to life.
After viewing the entire exhibition one can see the close attention Absalon pays to process, in how he brings his Cells to life from sketch, to scale model, and finally full scale construction. The installation of sculptures on the second and third floors bear resemblance to his scale models, as if he always had something larger and more prolific in mind.
Here is a great link to a video of the exhibition and interview (Deutsch) with the director of Kunst-Werke Berlin, Susanne Pfeffer.