Roy Exley

Cutting out the Detail: Claudia Pilsl’s Museum Transformations

Since 1994 Claudia Pilsl has undertaken a serial consummation of her love affair with museum interiors.  Across Europe, through her anarchic interventions with these spaces, she has forged new relationships with their distinctive mien. By stripping away their contents, removing the detail - through a deconstructive dissection of her photographs of these spaces – she reductively reveals their perforated and indented remains as the skeletal evidence of their architectural genesis. This is not a cathartic process, one of merely tidying-up, but a transformative one. Unlike the structural anarchy which has been wreaked upon buildings by such sculptors as Gordon Matta-Clarke or Richard Wilson, in their endeavours to transform and reconfigure, Pilsl’s deconstructive acts leave no mess to be cleared up afterwards, as they are perpetrated at a distance.

The tabulae rasa, whose lacunae are created here by her removal of wall-mounted exhibits from these walls, and doors from their mountings, offer a rich hunting ground for the viewer's imagination, voids ripe for the creation of new meanings and new contexts. In Pilsl’s interactive installations, in which we can handle and juxtapose these altered images, the viewer is empowered to reconfigure and re-invent these spaces over and over again, thus elevating Hans Robert Jauss' Reception Theory [1] – whereby the viewer completes the work through his or her unique perception of it - to new levels.

The formal volumes of these spaces are radically transmuted here. Their very identities shifted, their demeanours revert back to those of their conceptual origins, they are no longer expedient containers for artistic or historic exhibits but once again flout those raw dynamics of form, ripe with possibility, which the architect manipulated in order to arrive at his or her solutions. These stripped-down spaces become imbued with a sculptural resonance, their volumes, made up from juxtaposed solids and voids are given a compositional tension that serves to obscure the reality of what we are looking at here. Pilsl’s pictorial objectification of these institutional shrines to art, somehow energises them, infuses their spatial dynamic with a fresh momentum. An incongruity of purpose is exposed here. In the absence of the art, these spaces are propelled into a new ontological mode – instead of being the back-drop, the vehicle for the exhibits, their now imposing presence is invested with a new found significance.

The liberties that Pilsl takes with these architectural creations – rendered sacrosanct by their institutional status - at first come as a bit of a shock, but subsequently we feel a sense of release as we realise that she has given these spaces sanction to breathe again, to revert, once more to that spirit of creativity and invention out of which they originally sprang.

We become active participants in these spaces instead of their passive observers; Pilsl’s transformative acts ultimately empower the viewer, perpetuating the creative processes which pervade the being of these spaces - an affirmation that process must be a continuum otherwise ossification is inevitable.

Roy Exley

Published by Fotogalerie Wien, 2002.