Another Blur

öffentliches Gebäude, Limmatquai, Zürich

I.On Gerhard Richter’s Blur

During Art Basel last summer, I visited Fondation Beyeler for the Gerhard Richter exhibition, curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist. It is the largest one ever in Switzerland to be devoted to the arguably most important artist of our time. The works of the artist, especially the blurry figurative paintings, are reflections of reflections, representations of representations and reproductions of reproductions. Such as in the work of “Annunciation After Titian” (1973), each incarnation loses more and more of its definition and eventually any figuration has altogether been reduced to a blur of colors. The act of blurring is a process of the removal.

For Richter, a person or an event of the past in an atlas fades from the memory and is eroded by anonymity precisely because it is “correctly” recorded. Today we can hardly recall who the person portrayed in yesterday’s photograph is supposed to be: “Did grandma really look like that?” The photograph of the young girl is supposed to be one of a grandmother sixty years earlier, or so the parents tell the grandchild; in another sixty years the photograph will merely show an anonymous portrait of a young girl, no longer a grandmother, for nobody will know whether the photography bears any resemblance to the original person. In contrast, the portrait of a young girl of Richter, out of focus, is free of a pre-existing reference and therefore becomes immediately present.Where form ends, “aura” returns.

Martin Heidegger made use of the bridge to explain how a building gathers the seemingly contradictory notions of earth and sky, of mortality and the divine, that allows a location to come into existence. Heidegger’s bridge is physical, in allowing the body to experience the crossing of a river or an abyss, but it is also an intellectual construct that renders visible the ambiguity of connectedness and separation. Neither a mere phenomenon nor a “thing-in-itself”, it is constituted as antinomy between the two. This is the blur.

To build another market would not bring back history. Instead, there is a present immediacy. Richter’s work manifests these idea. It attempts to erase the historical signs borne by the photographs in order to bring out their presence. If both reality and past cannot be understood or depicted, then the most adequate construction of it would be that with the fewest definitive promises.

The new building does not have to incarnate the old market. In fact, it does not start with any definitive program. Its anonymity is the regression from an already obsolete meaning (the meat market) into nature (the presence). To reconstruct the history can not bring back the history; to erase the history is to bring the memory to presence. Where history stops, memory starts. The architecture starts from its immediate environment and is presented as a spatial concept and experience. It is a “tomb” or a “monument”. As Loos writes: only a very small part of architecture belongs to art: the tomb and the monument. Everything else, everything which serves a purpose should be excluded from the realms of art… If we find a mound in the forest, six feet long and three feet wide, formed into a pyramid, shaped by a shovel, we become serious and something within us says, someone lies buried here. This is architecture.

However, it does not mean the architecture is not functional; it is not merely a pavilion in program. Rather, the removal of the program as a sole idea frees it from the overpowering nature of a symbolic/historical dimension. The building is not relying on its „market-ness“ but instead on its presence. This is what enables “blur;” this is what enables an architecture of affect.